LESSON 11
UNDERSTANDING BIBLICAL LITERATURE 
(PSALM 119, MATTHEW 26, MALACHI 4 & MATTHEW 11)

Copr. 1999, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All scripture references
are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973,
1978, 1984 International Bible Society,  unless otherwise
noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of
Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found
within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a
blackboard or some other visual aid. This lesson can be
found at: <url:http://www.CameronLaw.com>

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 --
                    Psalms 38:1);

                                   b.   Antithetical (the thought is reversed --
                    Psalms 37:21);

                                   c.   Synthetic (the thought is enlarged --
                    Palms 34:4).)

                         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
                    poetry?

                                             (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
                         intended.)

     II.  SYMBOLS

               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
               that serve?

                         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
               argument?

                                   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
                    symbol?

                         6.   What is the historical background for the
               Passover that Jesus and His disciples were
               eating?

                                   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
                         in God.)

                                   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
                    sacrificial lamb?

     III. TYPES

               A.   Closely related to symbols is something called
          "types." Let's look at two texts: Malachi 4:5-6 and
          Matthew 11:12-14.

                         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
                    figure? (Jesus!)

                         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
               Dobson.)

     IV.  PARABLES

               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
               literally?

                                   a.   Doesn't this text say the kingdom of
                    heaven is like something buried in the
                    earth?

                                   b.   Or is there another answer? (This is a
                    parable. Like symbols, it is intended to
                    teach a truth without the "facts" being
                    literally true.)

                         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
                    else? (Yes.)

                                   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.