Poetry in the Bible: Parallelism

Posted by on 09/21/2017 in:

This content is from the Believer’s Bible Commentary, currently on sale.

WHAT IS PARALLELISM?

Bible poetry’s greatest technique is not to rhyme sounds, as in much English poetry, but to “rhyme” ideas—that is, to put two or more lines together that somehow match each other. We should be grateful to God that this is the mainstay of biblical poetry because it translates nicely into nearly all languages and not too much beauty is lost in the translation process. Our Lord Himself also frequently spoke in parallelism. (Carefully reread, e.g., Matthew 5–7 and John 13–17 after studying the following notes.)

We would like to present some examples of the main types of Hebrew parallelism so that you can look for similar structures, not only while studying the OT with the help of the Believer’s Bible Commentary, but also while having daily devotions and listening to sermons.

1. SYNONYMOUS PARALLELISM

As the name implies, this type has the second or parallel line saying about the same thing as the first—for emphasis. Proverbs is especially full of these:

In the way of righteousness is life,
And in its pathway there is no death (Prov. 12:28).

I am the rose of Sharon,
And the lily of the valleys (Song 2:1).

2. ANTITHETIC PARALLELISM

This type puts two lines “against” each other that form a contrast:

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish (Ps. 1:6).

Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all sins (Prov. 10:12).

3. FORMAL PARALLELISM

This type is parallel in form only; the two (or more) lines don’t contrast, expand, or emphasize. It is just two lines of poetry put together to express a thought or theme:

Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:6).

4. SYNTHETIC PARALLELISM

The second line of poetry builds up (synthesis is Greek for “putting together”) the thought in the first line:

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want (Ps. 23:1).

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life (Prov. 4:23).

5. EMBLEMATIC PARALLELISM

A figure of speech in the first line of poetry illustrates the content of the second line:

 As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God (Ps. 42:1).

     As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,
  So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion (Prov. 11:22).

LEARN MORE!

Want to learn more about poetry in the Bible (or really, anything in the Bible). This content is from the Believer’s Bible Commentary, currently on sale.

1 Comment

  • Susanna says:

    Very interesting read! Poetry is often extremely appreciated in the secular world but not so much in the Bible, great to read of the knack God has with words!

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