Copr. 1999, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references
UNDERSTANDING BIBLICAL LITERATURE
(PSALM 119, MATTHEW 26, MALACHI 4 & MATTHEW 11)
Introduction: Imagine that you are talking to a business
associate. Your associate says, "I've been running around
in circles all day." Do you know what the associate means?
Of course, you know exactly what is meant. Now imagine that
your associate's statement is being translated 2,000 years
later into the language of another culture. Will the
meaning be clear? This is an example of "symbolism" and is
part of our continuing examination of how God communicates
with man. Let's dig in!
I. HEBREW POETRY
A. Let's look at Psalms 119:1-2. In grade school did
they teach you about being redundant? Did it ever
strike you that King David was sick the day they
taught that in his shepherd school?
1. These two texts contain several redundancies.
Do you know why? (This is an example of Hebrew
poetry. When we write poetry today, we often
use rhyme. But Hebrew poetry would repeat the
thought. Our lesson calls this "parallelism"
and tells us that there are three primary
forms found in the Bible:
a. Synonymous (the thought is repeated --
b. Antithetical (the thought is reversed --
c. Synthetic (the thought is enlarged --
2. At this point you are saying, "Thank you
Bruce, I don't know how I could have lived my
life without knowing these 'factoids'!"
a. So, you are wondering what this has to do
with anything? If you were a translator,
would you want to know the forms of Hebrew
(1) As a reader of the translated Hebrew,
would you want to know this? (Yes. As
a translator or reader, knowing this
Hebrew poetry style helps you to
understand what the writer originally
A. Let's read Matthew 26:19-20, 26-29. Tell me what
you know about the circumstances of this meal?
1. Were the disciples eating real food?
2. In verse 26 Jesus says that the bread is His
body and in verse 28 He says the wine is His
blood. Do you think these are symbols or do
you think they actually became Jesus' body and
blood as they were eaten?
3. If they actually became Jesus' body and blood,
what purpose would that serve?
4. If they were only symbols, what purpose would
5. I have a Catholic friend who tells me that I
am not taking God at His word and not taking
the Bible literally if I take the position
that this is not actually Jesus' body and
blood. What do you say about my friend's
a. Can you believe in Biblical symbols and,
at the same time, believe that the Bible
should be taken literally?
b. Would you be taking the Bible literally if
you failed to grasp that something was a
6. What is the historical background for the
Passover that Jesus and His disciples were
a. Let's look at Exodus 12:12-14. (It is best
to read verses 1 33 for the entire
background.) Is this the historical basis
for the Passover? (Yes.)
b. Is the blood in Exodus 12:13 a symbol? (It
says it is a sign.)
(1) A sign of what? (Obedience and trust
c. Is the sacrifice of a lamb to save the
people an idea that is unique to the
Passover? (No! The entire
sanctuary/animal sacrifice system of the
Old Testament was built on that idea.)
(1) Was the sacrificial system itself a
symbol? If so, of what? (Jesus death
for our sins. Hebrews 7:27)
d. What reason do we have to think that Jesus
modification of the Passover in Matthew 26
should be any less symbolic than the whole
history of the Passover and the
A. Closely related to symbols is something called
"types." Let's look at two texts: Malachi 4:5-6 and
1. Elijah is a type of what later Bible figure?
(John the Baptist.)
2. Are other Old Testament figures "types" of New
Testament people? Can you suggest any? (How
about Joseph? He was sent into an alien
culture, gave up his wealth and "sonship,"
spent time in the lowest bowels of Egypt and
then was raised to the highest levels of
Egypt. By this He was able to save his
brothers who had mistreated and betrayed him.)
a. Does this remind us of a New Testament
3. Remember that we discussed a couple of weeks
ago that a prophecy can have more than one
interpretation or fulfillment? Do you think
there will be future individuals for whom
Elijah is a type (other than John the
Baptist)? (Mal.4:5 says that Elijah will come
"before the great and dreadful day of the Lord
comes." (No wonder the disciples thought that
the destruction of Jerusalem was also going to
be the end of the world!) Mal.4:6 talks about
this type of Elijah turning the hearts of the
Fathers to the children and vice versa. This
reminds me of the modern work of James
A. Read Matthew 13:44-46. Is the kingdom of heaven
somewhere in the earth?
1. If you say "no," are you one of those who does
not believe in the Bible and does not take it
a. Doesn't this text say the kingdom of
heaven is like something buried in the
b. Or is there another answer? (This is a
parable. Like symbols, it is intended to
teach a truth without the "facts" being
2. In our parable of the lost treasure, did the
fellow who found the treasure own the field at
the time of the find? (No.)
a. Then the treasure belonged to someone
b. So the treasure finder was defrauding the
land owner by buying the land without
telling him of the great treasure it
contained? (This teaches us another point
about parables. The point of the parable
is the point! A parable is not meant to
teach us truths outside the intended
point. An excellent example of this is
the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
Luke 16:20-31. The point of that story is
verse 31 and not the details about life
after death and hell.)
B. We do not want to substitute our thinking for God's
thinking or our wisdom for God's wisdom. By
understanding these various writing devices we can
better understand what God intended without taking
liberties with the text of the writing.
V. NEXT WEEK: THE GREAT CONTROVERSY THEME.