Importance and Relevance of Biblical Structure ©
Having gained an idea or understanding of what
biblical or literary structure is, we may ask ourselves, "Why is
this so important?" On the surface, it certainly adds a
beauty and symmetry to the Bible but the question remains, "Is
there more?" If GOD thought it so important to have HIS Word
written in this manner, there must be something more to it?
Indeed, there is more to biblical structure than meets the eye. In
fact, it is such an important concept that failure to adhere to its
principles has resulted in a plethora of wrong doctrine!
"They give, not a mere Analysis evolved from the Text by human ingenuity, but a Symmetrical Exhibition of the Word itself, which may be discerned by the humblest reader of the Sacred Text, and seen to be one of the most important evidences of the Divine Inspiration of its words. For these Structures constitute a remarkable phenomenon peculiar to Divine Revelation; and are not found outside it in any other form of known literature."
One of the remarkable things that biblical structures
do for us as "workmen" of the Word is to help us get beyond
many of our preconceived ideas and notions. Correct interpretation
is essential to right understanding and the principal means to
comprehending the true Word of GOD. With all the ideas and
concepts that enter into and exit out of our brains from cradle to
grave, how can we ever examine something without in some way being
biased to it? We are taught one thing and then another. We
change our views from one thing and accept another. We do not want
to digress from the concept at hand but do want to illustrate the need
for help outside of ourselves. In relation to the Bible, this help
can't come from our local minister or priest; not even a TV-evangelist!
Why? Because they are in the same category as we are; influenced
by all the various types of media that surround us. This help must
come from GOD! HE gave us language as a means to communicate with
each other but has also condescended to use it as a tool for HIM to
communicate with us as well. Even with the limitations that are
inherent in language, GOD was able to come up with a method that HE
could use to assist us along the way. This method we have come to
know as biblical structure. These structures are the tracks that
HE has laid down so that we could all arrive at the same station.
That "station" is an accurate understanding of HIM through HIS
Son Jesus Christ. We all may be on different trains and many of us
get derailed or even "side tracked" but the tracks are still
there! If we stay on the tracks, we can't help but arrive at that
As we learn and study language, we discover that all words have meaning. Many words have more than one meaning. The way that each of us use words will differ. In fact, there may be many words that I might use that you are either unfamiliar with or have limited comprehension of when we speak of meaning. We will revisit word usage shortly. However, speaking of meaning, in what way do I know how you are using a word? Unless I am a mind-reader or an operator on the psychic hot-line, I can't read your mind. Since I can't read your mind, I must rely on the context in which you use the word to be sure of its correct meaning. This is what is known as word usage. It is the context that gives life to meaning when a word is used in language. To state it another way, context is to a word what the blood is to the human body. Without blood, the body cannot survive as the life is in the blood. Without a context, a word looses its meaning or "sense". A word is starved of its precise meaning and therefore voids an accurate understanding of what is being said. Take for example, if I write the word "cross", what do I mean? One person will say, "You are referring to a religious symbol, the cross of Christ". Another may say, "That is what you make when you need to sign something but can't write your name". Or, "That's a punch a boxer uses over and across the lead of his opponent, a right or left cross". Some may say, "Isn't that what two streets do when they meet together, they cross?" One might say, "That means to pass over like when I cross a river". I in turn say you are all wrong! It means to thwart or oppose someone; to cross them. They may then scratch their heads and look puzzled. Were they all wrong? The meanings or definitions they gave for the word "cross" were not incorrect in themselves. What they were lacking was a context. I think you are beginning to get the picture. We need a "context" to give us an idea of how a word is being used. Again, how a word is used is what we call "word usage".
Take for example if I had written, "Don't cross him". What do I mean? Certainly I have given more information by making a statement rather than just stating a word. Does that resolve the issue and engender an accurate understanding? No! Even though I have given additional information, they would not all arrive at the same meaning or obtain a correct understanding of what I wrote. Although the possibilities would be fewer as far as definition and sense, they would still be many. Only I know what I meant when I wrote those words. However, if you were to view the word in a wider context, you might arrive at an understanding of how I was using the word.
Word usage is absolutely fundamental to the study of any language and the Bible is no exception. As you could see from my previous examples, without a context, there is no way for you to be certain how I was using the word "cross". When we speak of the context of a word in the Bible, what do we mean? Is it a verse or two or three or even a chapter? As aforementioned, there were no verses or chapters in the original scriptures. Therefore, they are not reliable when it comes to determining the context of a word. The context is found within the scope of a passage of scripture. What do we mean when we say scope? The word "scope" comes to us from the Latin scopus meaning goal or target and from the Greek skopos or skopein meaning to see, peer or look carefully at. The goal or target is the end of that which had a beginning. To look carefully to identify the start and finish. It is the range or extent to which a concept, argument, idea, etc., is developed. As some might say, "It's the whole picture". You have a starting point and you have an ending point. By identifying the scope of a passage and it's context, you can determine the precise meaning of the word.
To reiterate, using the previous examples, you can readily see that there are many words that have different shades of meaning or nuances. In order to decipher the exact meaning in the usage of a word, you must rely on the scope and its context. The biblical structure is what determines the scope. It is the scope and its context that determines the precise meaning of the word used. Therefore, in a nutshell, biblical structure determines the usage or meaning of a word. Are you beginning to see how vitally important this concept of literary structure is in relation to true interpretation! A quotation from The Berean Expositor puts the importance and relevance of biblical structure quite succinctly;
"A word has a meaning by reason of its etymology and origin. It has a meaning by common usage which modifies the original meaning, and it has a special meaning which is decided by its context and by the scope of the passage which contains it. The scope of a passage is determined by its structure, and the structure is found by noting outstanding items that balance, and that carry the theme on in definite logical steps... The knowledge of the scope of a book, discovered by its structure, enforces true translation."
In addition to identifying word usage, structure is a sound method of determining whether a verse(s) of scripture is in its correct place. This is especially true when a portion of scripture is questioned for its authenticity as variation in manuscripts do occur (e.g., John 8:1-4). Remember that whenever questions arise as to the meaning of a word in the Bible or whenever one is attempting to determine its meaning (i.e., lexical definition), biblical structure represents the "chairman's vote" so to speak. Since literary structure casts the deciding vote, it must be examined prior to ruling on the intent or meaning of a word, verse or portion of scripture. E.W. Bullinger in Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (p. 364) gives a great demonstration of how valuable and useful the understanding and application of biblical structure can be;
"In whatever form we may have this figure [biblical structure], it is always of the greatest possible use and importance. It enables us not merely to perceive the symmetrical perfection of the passage, but to understand its true sense; to see its scope and thus be guided to a sound interpretation. What may be obscure in one member may be clear in its corresponding member. The subject, which may not be mentioned in one member may be named in the other. We are thus helped to a correct interpretation. For example, in the structure of 1 Pet. iii. 18-22 it is not clear who or what may be 'the in-prison spirits' of verse 19. But in the corresponding member (verse 22) they are mentioned by name as 'angels.' We thus learn that the subject of the former member (verse 19) is the disobedience of angels in the days of Noah (Gen. vi.), while the subject of the latter (verse 22) is the subjection of angels and authorities and powers. Having thus got the scope of the passage, we get the meaning of 'spirits,' and remember how it is written, 'He maketh His angels spirits' (Ps. civ. 4. Heb. 1. 7). We at once connect their sin in the days of Noah and their prison with Gen. vi. 1, 2 Pet. ii. 4, and Jude 6. We thus have the clue to the true interpretation of this passage, which if followed out will lead to a correct exegesis."
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