We have now focused on historical analysis, one step in Black's suggestions for approaching the biblical text. Now I want to talk about literary analysis by using Philippians as an example. I emphasize that I'm not reviewing his book, but simply discussing and expositing parts of it. Black writes:
"Usually three levels of literary analysis are recognized: the canonical, the remote, and the immediate. The canonical context is the text’s place in the Bible itself. The remote context embraces paragraphs, a chapter, or even an entire book of Scripture. The immediate context consists of those verses or paragraphs that immediately precede or follow the text."In the foregoing paragraphs, I will illustrate what Black mentions above.
Would you read one paragraph of War and Peace but then forget the rest? That would hardly shed illumination on the famed text by Leo Tolstoy, and the same could be said for the Bible. Just knowing a verse that's isolated from it's setting is somewhat beneficial, but far from sufficient. We often quote 1 Corinthians 15:33; however, what about its context or setting? Why did Paul write that counsel? Are there verses in the Hebrew Bible that shed light on Paul's words? We won't know the answer without consulting the remote or immediate context. Black invokes Hebrews 13:5b as another example which is fruitless without considering 13:5a and I would say, 13:6.
Why is prooftexting so common? Why do many people rip a Bible passage from its original context and treat it as an isolated text? Black places the blame on Robert Estienne, who divided scripture into chapters and verses with his 1551 GNT as other versions followed suit; nevertheless, I'm thankful for what Estienne did, but it does not give us license to take a verse out of context or fail to learn from its context. Yet how can we practically implement Black's suggestions in order to shed light on what we're reading?
1) As we think about the text's place within the Bible itself, using Philippians as an example, we must acknowledge that it's difficult to understand Philippians 3:1-6 without knowing the Jewish history of circumcision (e.g., Genesis 17:9-14; Leviticus 12:1-3) from Abraham onward. The same thing could be said for comprehending Philippians 3:10-11: studying what the Bible teaches about resurrection and knowing the Sadduceean and Pharisaic beliefs concerning resurrection from the dead could illuminate 3:10-11. Not that I advocate the way that Mark D. Nanos reads Paul, but his work is an example of what it means to study Philippians within the context of ancient Judaism: https://www.kobo.com/us/es/ebook/reading-corinthians-and-philippians-within-judaism
2) What about reading the Bible with the so-called remote context in mind? One example might be Philippians 4:4. Why did Paul pen this verse? This is where a look at the macrostructure of Philippians can assist us (studying the big-picture view). In 1:3-11, the apostle commends the Philippian ecclesia: he lets them know the content of his prayers for them; moreover, Paul tries inciting them to further activity. The apostle's prayer is that his brothers and sisters will make sure of the things that matter, that their love will abound and knowledge will increase.
He mentions causes for rejoicing in 1:12-26, then turns to exhortation (1:27-30); joy again is repeated in 2:2 with tautological earnestness (Lightfoot). The Philippians should "Do everything without grumbling or arguing" (2:14 NIV); See also Philippians 2:17-19 and compare 2:28-29. Notice how Philippians 3:18-19 contributes to the overall message, and especially for our purposes, Philippians 4:4.
3) The final part of literary analysis as described by Black is the immediate context. Continuing with Philippians 4:4 as our example, what do we find when probing the immediate context? Philippians 4:1 mentions Paul's potential joy, then he requests that assistance be given to Euodia and Syntyche: why that might have been the case will be considered at a future time, but likely accounts for his words in 4:4.
Rejoicing is mentioned again in Philippians 4:10. In fact, the apostle shares how the congregation can experience joy by praying to God, fully trusting in him, and practicing generosity (Philippians 4:14-18); if they do these things, then Jehovah would supply their need in its entirety (Philippians 4:19) and they would have cause for rejoicing.
I've attempted to employ Philippians as a test case for how literary analysis might be conducted. There are many ways to analyze a Bible text or its structure. Sources to follow up on my blog entry will be posted below.
Sources for Further Reading:
David A. Black. "Paul And Christian Unity: A Formal Analysis Of Philippians 2:1-4."
JETS 28:3 (September 1985): p. 299.
Jeffrey T. Reed. A Discourse Analysis of Philippians. Method and. Rhetoric in the Debate over Literary Integrity. JSNTSS 136. Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 1996.
Richard Weymouth Thesis. https://ourarchive.otago.ac.nz/handle/10523/6389