To begin reading the Bible, one cannot begin at the beginning; well, one may, but it is recommended that one knows a little bit more before you do. From the beginning, the narrative assumes the reader is already familiar with the larger story or the metanarrative which precipitates the intention and meaning of the very narrative with which most (even those who have not necessarily read it) have a rudimentary knowledge. The early stories of Genesis are written with allusions based upon historical events, persons, and motifs, as well as other sacred written sources; and since, In the beginning God created the heavens and the land…, has nothing preceding it, the only way to discover the allusion is an awareness of texts which follow in the recorded corpus.
So, for instance, a reader will begin at the beginning and what will he think? What will she learn from Genesis 1? What will she learn from Genesis 2? Let’s start will Genesis 2 because the allusions there are a tad more easily seen when they are pointed out. But suffice it to say, in order to “see” what is in the text, one must be told because it isn’t readily apparent from a prima facie reading. This fact alone is enough to make many readers dubious of a more robust approach to reading the text. If the meaning is not perfectly discernible without having to >.< one’s eyes and turn one’s head upside down, I’m incredulous, they say. This sounds pious and mature on one level but in reality it isn’t. It is naive and adolescent. And it presumes to hold the Bible to a level of revelation up to which it just might not measure. The Bible must set its own interpretive parameters; it mustn’t be ruled by the demands of the reader who says, This is how thou must mean and nothing else! One can only begin “from the beginning” with a frame of reference which contextualizes the details and presentation of the story one finds in the early chapters of Genesis. For instance, just as one cannot hope to understand the Gospels apart from the historical story delineated and promulgated by the prophets based upon Moses, I would like to suggest the same for Genesis. In other words, understanding Genesis carries the prerequisite of knowing both Deuteronomy and the prophetic interpretation and prophetic utterance based upon the Torah; and so, it is not true that Genesis begins at ground zero and the story slowly builds upon and develops out of that beginning. The reader cannot assume the information in Genesis is fabula nuda or “naked stories” which form the foundation for subsequent records. Rather, it is quite the opposite as Genesis only makes sense as it utilizes a previous theological history without which its information remains distant. Throughout the Bible within stories and paragraphs and sentences is a literary structure called a chiasm. This parallelism structures whole books let alone mere portions, so what better guess might the reader have that this paradigm operates over the whole corpus itself? Broadly speaking, Genesis “introduces” a “shammayim/heavens;erets/land” which the last book reveals undergoes a makeover. When the writer of the Apocalypse says, I saw a new heavens and land/earth, for the first heavens and earth pass away and there was no more sea. Thus the chiasm would appear like this:
It is the working theory of this writer that the Bible as a whole is an historical record of God’s relationship with a particular people governed by his Law whose historical record begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation. What this means for our chiasm above is that which is renewed in the “end” is correspondent to that which began from the beginning. The fundamental issue then is “what” that thing is. Whatever the “heavens and the earth” are in the beginning (Genesis), these are that which are made new at the end (Revelation). The Prophets, therefore, are positioned in such a way that their treatment of this motif establishes how to understand the beginning and the end.
It, therefore, goes without saying comprehending Genesis and Revelation depends upon the historical experience of Israel. The consequences of not operating under this rubric is to approach both the beginning and the end of the Bible with a deficient hermeneutic which produces misinformation. The story of God’s works and ways with Israel is governed by a structure of torah or instruction which must be followed in the same way a set of blueprints are followed by an architect. This is Genesis through Malachi. Following torah as a map presupposes that map goes much the same way of a drill sergeant. John the Forerunner demonstrates exactly this mindset when he embodies the torah when he says of his role as preparation for Jesus, He must increase; I must decrease. When Jesus arrives bringing the kingdom, the torah begins its inherent program of passing off the scene because it has course is run. Those, therefore, who had followed torah up to this point would find it most natural to transition from the first things to the renewal of those former things.