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A Remarkable Demonstration of the Unity of the Bible (Timothy Raymond)

A few weeks ago I purchased Walter Kaiser’s Recovering the Unity of the Bible: One Continuous Story, Plan, and Purpose.  While I love Kaiser, the real reason I bought the book was because it was 50% off and I’m something of a cheapskate.  The book considers the Bible’s internal coherence from a variety of perspectives (e.g., the Bible’s unified picture of God, its unified plan, its unified ethic, etc.) and is, in the end, a powerful apologetic for the supernatural inspiration of Scripture.  On the whole, the book is really outstanding and definitely worth reading.

For me, the most valuable chapter by far has been chapter 4, “The Unity of the Hebrew Bible.”  The chapter makes the remarkable claim that the entire Old Testament history is organized and arranged around Israel’s breaking of all ten of the Ten Commandments.  This is something I’ve never heard before or seen anywhere else.  What follows is my attempt at summarizing Kaiser’s chapter for you to consider and to explore further on your own.

400px-Old_TestamentBuilding on the work of David Noel Freedman, Kaiser’s argument begins by organizing the Old Testament canon, not according to our modern Protestant organization, but according to the traditional Jewish organization of Torah, Prophets, and the Writings.  This is almost certainly the way in which the Bible was organized in Jesus’ day (Luke 24:44).  Then those books which make up the “Primary History” of the Hebrew people are isolated (p. 48-50).  This Primary History would be composed of nine books, namely the five books of the Torah (i.e., Pentateuch) and the four Former Prophets (i.e., Joshua through 2 Kings), which combined tell the story of Israel’s rise and fall.  (In case you’re wondering how the Torah plus the Former Prophets are “nine” books, in the Hebrew canon 1 and 2 Samuel are a single book as are 1 and 2 Kings.)  Astonishingly, when these nine books are considered as a collective whole, rather conspicuous episodes of breaking each of the Ten Commandments are recorded in order, basically one per book.  Kaiser writes:

“The organization of the nine books revolves around Israel’s violation of…the Ten Commandments before the Babylonian exile ensued.  One commandment and one violation appear in each book” (p. 51).

If this organization is actually present in the Hebrew Bible, this is really fascinating and is, in my opinion, a strong evidence of a Greater Hand at work in the formation of the canon.  Freedman asks:

“What are the chances that such a pattern and sequence actually occur in the Primary History?  And if they do occur, or any portion of them [falls into place], is that evidence of a guiding editorial hand?” (Kaiser, p. 51, quoting Freedman)

Now admittedly there are a couple important concessions which must be made for this organization to work.  First, the ordering of the Decalogue must be taken not from Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5 but from Jeremiah 7:8-11, which modifies the traditional ordering of the Ten Commandments on commandments 6-8 (p. 51, 54).  There are actually compelling reasons for this, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t summarize them here.  Second, violations of the first two commandments and the final two commandments are found in the same accounts, thus forming interesting bookends.  Kaiser writes:

“The first violation happened when Moses was absent from the Israelite camp while he was up on Mount Sinai [i.e., the golden calf incident]…Thus, in one single event, we have a double violation of the first two commandments…The final event in 1 Kings 21 likewise had a double violation, wherein both Queen Jezebel and King Ahab violated not just the ninth commandment against false witnesses by lying about a crime that Naboth did not commit, but King Ahab also violated the tenth commandment when he coveted Naboth’s vineyard…Thus 1 Kings 21 forms an inclusion by ending the ninth book with a double violation, just as Israel began this series of ten violations of the Decalogue with a double offense” (p. 52-53).

If you’re able to tolerate those two concessions, the final outcome is rather powerful.

How might this be illustrated?  Here my imperfect attempt at reduplicating Kaiser’s chart (p. 52):



1 – “No other gods”

Exodus 32 – Golden calf incident

2 – “No graven images”

Exodus 32 – Golden calf incident

3 – “Don’t use Lord’s name in vain”

Leviticus 24:10-16 – The half Israelite/half Egyptian who blasphemed

4 – “Remember the Sabbath”

Numbers 15:32-36 – Man gathering sticks on the Sabbath

5 – “Honor parents”

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 – The wayward, defiant son who is stoned

8 – “No stealing”

Joshua 7 – Achan’s sin at Ai

6 – “No murder”

Judge 19-21 – The Levite’s concubine raped to death

7 – “No adultery”

2 Samuel 11-12 – David’s adultery with Bathsheba

9 – “No false witness”

1 Kings 21 – King Ahab taking Naboth’s vineyard

10 – “No covering”

1 Kings 21 – King Ahab taking Naboth’s vineyard

Why might such an organization be evident in the Old Testament?  Two main reasons.  First, to show how thoroughly Israel apostatized from the Mosaic Covenant and that they were fully deserving of the Exile.  But second, to give us a clear but subtle proof that the Old Testament canon (and more than that, the history of the Hebrew people) was under the control of our sovereign God.

Now again, I share this with you mostly to perk your interests and to encourage you to do more research on your own.  But for now, I’m curious to get your feedback on this.  Do you find it fascinating and persuasive or just an interesting coincidence?  Do you notice major holes in the idea?  Leave your comments below and we’ll have a conversation.

Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.

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