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Literary Relationships are Hard, but it’s Better than being Alone

mosaic literary relationships sxc hu smallOne of the things that separates us from the animals, other than our smashing good looks, is the ability to use sound to form words and to use words to form phrases, clauses, and sentences. This combination is often called grammar or syntax. A friend once quipped, “Don’t hunt, kill, or eat anything with syntax.”

We also use words, phrases, clauses and sentences to form complex presentations of ideas. These complex ideas allow us to develop complicated things or philosophical theories in cooperation with each other. How else can you explain the slinky or Knock Knock Jokes?

We take words, which represent THINGS (noose, neck, gallows), ACTIONS (tie, tighten, drop, stop, strangle, dangle), Descriptions (scared, quick, blue, bulging, still), or various kinds of RELATIONSHIPS (tighter, around, above, through, below) and arrange them into phrases, clauses, and sentences to increase the complexity of the things we wish to communicate. Wait! Don’t Stop Reading!!!! I’m going to give you a powerful tool for better Bible study.

Everything that takes place within the sentence, we call grammar or syntax, but our wonderful human skill for communication is just getting started. One of the greatest skills we have in communication is the ability to multiply our sentences into highly complex discussions that develop along the lines of LITERARY RELATIONSHIPS. I’d like to see a signing chimp do that!

When we speak, we speak about 1. Things 2. People 3. Time 4. Places 5. Events 6. Feelings 7. Actions and 8. Ideas, etc.

Literary Relationships are created when a person attempts to establish associations between these topics over the course of a text, no matter how big that text is. Relationships between these topics in a text are akin to an artist’s arrangement of colored stones to create a wondrous mosaic.

Here is a partial list that we will be unpacking over time.

Literary Reoccurrence
Repetition — The repeated use of terms, phrases, clauses, or statements (in same word family).
Continuity — The repeated use of similar terms, phrases, clauses, statements, or events.

Literary Parallel
Comparison — two or more things set side by side with the intent of emphasizing their similarities.
Contrast — two or more things set side by side with the intent of emphasizing their differences.
Correspondence — relating two things through the use of familiar phraseology or pattern. (Jesus as a Moses figure.)
Identification — The significance or meaning of one thing is established by being equated with another. (You’re a Thief, Mr. President.)

Literary Movement
Progression — The extension or development of a particular item in a certain direction. (Where topics move along nicely like a falling chain of dominoes.)
Digression — progressive disintegration in a downward movement. (Think steady breakdown)
Completion — The conclusion or resolution of a progression. (Slowing down to watch the last domino in a chain of Dominoes fall meaningfully)
Climax — a series of advancing ideas or events with a focus on the highest or greatest point. (Crescendo)
Anticlimax — a series of advancing ideas or events which promise or suggest a climax yet don’t deliver. (Waiting for a crescendo and getting a fizzle.)
Pivot — a switch from one subject to another subject through a meeting of both subjects. (Think door hinge)

Explanation — an event or idea followed by an interpretation, illustration, or clarification. (My tattoo? Well I got it one night when I went out drinking with some friends and…)

Alternation — A back and forth sequence between two or more things. (Think literary ping pong, or a really good card shuffle… maybe a literary zipper.)
Exchange –. The exchange of one term for another term when speaking of the same thing.  (“It’s not a Baby! It’s a Fetus!” We say when we want to kill it.)
Interruption — The insertion of seemingly unrelated matter in the midst of other unified material. (A is in process, but B sticks its literary nose in, then A finishes up.)

Cause–Effect — a movement from a source of change to its results. (Jane sneezed and I caught her cold.)
Effect–Cause — a movement from an “event” to its cause or source. (I caught a cold because Jane sneezed.)
Grounds–Conclusion — an ideological movement from the basis of a conclusion to the conclusion itself. (My mother put me up for adoption; she must not love me.)
Conclusion–Grounds — an ideological movement from an idea to the logical basis for that idea. (My mother mustn’t love me; she put me up for adoption.)
Instrumentality — a focus on the means by which a result is achieved. (They hung him with a noose and tree branch.)

Generalization / Particularization
Generalization — a movement from the specific or particular to the general elements. (I ate a pecan; I hate nuts)
Particularization — a movement from the general to the specific or particular elements. (Moving vehicles make me nauseous; I get sick on buses especially.)

Preparation / Summarization
Preparation (Introduction) — The provision of background or setting data for events. (So, two guys walk into a bar…)
Summarization (Conclusion) — a wrap-up of material; or a survey of material already presented. (…and that, Officer, is how I came to have this 666 tattooed on my forehead.)

 Complementation — Two halves of a matter which are counterparts;  (i.e. Question/answer, promise/fulfillment, disease/remedy, beginning/interruption/sequel)

You can learn a lot about a writer’s intentions in writing a text if you not only learn these most common literary relationships, but also use such a list as a kind of WORD SEARCH roster as you read anything. After a while it becomes second nature.

Look at Mark 1:1 and practice these as best as you can on that simple little verse that isn’t even a full sentence. I’ll unpack this in coming posts.

One thought on “Literary Relationships are Hard, but it’s Better than being Alone

  1. Glad you like it. Tell everyone you know who cares about this kind of stuff. 🙂

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