The literary structure of the New Testament is based entirely on the historical and literary patterns established in the Old. This explains the often strange allusions made by the apostolic writers. Some of them are so subtle that they go right over our heads. They are undetectable without the rhythms of the Hebrew scriptures in our heads.
Here is an example from my book, The Shape of Galatians, which outlines the epistle in a way that demonstrates the same Covenant-literary pattern working at multiple levels. The allusion is found in the first “cycle” of the book, which comprises Galatians 1:1-10. It is structured as follows:
CYCLE 1 – Galatians 1:1-10
The identity of the Church
The Gospel distorted
Curse the lying “angels”
A second witness
Paul seeks God’s blessing, not man’s
No rest for the wicked
If we zoom in on the text of each of these seven points, we discover that the text follows the same pattern at a more detailed level. The one which we will focus on here is the Ascension stanza (verses 6-7). As a theme, Ascension covers everything from the offering of Isaac on Mount Moriah, to Moses receiving the Law on Sinai, to the ascension of Christ, the firstborn who fulfilled the Law.
At this level of detail, the rhythm takes a little more training to discern, but it is there nonetheless. This sentence on its own recapitulates the subject matter of the first seven books of the Bible.
(Genesis – Authority – Initiation – Creation)
(Exodus – False departure – Delegation – Division)
(Leviticus – Firstfruits, New Tabernacle – Presentation – Ascension)
(Numbers – Word challenged – Purification – Testing)
(Deuteronomy – Second Law/Dual Witness – Transformation – Maturity)
(Joshua – Achan and Achor, Covenant curse – Vindication – Conquest)
(Judges – Rest denied – Representation – Glorification)
Identifying Paul’s allusion to Israel’s history in his prose reveals just how cutting these words actually are. Moreover, it makes clear whom Paul has in mind: Judaizers who wish to carry the Galatian Christians back to the doomed “Egypt” of Herodian Judaism.
The “exodus” here is ironic. It is the same sort of exodus made by the doomed family of Elimelech in the book of Ruth which resulted in the deaths of the father and the sons who deserted Bethlehem, their “house of bread.”
“A different gospel” appears at Testing, which corresponds with the words of the serpent in Genesis 3, and with Jesus’ naming of the Pharisees as a brood of serpents. As the devil was the “head,” so the Jews who rejected the Spirit at Pentecost became a false Covenantal “body.” Lifting up and exposing the bronze serpent disempowered the fiery serpents. Jesus conquered the head and His Firstfruits Church would conquer these fiery snakes.
The placement of the “different Gospel” at the center is also an allusion to Israel’s harlotry under the influence of Balaam in the book of Numbers. Since the Ten Words are an expression of the same pattern, those who are calling these saints are in fact breaking the very Law, spiritually speaking, which they claim will bring them salvation. Hence, we have the references to Balaam and Jezebel, the false prophet and the harlot, in the condemnation of Jerusalem’s temple and city in the Revelation. The reference to “not another” at the Deuteronomy step is also an allusion to bearing false witness.
The “trouble” appears at Line 6, which has to do with ownership and cleansing of the Land. The Judaizers within the Church are false brothers like Achan, who hid in his tent things that were devoted to destruction.
And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor [Trouble]. (Joshua 7:25-26)
In the final Line, the Gospel of Christ aligns with the heavenly inheritance promised to the saints. But who were the true mediators now between heaven and earth? Not the Jewish priesthood or their rulers. The battle between Christ and Herod for the Covenant Succession was a corporate replay of the battle between Jacob and Esau. The Herods were Idumeans, that is, Edomites.