When someone takes to write a book they write with a purpose. Sometimes the purpose is to entertain and other times it’s to teach a theory or an observed idea and other times it is to motivate you (or someone) to act. No one writes a book just to spout words because that would be a waste of everybody’s time.
The author of any book has a motivating issue, maybe a problem, maybe addressing a concern, maybe simply answering how things work or how they’d like it to work. Sometimes they just want to give a moral example. Now of course this sort of writing doesn’t necessarily have to be didactic, that is teaching you about the specific concern, example or observation. Some people can teach within a narrative (for example the Screwtape Letters or Nietzsche’s Parable of the Madman). I’d wager some of the best teaching is in a narrative form.
So the motivating issue winds up being exceedingly important to understanding the writing. It forces us to understand how words are being used and the context of their usage and why the words are being given and how the author is moving along his or her thought.
Paradoxically enough you really only discover the problem when you first read the words. This is where our tools of the examination of structure, pattern and thought-flow become important.
I said in my last post that patterns underscore what the author thinks is important. The structure clues you in by showing you how the written material is put together—how it’s united. Who is the author writing to winds up being exceedingly important when said author keeps bringing up stories around that individual. An obvious arrangement of the material in a non-chronological order forces us to look at some other organization that clues us into the author’s thoughts. How the author tells a story and then places a second story next to it with similar elements—can they be connected and do they speak to the author’s main concern?
It all happens within the author’s writing.
John won’t tell you Moses’ problem for writing a specific text. John might tell you how Moses’ problem finds an even better though distant answer but never really deals with Moses’ motivating problem to write a specific book. Peter won’t clue you in on Paul, James won’t clue you in on Matthew and Luke won’t clue you in on Barnabas (or whoever else might’ve written the letter to Hebrews). None of them will clue you in on earlier author’s main concerns.
As a good reader we have a mission to try to uncover what the author is saying within his or her text.
So if you want to know what the author of Genesis is dealing with, don’t look at later authors—you look at what the author of Genesis wrote In Genesis. You look at the repetitions throughout the book, you underscore how the book is divided, and you try to discover the problem that the author was addressing by telling That Story.
Of course this means that we have to trust the author to a certain extent and I’ll deal with that in the next two posts.