The Use of Parallelism in the Bible.

Parallelism is an Hebraic mode of writing. It emphasizes a statement by saying it in different ways. That is, the writer uses different words or phrases to refer to the SAME thing:

Take Proverbs 3:13 for example, “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding.

The man who finds wisdom” means the SAME THING as “the man who gains understanding.” They are parallel statements.

The Jews would use different statements like these to refer to the SAME THING. Parallelism is used VERY OFTEN in the Psalms and Proverbs. Understanding the mechanisms of parallelism would aid your interpretation of these two books.

There are three major types of parallelism used in the Bible:


1) The Antithetic Parallelism.

In this kind of parallelism, the following line is the opposite of the first. For example:

Proverbs 17:22 (NKJV)

22 A merry heart does good, like medicine,

But a broken spirit dries the bones.

A broken spirit dries the bones” is the opposite of “a merry heart does good, like medicine.” Different statements are used for emphasis. That is an opposite or antithetic parallel.


2) The Synthetic Parallelism.

In this kind of parallelism, the succeeding lines are similar to the previous ones. For example,

Psalm 27:1 (NKJV)

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;

Whom shall I fear? (First parallel)

The Lord is the strength of my life;

Of whom shall I be afraid? (Second parallel)

The strength of my life” (in the second parallel) is a further description of the Lord who is “my light and my salvation” (in the first parallel). And “Of whom shall I be afraid?” (in the second parallel) is a further description of “whom shall I fear?” (in the first parallel). This is saying the SAME THING in two different ways, for the sake of emphasis.


3) The Cumulative Parallelism.

In this type of parallelism, the lines build on each other until they reach a climax. For example,

Proverbs 30:29-31 (NKJV)

29 There are three things which are majestic in pace,

Yes, four which are stately in walk:

30 A lion, which is mighty among beasts

And does not turn away from any;

31 A greyhound,

A male goat also,

And a king whose troops are with him.

The point here is about a great king who no one can challenge. He is like a lion, the greyhound and a male goat (i.e. very majestic and powerful). Thus, the proverb builds up to a climax.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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