Principles of
Right Division

Berean Expositor
Quotable / Zingers




Definition ©

Modern biblical or literary structure was first identified in the Hebrew scriptures as biblical parallelism.   This was so noted by Bishop Robert Lowth in the mid-1700's in a dissertation about the poetical nature of the Hebrew scriptures.  The Hebrew poetry was most notable by comparing the lines or stanzas in the Book of Psalms.  Lowth wrote an exposition of this concept in a study on the Book of Isaiah.   In the 1800's, a man by the name of Thomas Boys examined more exhaustively the idea of parallelism.   His study extended this concept from single lines and short passages to whole sections of scripture and even entire books of the Bible.  Because of inclusion of whole paragraphs and subjects, Boys abandoned the term "parallelism" and began using the term "correspondence".   He used this term to cover not only the concept of parallelism in Hebrew poetry, but to the various structural arrangements found throughout the entire Bible.  Boys published several works on this subject, one of which was a "Key to the Book of Psalms".  This work used examples from the Book of Psalms and expounded upon the concept of biblical structure.  Dr. E.W. Bullinger edited Boys work on Psalms and in completing the entire 150 Psalms, he republished it as "A Key to the Psalms".  Bullinger, like Boys, saw that there was more to this subject than first imagined.   He notes, "This law of Correspondence is seen in the Repetition of Subjects, rather than of Lines, or Propositions." (E.W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible.  pp. 363)

The concept of biblical structure is seen not only in Hebrew poetry, as in the Book of Psalms, but throughout both the Old and New Testaments as an integral design of the Bible itself.  One important feature of this is that it aided both the reader and the hearer of the Scriptures.  A readily obtainable copy of the Bible did not exist at that time.  As there were no printing presses, there were no "copies" for each person to have to read.  The principle means of communicating the Word of GOD was to have a narrator or reader and the audience.  The majority of the people would hear the scriptures spoken; not read them in print.  The biblical structures divide the scriptures into complete sections or "clumps" if you will.  These sections may have consisted of one or more corresponding members but nonetheless formed an entire "package".  This assisted the narrator or reader in their ability to identify the beginning and ending of each section.  Remember that there were no chapters or verses in the original scriptures.  These were invented by man as a means of referencing only.   The structures identified to the reader where to start and finish each part or section so they would not stop short or in the middle of a concept or thought that was being developed or taught.  It helped the audience or listener by making it easier to catch the contrast or get the point that was being made.  In addition, our minds are limited as to how much information it can hold and process at any given time.  The structures aid the listener through the use of repetition and correspondence to get the meaning of what is being said.   It is unfortunate, in many respects, that our English bibles have these chapter and verse divisions as this oftentimes clouds the appearance of literary structure.  We read from chapters and verses rather than from structure to structure and subsequently either miss the point of what is being said or arrive at wrong conclusions.   Indeed, much in the way of truth has been shrouded from our eyes principally because of the manner in which the material has been presented.  The fault lies not in the Book itself, but in what has been done to it!

We may ask ourselves, "What is biblical structure?"  Biblical structure is also known as literary structure or correspondence.   We say "literary" as this concept has to do with the nature and method of writing.  The scriptures are the Written Word of GOD.  We say "structure" because the writing itself has been constructed, built and organized with a particular method.  We say "correspondence" because as in Mathematics, there is a identifiable relationship between two "members" of a set or different sets.  The word correspondence is derived from Latin and means "to respond together".  There is some fashion of togetherness that is shared between the "members".   A "member" is a distinct element or part of a whole and is therefore called a "subject".   This "subject" may be a word; part of a verse or an entire verse of Scripture; or, many verses of Scripture completing a thought or idea.

Now that we have identified all of the parts, let's assemble them all together.  What we gather from this is that biblical structure is the tool GOD chose to use to organize or construct that which HE had written so that each element or part shared some relationship with a corresponding member.  This relationship between the subjects produces a repetition and gives the Scriptures a symmetrical presentation.  Indeed, the repetition may be seen in the words themselves; the thoughts conveyed; or, their grammatical construction.  There are four different categories or groups that these relationships can share (as noted in The Berean Expositor);


Cognate or Gradational - The members express the same thought or
parallel idea using related or progressive words.  For example, Isaiah
    "Seek ye the LORD while HE may be found,
    call ye upon HIM while HE is near."


Antithetic or Opposite - The members express contrasting or opposing
thoughts by using an antithesis.  For example, Proverbs 27:6,
    "Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
    But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."


Synthetic or Constructive - The members express their relationship by
building and/or inflecting upon each other.  For example, Psalms 1:1,
    "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor standeth in the way of sinners,
    Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful."


Introverted- The members express similar words or thoughts as they turn
inward to develop or reveal an important concept, principle or idea.  For
example, Isaiah 6:10,
    "Make the heart of this people fat,
          and make their ears heavy,
              and shut their eyes;
              lest they see with their eyes,
          and hear with their ears,
   and understand with their heart"

  Importance and Relevance of Biblical Structure