Lecture 18: Poetry - Part 2 | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 18: Poetry - Part 2

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: Poetry - Part 2

Now I am going to talk about four specific kinds of poetry.  One is synonymous parallelism. In synonymous parallelism, you have the same thought being repeated. You have it being repeated however in poetic form.  The poetry would of course be in the Greek in the New Testament.  But the poetry before it was in Greek was in Aramaic Jesus spoke.  It is still in the Greek and it is still in the translation. 


“Ask and it shall be given you.
Seek and you shall find.
Knock and it shall be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives
And he who seeks finds.
To him who knocks, it shall be opened.”

Now I remember hearing a sermon one day from somebody who was saying, “There are really three kinds of prayer.  The problem with some of us is that we are only at the asking level of prayer. We need to go to this deeper seeking level of prayer. And then if we have gone to that place we should strive further to get to the knocking kind of prayer.”

Three points. You can’t beat that can you?

The only problem is that its poetry.  And the same thought is essentially being repeated because to ask means to seek and to seek means to knock and to knock means to ask.  To find means to have it opened to you and so forth and so on.

The same thought is being repeated much like in a particular kind of song we have, of course:

“Lord. You are more precious than silver.
Lord, You are more costly than gold.
Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds.
And nothing I desire compares to you.”

Is this to be understood as one person saying, “Lord, You are more precious than silver” and someone says, “For me You are more precious than gold.” “Well. He is more precious than diamonds to me.” 

Or are we repeating the same thought?  It is the same thought being repeated.  But let me say, it sure is a lot nicer to say this than to say, “Lord, You are more precious than silver. “Lord, You are more precious than silver. Lord, You are more precious than silver.” Alright?

So there is a variety where the same thought where the same thought is being repeated in rhythmic form. This can become helpful at times because if you did not know one of these lines, the other lines knowing it is in rhythmic parallelism, helps you to understand it.

For instance in Luke 6:27 and 28, we have an example of this kind of parallelism.

“But I say to you then – listen 4 lines – Love your enemies.
Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you.
Pray for those who abuse you.”

Do you want to know what it means to love your enemies? Well, it means to pray for those who abuse you. To bless those who curse you. To do good to those who hate you.

Notice these are all about actions. There is nothing about “emote”  [Hard to Hear]  towards them. It has to do with good actions. You want to know what love of enemies means.  It means to do good things for them.  To bless, to pray for and to do good to.

Another example of that is in the Lord’s Prayer. There are three lines in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew which are synonymous parallelism. 

“Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done.”

Then you have the expression, “On earth as it is in Heaven” which probably goes with all three of them.

What does it mean to have God’s name hallowed on earth as it is in Heaven? To have His will done on earth as it is in Heaven? I know what the one line in between these three lines of synonymous parallelism means. 

“Your kingdom come,
On earth as it is in Heaven.

I know what that means. Asking for history to come to an end. For Jesus to return.  It is the same kind of prayer that the early church prayed when they said, “Even so come quickly Lord Jesus” or “Maranatha” as it is in 2nd Corinthians.

Well. If that’s what it means, “Hallowed be your name on earth as it is in Heaven” looks for the day where we pray “Lord, we pray for that time when just as it is in Heaven, your name will be hallowed on this earth.” Your will be done, we are praying Lord that just as your will is done and perfection in Heaven, we are praying for that day when it will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

So if you know one of these lines, it helps you to understand these other lines when you have this rhythmic synonymous parallelism.  The opposite of that – we looked at one example, this last one in which you had four lines, the previous one had three lines, in which you had synonymous parallelism. 

Now the opposite of synonymous parallelism would be antithetical parallelism.  And here you have in all the examples however only two lines. One line and then the opposite line.

“Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”

Opposite being repeated.

Luke 16:10 – another example of this kind of this parallelism.

“Whoever is faithful in very little, is faithful also in much.
And whoever is dishonest in very little, is dishonest also in much.”

Now a lot of the Proverbs use antithetical parallelism. You say “Well, what are they? Are they Proverbs or are they poetry?” Well, there is no sharp distinction. Some you could label both.  You can have a proverb that is in poetic form. But almost all of Proverbs 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and half of 15 are all examples of antithetical parallelism.

“The wise son is a joy to his father but a bad son…” so forth.

Antithetical parallelism, the opposite thought is being repeated.  Another kind of parallelism, is called step or climatic parallelism. In this, the 1st and the 2nd lines are not identical. They are not synonymous. But the 2nd line is not the opposite of the 1st.  What happens is that the 2nd line advances the 1st line a step further and are called therefore step parallelism.

Matthew 11:40, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” If they welcome the disciples, they welcome Jesus and if they welcome Jesus, they welcome His heavenly Father Who sent Him.

Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I have come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. I have come not to destroy them, but to fulfill them.”

It rises a level up. Step Parallelism.

Now another kind of parallelism is called chiasmic parallelism. Here you have in the 1st statement, a A-B part.  There is an A part and a B part.  Now when you get to the 2nd part, remember, the key to all of these is parallelism or rhythm. The 2nd part reverses the order and goes from B to A.

