After verifying the text and translation of the passage we are considering, and after examining the background and context, we need to identify the structural keys – or building blocks – of the book so that we can recognize shifts in thought or argument, and developments in the narrative.
In some books, structural keys are easy to identify, while in others the structural keys take a bit more effort to discover.
Genesis is divided up by the Hebrew word toledoth (often translated as “the generations of” in Gen 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, etc.). The book is developing God’s working in human history through a particular lineage.
In Habakkuk, the structural keys are the shifts in the dialogue. Habakkuk asks God two questions, God answers them, then Habakkuk offers a prayer of praise and trust. Notice how the chapter and verse division displaces the statement in 2:1.
Chiasm is a literary structure in which the pattern resembles half of the Greek letter Chi (X). In Lamentations, chapters 1 and 5 have similarities, and chapter 2 and 4 have similarities, but chapter 3 stands alone as the central focus of the book in its chiastic structure. Notice 3:18-26 and the tremendous emphasis there.
Lamentations has another set of structural keys besides chiasm: chapters 1-4 are written in acrostic form, and chapter 5 is not. So in that way, chapter 5 is set apart.
John explains his purpose for writing in John 20:30-31, and explains that his purpose for writing is that readers would believing in Christ. He identifies the tool he uses as signs (semaion). Notice the connection between John 20:30 and John 2:11.
The narrative and geographical divisions of Acts 1:8 provide an outline of the book. Also present is division based on prominent characters (i.e., Peter and Paul).
James uses the phrase “my brethren” to emphasize or advance arguments.
Revelation 1:19 provides a chronological key to the divisions of the prophetic book.
These are just a few examples that can help us understand the importance of and approach to recognizing the natural divisions in the book. Whether the structural keys are immediately recognizable or more challenging to find, we should always be careful in our observation not to miss these important guideposts.
Once we have identified the structural keys, we are then equipped to outline the book, identifying major and minor divisions. Once we outline the book, we can begin to see the importance of the structure in the communication of the purposes of the book – which is a vital component for understanding the individual passages and how they contribute to that overall purpose.
Next up: identify lexical keys.