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Bible structure (11/07/2004)
From: Bill Steidtmann

Do you recall having to do an "outline" for a report in high school? There were several related topics and each of these had sub-topics, etc. When you got done it had a staircase look to it. There is a very similar phenomenon present in the Bible, and it is absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, after nearly 40 years of hanging around in Christian circles, I have found almost no one who is aware of this comprehension and faith building effect. I discovered it from the writings of E. W. Bullinger, along with certain individuals in contact with him such as Charles H. Welch, and Adolph E. Knoch. Bullinger himself discovered it from the writings of Thomas Boys (1824), but Bullinger went much further with the idea. As it turns out, when fully developed, the entire Bible is built using these structures, and at multiple levels of complexity. It exists not just across words and sentences, but also across paragraphs, books, and collections of books, each as topical objects, and interwoven in such a way as to leave the honest observer with the impression that there is a higher intelligence at work, that God left a watermark.

There are two predominant structures, which can be generally referred to as Correspondence. The first is Alternation, and the second is Introversion (sometimes called Epanodos or Chiasmus). Let's look at a passage where we will see both structures present, and interwoven. First the verse quoted out in full, and then the structures:

Isa 55:8-9 (KJV) "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

An Alternation:

A) My thoughts [not]

B) your thoughts

A') My thoughts [higher]

B') your thoughts

An Introversion:

C) Thoughts different

D) ways different

D') Ways higher

C') thoughts higher

Another Introversion:

E) Your ways

F) My ways

F') My ways

E') your ways

Notice that Alternation repeats its correspondence in the same order, whereas Introversion repeats in reverse order. They are each two levels deep, but many Biblical texts go much deeper. It is also very common for individual members of a given structure to be composed of yet further structures, resulting in combinations of both Alternation and Introversion mixed together. As with so many things of God, the simplicity of this particular example is both beautiful and a stumbling block. A newspaper column is simply not adequate to convey the complexity of larger examples of this phenomenon, but hopefully you will be inspired to research this further. You can begin by seeking out the authors mentioned above. 

 

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