Matthew 23:12, “Anyone who exalts Himself will be humbled. Anyone who (A) exalts Himself will be (B) humbled. Anyone who (B) humbles himself, will be (A) exalted.” A-B-B-A

Mark 8:35, “He who (A) saves his life will (B) lose it. He who (B) loses his life for my sake and the Gospels will (A) save it. Save-lose-lose-Save. Chiasmic parallelism

Now the key of all this is that poetry is here not so much rhyme, but rhythm. Well, you say, “But I thought poetry was rhyme.  I mean Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow. Everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go. Snow, go, Rhyme. That’s poetry.

But think a minute.

Maary had aaa little lamb, whose fleece was white as snowwww… and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to follow ? No. One syllable …go.

There has to be a rhythm to it. So rhythm is far more basic to poetry than rhyme, and Hebrew poetry especially is much more rhythm than rhyme in that regard.  Even in English poetry is much more dominated by rhythm than rhyme. Though sometimes we have both present. Yeah. I have for instance in the Gospels, I have 48 examples that I know of synonymous parallelism. 48 times where Jesus used this form of poetry of synonymous parallelism. 

I have a 138 examples of antithetical parallelism. 20+ of step or climactic parallelism and 16 of chiasmic parallelism.

So all together, when you put it together, let us see uh … you have over 200 examples of that kind of poetry.

Dr. Stein: Yes.

Student:  [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Just in the Gospels, right. From Jesus lips. Why would Jesus want to teach them poetry? Our missionary talked about a non-cultural society, and not literal.

Student:  [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Sure. If you have a non-literal society, how do you teach them? You might say, “Well. Teach them to read and write.” That takes a while. But you can teach them in poetic forms, things easily memorizable. And the community can possess those and have them before they learn how to read.  So you have this rhythmic teaching, it is very to do so.

I could probably ask most of you, right out for me the first verse of “The Church’s One Foundation.”

Church’s One Foundation
Is Jesus Christ Our Lord
She is His new creation

And you would sing it right? And the rhythm would come to you. And the rhythm would help you to remember it. And so by placing things in poetic form, Jesus helped His readers to retain His teachings. Other forms that we looked at are exaggeration. We haven’t looked at that very carefully. We will look at that more in precision later on. We will look at Parables.

If you hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son, how often do you have to hear it to be able to say it almost exactly? Twice? Parables of story helps you with that. Poetry.  So these are very memorizable forms and we are dealing with a culture that essentially is illiterate, so they are useful and powerful forms as well.

Questions? Comments?

Student:  [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: Alright I’ll tell you once again.

Synonymous parallelism: 48 examples.
Antithetical parallelism: 138 examples.
Step or climactic parallelism: 20+ roughly
Chiasmic parallelism: 16

That is just Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. Of course if you just went to the book of Proverbs, and you see all the rhythm there, which makes Proverbs easy to memorize is the rhythm, you would have hundreds of them literally. Hundreds and hundreds.

Anything else? Yeah.

Student: I was wondering if I could ask a question that goes back a couple of classes.

Dr. Stein: Sure if I could still remember that far. The older you get, you have short-term memory loss.

Student:  [Hard to Hear]

Dr. Stein: The Parables could be interpreted as saying Jesus taught so that the non-predestined would not understand. You have a real Calvinistic interpretation. The problem with that is that verse He quotes from Isaiah, the strongest possible portion of that verse that would really lead to that kind of an interpretation, He omits.

You look at the part of Isaiah that is not quoted, and that’s really a strong Calvinistic kind of thought you might have, but He doesn’t say it that way. Furthermore those who were not predestined understood the Parables pretty well.  I mean after one of the Parables, they wanted to go out and crucify Him. Do they say, “I’m tired of not being able to understand the Parables. Lets crucify a guy like that.”


So they understood the Parables pretty well. And I think we have to wrestle with sometimes, the Parables are used because when you talk about the Kingdom of God and Pontius Pilate is only interested in the Kingdom of Rome and any other kingdom you talk about it pretty dangerous. How do you talk about sensitive subjects? Well. You talk about it in parabolic form.

And the spies of Pontius Pilate come back to the Pilate and say, “We heard Him talking about the Kingdom of God.” And He says, “Well. What did He say?” “Well. He said it was like leaven which a woman put in a batch of dough.” “And then what did He say?” “It is about all He said.” Oh. He said, it doesn’t make sense in many ways.

So in some ways the Parables are not as obscure as you might think but they are in a form that would be very hard to find fault with in some of the areas like the Kingdom of God, very touchy subject. Same as what He does in the teaching about the Kingdom of God in parables, He does by talking of Himself not as the Messiah, but as the Son of Man. He can talk about who He is without evoking revolutionary kinds of things that would require Rome to interfere immediately to try to crush the movement.

So that’s one of the reasons He talked about. But we are going to spend time on the Parables and go into it more at length that way.