Saturday, May 14, 2016

Abbreviated Lists in Biblical Literary Structure

An abbreviated list is the frequent appearance of listed items in the Bible but not all items are repeated. To put it another way, an abbreviated list is a literary device where the shortened form is representative of the whole.

I replaced the landscaping in front of our house in 2015. I selected a weeping blue spruce for the centerpiece which is surrounded by a variety of other plants: a white pine, a Japanese maple, three blue cloak firs, some cotoneasters, barberries, junipers, yews, weigela, and assorted flowers. When I call this the "blue spruce and Japanese maple plantings", that is an abbreviated list.

In Deuteronomy 13:3,4 (NASB) there is a list of seven statutes:

For the LORD your God is testing you to find out if
  • you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
  • You shall follow the LORD your God
  • and fear Him;
  • and you shall keep His commandments,
  • [and] listen to His voice,
  • [and] serve Him,
  • and cling to Him. 1

This list is abbreviated many times in Deuteronomy. Think of all seven when you see reduced lists such as verses 11:22 and 13:18.

“For if you are careful to keep all this commandment which I am commanding you to do, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him,” (v11:22)

“… if you will listen to the voice of the LORD your God, keeping all His commandments which I am commanding you today, and doing what is right in the sight of the LORD your God.” (v13:18)

When you discover an abbreviated list, it is emphatic simply because it is frequently repeated. Even the single reference in verse 29:9 is an abbreviated way of stating the entire list.

“So keep the words of this covenant to do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.” (v29:9)

The clue to finding these abbreviated lists is in their extensive repetition.

1. The words [and] appear in the Hebrew text but do not appear in the NASB. If the first letter of a Hebrew word is the character Vav, that is usually the word AND.