Bryan Sebesta

Reading Scripture in Movements

Earlier I wrote about never reading just a Bible verse, always reading a paragraph at least. But I’ve found it even bigger and better than that! I was reflecting on something else I’ve learned. One of the most useful ideas I’ve encountered in scripture study is that of “movements”1. Consider: Biblical books, many of them written on scrolls rather than books, didn’t have chapters and verses at first. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have structure. Take Genesis, for example. Like a symphony, it’s blocked out in four movements:

Honestly, this has been really helpful for me this year. First off, it makes it easier to approach a book of scripture. Genesis, for example? I have the above memorized. Took me a few days, but now whenever I open the book, I know instantly where-ish I am!

And each of these movements, in many cases, has its own structure. Take the section on Isaac and Jacob. One outline I read2 has it blocked out like a chiasmus:

Honestly? That’s flippin' cool. Is it doctrine? No. (There are a few competing outlines of this narrative chunk I’ve come across.) But it gives me a handle to grasp when I’m approaching this section, and so makes it easier to see the arc and meaning of a story. For example, Genesis 22—the binding of Isaac by his father, Abraham—is a hard story for me to wrap my head around. But when I pause to consider that much of Abraham’s story is about him being tested by God, and how this test is the “final” test, and how it asks Abraham to sacrifice the Son that represents the promise God made him at the beginning of the Abraham stories (Genesis 12, where God says “I will make you into a great nation”)—well, in the larger narrative, it makes more sense. It doesn’t answer all the questions, nor is it the final word. But it’s a helpful set of questions to bring to any story: where does this verse or paragraph fit in the larger “movements” of the book it’s in?

  1. Calling these large chunks “movements” is a musical metaphor that I first heard about from the Bible Project↩︎

  2. Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, vol. 2, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1994), 169. Wenham also argues that the flood narrative is an elaborate chiasm. (As of this writing, you could his outline on the Wikipedia page for “Chiastic structure”↩︎