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!
It is important to note that the whole concept of
biblical or literary structure and correspondence is not an invention on
the part of man. It is however a contrivance used by GOD.
The structures exist as an inherent and integral part of the Word of
GOD. They are not constructed but uncovered by us as we studiously
examine and re-examine the Scriptures. The preface to The
Companion Bible makes the following point regarding biblical
"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."