The shape of the Hebrew Scriptures (Torah-Prophets-Writings, see the posting below) is intentional and apologetic. It marks a historical shift from the spoken word of God (sometimes alongside the written) to the written exclusively. And it marks a shift from prophets to wise men (wisdom teachers). The shape of the Hebrew canon was meant to guide the faithful Israelite to wisdom to know the will of God for their life between the cessation of prophecy and the return of the prophet Elijah and then the prophet greater than Moses.
The way the Torah-Prophets-Writings are stitched together reveals this agenda, which is from God.
Torah: The compositional strategy of Genesis is easily seen when one observes where the poems fall within the text. The same pattern is also true on a larger level in the Torah. Genesis itself has as its finale a poem and then an epilogue. Numbers and Deuteronomy do the same. Each of the epilogues looks forward to the next leader within Israel.
However, in Deuteronomy there is then a second poem and a second epilogue written from the perspective of the editor of the canon. In them Moses is dead. This is traditionally one of the most controversial issues of Torah scholarship – how can one say that Moses wrote it if Moses died during it. The answer: Moses did not write the second poem and second epilogue, which do not fit the original compositional strategy of the Torah but clearly betray a later redaction. This later edit is fully the word of God as well as fully the words of this editor. The second poem repeats themes from the Genesis 49 poem. But here the role of the Levites are treated more comprehensively – because the Levites teach the written word to the people [the Levites are wise men, wisdom teachers]. The poem says,
“They shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your Torah” (Deut 33:10).
The second epilogue reveals the editor’s intentions by describing Joshua as
“full of the Spirit of wisdom” (34:9).
The agenda is to make Joshua more like a wisdom teacher than a prophet. That this is written when prophecy has ceased in Israel (for at least 400 years before Christ came) and when it was not expected to resume until the end is clear from the next verse.
“And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom YHWH knew face to face” (Deut 34:10) and “none like him for all the signs and wonders that YHWH sent him to do” (Deut 34:11-12).
Thus concludes the Torah. No prophet greater than Moses has appeared. Prophecy has ceased. Look to Wisdom to know the will of God for your decision-making.
Prophets: The canon editor then stitched this together with the Prophets section. Joshua, opening the prophets, is portrayed as a wisdom leader. God tells Joshua,
“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the Torah, which Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Josh 1:7).
Not turning to the right or to the left is wisdom language, and the promise that this will bring success is common in wisdom literature. As if to make this connection to wisdom concrete, the introduction to Joshua continues in this vein,
“This Book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Josh 1:8).
Here we see the move from the spoken word of the prophet to the written word (“the book of the Torah” that you meditate upon) and we see the wisdom themes continue.
The Prophets ends with the Book of the Twelve, concluding with Malachi. The shape of the latter prophets within the Prophets moves in the direction of priestly concerns. Ezekiel would have been a priest and shows deep concern for priestly issues and the Book of the Twelve shows the same movement because the last three books are concerned with priestly issues. Malachi, for example, focuses on the job of the priests as teaching the Torah:
“True instruction was in his [Levi] mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek Torah from his mouth, for he is the messenger of YHWH of hosts” (Mal 2:6-7).
Malachi ends with these words, though they are not necessary for the book on its own,
“Remember the Torah of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of YHWH comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction” (devoted to destruction) (Mal 4:4-6 in English Bible).
Here the editor concludes the Prophets on much the same note that he concluded the Torah. The prophet greater than Moses has not appeared (it was not Elijah). Prophecy has ceased, adding that it will return with the return of Elijah before the coming of the prophet greater than Moses. Until then, look to Wisdom (study Scripture) to know the will of God for your decision-making.
The editor stitched the Prophets to the Writings just like he did the Torah to the Prophets. These seams are parallel.
Writings: The writings open with Psalm 1. Of course, Psalms 1 & 2 serve as an introduction to the entirety of the book of Psalms. This book has been compiled intentionally as well. But for our purposes remember that Psalm 1 is much like the opening to Joshua.
Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (ESV).
Here again the way of wisdom is presented and the righteous wisdom teacher meditates on the Torah of YHWH day and night – and he prospers.
How is this relevant for those who live on this side of the New Testament canon?
The Old Testament is shaped to answer the question: “How do I know the will of the Lord when prophecy has ceased?” Now that we have a complete New Testament canon, with nothing to add or subtract, and prophecy has again ceased, “How do I know the will of the Lord?” Study the Torah, Prophets, Writings (Old and New). Study the written word of God under wisdom teachers because that has replaced the spoken word of the prophets. The written word is sufficient – we need nothing more to know the will of God for our salvation or to make any decision. We have the advantage of the Holy Spirit poured out on all flesh – the Wisdom of God is in our hearts and can show us the way of wisdom as a rule by using the written word of God. How do we know when one Proverb applies and another does not? This is a wisdom question. Wisdom is the paradigm for Christian living during this time between the end of prophecy (the end of the New Testament era) and the return of Jesus Christ.
This conclusion of course is not one that my Pentecostal friends (of which I have many here in Appalachia) can follow: they believe that the infallible spoken word still is to sought for direction from the Lord. They will often say, “the Lord told me to say…” or “the Lord has revealed to me….” But prophecy has ceased, just as it did before. I do not deny that God will work with some people non-discursively (bypassing teaching) but He does not do so infallibly today just as discursive prophecy (preaching) is not infallible today. Yet the shape of the Scriptures clearly show the advantages of the latter. Much more important is this consideration: NT writings like Ephesians do not describe being filled with the Holy Spirit as being someone who speaks in tongues or does other special prophecy but instead they say the Spirit-filled address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing; make melody; give thanks to God; and the Spirit-filled household is a place of mutual submission (Eph 5).
As an additional note for those interested in the discipline of Biblical Theology: this makes a way for us to appreciate the role of wisdom literature. The question had always been: “How do books like Proverbs fit into Biblical Theology?” This gives these texts a place in redemptive history – they speak to how to live during the era between prophecy’s cessation and Christ’s arrival just as they point forward to an era of prophecy’s cessation and Christ’s return. Thus the almost instinctive drive to put Proverbs in pocket NT’s is very wise indeed.
3 May 2008: I would like to add that in seminary we looked rather extensively at the hints within the NT that prophecy would cease with the end of the apostolic age. I was reading something that said the writings are always the last to be received as part of the canon — this was true with the OT writings as well as the NT writings. Revelation was one of the last books to receive recognition as being within the canon. And it was part of the writings, but not just placed anywhere within the writings, it was put last. It is noteworthy then that Revelation ends this way:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:18-21, ESV).
What a fitting end to the NT canon. Like the ending of OT Torah and Prophets it acknowledges the gap between the end of canon and the coming of the Christ. And thus it serves as an appropriate end to the book as well as to the NT writings. Moreover, its warning about adding or subtracting from the book also then applies to the whole canon. This is my primary issue with the error of pentecostalism, it has to do with Scripture’s own doctrine of Scripture, for infallible prophecy to continue is to add to Scripture. The problem is pastoral — how can I help you discover the will of God to make decisions in your life? Wisdom, not prophecy, is the answer Scripture gives. And we discern wisdom in the community of faith — thus issues of calling require both an internal and external call.