Introduction: The Bible as Literature
I recently preached a sermon in which I was discussing literary techniques that we see in Scripture. Sometimes people read the Bible in a flat, wooden sort of way, almost like they were reading a police report or something similar, where all you have is a list of facts and no sort of interpretation.
I think that is unfortunate, because the Bible is really a library of books all telling the same grand Story, and within that library, there are various types or genres of literature, and different genres of literature need to be read in certain ways if we are to understand and apply them faithfully. Much could be written both about different types of literature that we see in the Bible—wisdom literature, history, ancient biography, prophecy, poetry, apocalypse, epistles, etc.—and also different types of literary devices that biblical authors used to tell their stories in more powerful ways.*
Examining either of those in detail is beyond the scope of this post, but one literary technique that I do want to focus on here is what I call echoing, or the frequent practice of the authors of Scripture to refer back to an earlier event in the Bible by repeating certain language, or telling stories in similar ways, or comparing certain characters.
Creation and New Creation
One powerful example of echoing can be seen in a comparison between Genesis 1-3, which talks the Creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22, which talks about the New Creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. I shared this particular example in the sermon that I mentioned above, and considering the feedback I got from people who had never noticed these strong connections before, I thought it would be worth sharing here.
Simply put, in the description of the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21-22, over and over again you have echoes of what occurred in the creation of the heavens and earth Genesis 1-3:
- In Genesis 1.4, there is a division of light and darkness; in Revelation 21.25, there is no night.
- In Genesis 1.10, there is a division of land and sea; in Revelation 21.1, there is no more sea.
- In Genesis 1.16, the rule of the sun and moon is described; in Revelation 21.23, we learn that there is no need for the sun or moon.
- In Genesis 2.10, we are told about a river flowing out of the Garden of Eden; in Revelation 22.1, we are told about a river flowing from God’s throne.
- Genesis 2.9 describes the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden; Revelation 22.2 describes the Tree of Life throughout the city.
- Genesis 2.12 tells us that God and precious stones are in the land; Revelation 21.19 tells us that gold and precious stones are throughout.
- God walks in the garden, among His creation as described in Genesis 3.8; Revelation 21.3 states that God’s dwelling will be with His people.
- Following Adam and Eve’s sin, Genesis 3.17 states that the ground itself will be cursed; in the New Creation, there will be no more curse (Revelation 22.3).
- As a result of sin and the curse, life in creation is characterized by pain and sorrow (Genesis 3.17-19); in the new creation, there will be no more sorrow, pain, or tears (Revelation 21.1-4).
- Additionally, the sin results in death, described as a returning to the dust (Genesis 3.19); in the New Heavens and New Earth, there is no more death (Revelation 21.4).
- Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, and cherubim guard the entrance to it (Genesis 3.24); angels actively invite into the city in Revelation 21.9.
There are actually many more points of comparison that could be made, but I think these are sufficient to prove the point: in Revelation, John is clearly describing the eternity that God’s people will spend with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth in language that echoes back to the story of creation and fall in Genesis 1-3.
In making these connections between Revelation and Genesis, John is making a significant and profound theological point: the creation that God created good but that was tainted by sin, He is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect!
*When I discuss Scripture as literature or as story, I am not suggesting that these characteristics somehow diminish its truth. I believe the Bible relates the truest Story of all, but it is still told as story, and employs a variety of literary techniques in the telling of it.