Understanding Biblical Literary Structures

 

Within the nucleus of each cell in our bodies is a complex DNA code blueprinting all the genetic possibilities of our species, all with perfect structure. Peering into the vastness of Space, which is made up of billions of Galaxies, we can see worlds of perfect structure. Even as we admire a common tree, beginning with its root system and reaching out to its furthest twigs, there is a perfect structure. Our human skeleton also, with its multitude of ball and joint sockets, all working in complete harmony show us a perfect structure. Planet Earth lives because rain and snow falls in the highlands, then runs to the oceans in rivers and streams, returning to the clouds by evaporation, only to descend again upon the highlands, all with a perfect structure.

All of GOD's creation testifies of this perfect structure, so it is no wonder that HIS words would also be spoken in perfect structure. If the very hairs on our head are numbered, is it not reasonable to suppose that GOD's words would also be numbered, in a perfect Literary Structure? We do not always see this structure in our Bibles because the words have been translated from their Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into Latin and then English. Oftentimes the structure was lost in the translation. Howbeit, many times it wasn't, as we shall soon witness.

One of my favorites is ROMANS 10:9,10.

A. That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus [Yeshua],

B. and shalt believe in thine heart that GOD hath raised Him from the dead,

C. thou shalt be saved

B. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness;

A. and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

See how wonderfully A. and A. correspond, opening and then finalizing the passage? Both mention the mouth confessing. Then see how B. and B. correspond, building unto and then backing away from the crescendo, "C"? Here in both, the heart is believing. Then, in perfect structure all the units of this passage turn on the pivotal phrase, "C. thou shalt be saved". The Structure tells us what the Author's principal point is. Amazing isn't it? Like a marvelous tapestry, the Bible is weaved together with this perfect structure. Not only do the verses have their own structure, but the chapters and the books also are connected with a perfect structure. The Holy Book itself is one magnificent structure.

On too rare of an occasion has the treasure of Biblical Literary Structure been studied over the ages. Probably the most complete work was done by E. W. Bullinger in his "Companion Bible". His History of Biblical Structures can be read at the link. Another work worthy of mention is John Breck's book entitled "The Shape of Biblical Language".

Not all Biblical Literary Structures are identical in design. The Structure of ROMANS 10:9,10 illustrated above has a perfect structure, but one that is different than the Structure of ISAIAH 55:6.

Seek ye the Lord [Yahweh]

while HE may be found,

Call ye upon HIM

while HE is near.

Here there is no pivotal point upon which the passage turns. It is more a series of progressive thoughts, exhorting the reader on to a more worthy endeavor. Another structure is where the thoughts are set in contrast to each other, or "Layered", where they build upon one another, as in PROVERBS 27:6.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend;

But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

The study of Biblical Structures is vital, and no interpretation of Scripture is complete without considering the structure of the passage. Where does it lay in the surrounding verses? How is it presented to the reader? To whom was it spoken? These questions are often answered only after considering the structure.

To quote Dr Bullinger on the subject;

...And yet, we may say that, no more powerful weapon has yet been placed in our hands outside that Word, which is "the Spirit's sword". It affords a wondrous proof of Inspiration; it gives us a clearer and more comprehensive view of the scope of the Scriptures, than the most learned and elaborate commentaries can ever hope to do; and it is capable of even turning the scale in doubtful, doctrinal, and critical questions.

Or as Mr. Breck wrote;

This helical structure, from Genesis to Revelation, illustrates as few other rhetorical devices can, how theological meaning comes to expression through literary form.

Biblical Structure is a vital key to understanding scripture. Each student can for himself learn to recognize these structures. We have assembled a few for the readers enjoyment at General Index to the Structures. Many more can be found in other men's works. Howbeit, the Bible itself is where we discover the whole treasure.