The Divine Division of Scripture

In our previous posts we discussed what a textual division is and how to construct one. Now we will take up the question of why a textual division is a good way to study Sacred Scripture.

Often Scripture is approached using a historical method, presenting the events in a chronological order. Indeed, a quick glance at the table of contents of the Revised Standard Version will show that the books are arranged in an attempt to present them chronologically. Because of this the reader, and often the teacher, find themselves at a loss when presenting those books which have little action, adding little to the historical narrative, like the Psalms, Song of Songs, or Wisdom. Additionally those books which repeat action: like Chronicles and Kings seem superfluous. Conversely the teacher might loose sight of the moral and spiritual significance of those books which are rich in plot and historical meaning. Maccabees for example is often reduced to having no greater importance than presenting the culture and world view at the historical moment of the Christ.

A truly adept teacher will supplement the historical presentation with a literary approach to the books. This helps to solve the problems the historical approach has with the Wisdom Literature. Where a consideration of genera, literary style, and motifs runs into difficulty is, like the historical method, is reducing scripture to a neat collection of stories. The gospels are reduced to a fun collection of fables told by a counter cultural guru.

Approaching the Scriptures with a textual division is essential to maintaining the sense of a Divine authorship of the texts. More than just a list of the relevant parts of a text, a division shows how each of these parts is related one to the other as they progress toward a final conclusion. The argument in Scripture, the revelation of the Divine, is carried on by many different authors, in many different genera, across many centuries. More than a mere historical account of events one after another, the Division gives the reader a means by which to integrate all the texts of Scripture into a unified understanding, thus transcending the particulars of the time and place of each texts composition. This method leads the reader to a conclusion that these texts were composed by a single author who Himself must also transcend the particulars of time and place, a Divine Author.

Additionally a textual division makes the memorization not only of the books but indeed of their details a relatively simple manner. If the books are logically related, and not simply juxtaposed as historical events are, or even just a collection of pretty things, as a literary approach to the scriptures might imply, then the student is forced to recall and retain the various parts of scripture, in their proper order, if they are to fit a logical sequence.

An auxiliary benefit to maintaining the primacy of the Divine authorship of scripture is that the Division provides an organized and succinct summary of the revelation. Scripture is a diverse series of genera and literary styles, necessitating a wise mind, a mind able to perceive the order and relationship between parts of a whole. St Thomas presents to us, in his Inaugural Lectures, a deceptively simple textual division.