Monday, December 8, 2008

Biblical Poetry

The Old Testament poetic books are Job through Sing of Songs. Old Testament prophetic books contain a lot of poetry. Other books of the Old Testament and the New Testament books also contain poetry.

Biblical poetry is different from the modern poetry. The main traits of the modern poetry are rhymes and rhythms. In the biblical poetry, there are no rhymes and rhythms. The main trait of the biblical poetry is parallelism. Biblical poetry also contains many figures of speech.

The following description of parallelism is based on the books:
1. How To Study the Bible (published by BEE International)
2. Carl B. Gibbs Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Bible verses are quoted from New King James Version.

Parallelism is a correspondence between two lines or verses. There are 6 main types of parallelism:

1. Synonymic parallelism - the second line in its meaning is equivalent or very similar to the first line.
1) Psalm 2:4
"He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The LORD shall hold them in derision."
2) Psalm 1:5
"Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor the sinners in the congregation of the righteous."
3) Psalm 22:18
"They divide My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots."

2. Antithetic parallelism - the second line is a contrast to the first line.
1) Psalm 1:6
"For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish."
2) Psalm 37:9
"For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth."

3. Synthetic parallelism - the second line develops the thought of the first line.
1) Psalm 95:3
"For the LORD is the great God,
And the great King above all gods."
2) Psalm 37:11
"But the meek shall inherit the earth,
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."

4. Culminating parallelism - the second line culminates the first line, repeating one element of the first line and adding a new element.
1) Psalm 29:1
"Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the LORD glory and strength."
2) Psalm 96:1
"Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!
Sing to the LORD, all the earth."

5. Symbolic parallelism - one line expresses the main thought, the other line contains a symbol for this thought.
1) Psalm 42:1
"As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God."
2) Psalm 23:1
"The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want."

6. Formal parallelism - there is no obvious parallel between the lines; the two lines are just joined together.
Psalm 2:6
"Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion."

Interpreting parallelism, it is important to notice that the two lines express one thought and should not be interpreted separately. One line often explains the other line and helps to understand its meaning.

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