Rock singer Geddy Lee of Rush once said, “That is what intrigues me; songwriting and song structure and expression.” As the holder of a Bachelor’s Degree in Music, I agree.
Much music is based on an ABA structure. You start with a musical idea, develop that idea (or go to a second idea), and then return to the main idea. “Three Blind Mice” is a good example, where the line “three blind mice” represents the A section, and the stuff in the middle is the B section.
Let’s observe Luke 2:1-24 as an example. Look at the flow of the story:
A The pomp of the Roman government and census
B Joseph and Mary give birth to a son
C Shepherds were living out in the field
D An angel appeared with a message about the Lord
E An army of angels appeared, praising God, saying:
F “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace”
E The angels left and went back to heaven
D The shepherds believe the message from the Lord, and they go, sharing it
C The shepherds return to their field, glorifying and praising God
B The son is named Jesus
A The humility of Jesus’ family (who couldn’t afford sheep for sacrifice)
Such an outline, where the second half is sort of a mirror image of the first half, was really common in ancient literature. One reason why they did it was to make it easier to hear the passage read aloud. You could hear the story move in towards a climax and then unravel back out.
It helps to observe such things, because the climax of such a structure usually comes at the center. In this case, we see that God is concerned with his own glory (in contrast to the glory of Rome), and he will use Jesus to bring about peace between himself and those with whom he is pleased.
Other parts of the Bible use more logical structures. For example, look at Hebrews 2:17-7:28.
I. Jesus is a merciful and faithful high priest – 2:17-18
A. Jesus is a faithful high priest – 3:1-6
B. Application – 3:7-4:14
C. Jesus is a merciful high priest – 4:15-5:10
D. Application – 5:11-6:20
II. Jesus is a high priest like Melchizedek – 6:20
A. Explanation: how Jesus is like Melchizedek – 7:1-28
This outline covers just a portion of the book of Hebrews. The entire book is structured similarly: a point is stated, then explained and applied. The application leads into the next point, which is stated, explained, and applied.
Observing the structure is one step in our study. Once we see it, we’re better equipped to identify the sections so we can interpret and apply them.
We’ve now had three posts on specific observation skills: observing words, grammar, and structure. Have you noticed how each post had a common structure? Check ’em out again, and use your new-found skills when you study the Bible.