Apr 23, 2014 David Lang

A Literary Approach to Genesis

Waltke-Genesis For some time now, I've been teaching through the book of Genesis in my Sunday School class. About the time I got to the Abraham cycle, one of our developers finished a new commentary on Genesis by Bruce Waltke, and it was submitted to me for final checks. This fortuitous timing led me to begin using the pre-release module in my Sunday School preparation.

Like many of you, my main method of using commentaries in Accordance is to view them in a parallel pane together with the Biblical text. When I first opened Waltke on Genesis in a parallel pane, I was rather surprised at the brevity of the verse-by-verse commentary.


Looking at the screenshot above, you can see that the comments, while helpful, are more what you would expect from a good study Bible than a commentary that devotes more than 600 pages to a single book of the Bible. That's because Waltke's verse-by-verse exposition of Genesis was originally written for the New Geneva Study Bible. In spite of this (ahem!) genesis, Waltke on Genesis is far more than just a set of repackaged study Bible notes.

Rather than opening this commentary as a parallel pane, I'd recommend opening this commentary in its own zone so you can access its Table of Contents. The simplest way to do this is to select a verse of Genesis and then amplify to Waltke-Genesis by selecting it from the Reference Tools submenu of the Amplify menu. That will open the commentary right to the verse and automatically tie the commentary to the Bible text so that the two will scroll in parallel (just like a parallel pane). When we look at the Contents pane of the commentary, we'll begin to see its strength:


As you can see, the verse-by-verse exposition is just a small part of this commentary. The bulk of the commentary developed from Dr. Waltke's classroom lectures on Genesis, in which he divided the text of Genesis into 12 "books" (based on its well-known toledoth structure) which are further subdivided into "acts" and "scenes." This attempt to "model a literary approach to Genesis" is designed to help readers "discover its rich literary treasures".

If you look again at the screenshot above, you'll see that Genesis 18:18 is part of "Book 6, Act 2, Scene 3". The "Exegetical Notes" on this scene are preceded by a "Literary Analysis" of the scene as a whole. They are also followed by a series of "Theological Reflections" on the scene. Thus, the brief exegetical notes are only a small part of the commentary on this verse. The Literary Analysis of the scene explains the literary structure and narrative techniques used by the author to communicate meaning. The Theological Reflections then develop various applications of that meaning, which is very helpful for busy pastors and Sunday School teachers who need to distill these narrative episodes into communicable lessons.


Of course, this one "scene" is interwoven with other scenes in the "act" and other acts in the "book". Waltke does a masterful job of demonstrating the literary and theological connections among all these narrative episodes. Of course, this approach can admittedly make it hard to feel like you've done your due diligence simply by reading the commentary on the current "scene". Because I began using this commentary when I was already a good third of the way through Genesis, I find myself feeling like I may be missing things by not exploring Waltke's literary analysis of those passages I've already covered. Still, I look at that discomfort as a good thing. After all, shouldn't every commentary encourage you to explore the wider context of your passage?

Even before I picked up Waltke's commentary on Genesis, I marveled at the literary artistry of the first book of the Bible, and I found myself wishing I had a deeper understanding of the literary techniques utilized by the author. Waltke's "literary approach" to Genesis offered the very help I was looking for. If you're reading or teaching through Genesis, I think you'll find it helpful too. Just be sure to explore all the sections of commentary rather than stopping with the admittedly brief exegetical notes.

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