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Prior to any study of the Bible it is important to realize that the composition of the text can and does play an important role in conveying a written message to its reader, regardless of the type of writing that is being studied. We will frequently make use of the rules of composition unconsciously as we read or write. In her book How to Study Your Bible Kay Arthur lists several compositional tools to look for:
Introduction - Presents the information that the reader will need in order to understand what is to follow.
Comparison - Holding one person, event or thing against another in order to show similarities between them
Contrast - Holding one person, event or thing against another in order to show differences between them
Repetition - Use of a word, phrase or concept more than once in order to emphasize and/or call the audience's attention to the idea being conveyed
Progression - The development of an idea or theme as the reader progresses through the passage to increase the reader's understanding by degrees
Climax - The use of progression to develop an idea or theme to a critical point
Pivotal Point - A change in the overall direction of the passage where ideas on one side of the pivotal point differ in some way from ideas on the other side
Radiation - The central point of a passage which can be either the target or source of all other points in the passage
Interchange - The author switches between two or more significant themes in a sequential manner
General to Particular - The passage moves from discussing a theme in global terms to covering the same theme in more detailed terms, can also be reversed to move from detailed coverage of a theme to a more general coverage of the same theme
Cause and Effect - The passage progresses one action to subsequent actions caused by the first, can also be reversed so that caused events are traced back to their sources
Analysis - The author presents an idea and proceeds to analyze the idea
Interrogation - The author presents a question to the reader and follows by presenting the answer
Summarization - The author presents an overview of what has been said, reviewing the principal points and making appropriate concluding comments
One must always be careful to observe the context of any figure of speech or literary device as the context will always allow us to determine the cause and situation for any specific passage. We cannot isolate discrete passages from their context at the risk of greatly misrepresenting the truth of the Bible. An example of this taken to the extreme is found in the Bible student who took the following two passages out of their context:
Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, felt remorse, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? You see to it.” He threw down the pieces of silver in the sanctuary, and departed. He went away and hanged himself.
He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
It is obvious from this example that the context is important to the proper understanding of any passage within the Bible if we are to remain true to its teaching.