New Testament Poetry -- By: Frank E. Gaebelein

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 129:515 (Jul 1972)
Article: New Testament Poetry
Author: Frank E. Gaebelein

New Testament Poetry

Frank E. Gaebelein

[Frank E. Gaebelein, Headmaster Emeritus, The Stony Brook School, Long Island, New York.]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article will be appearing in the forthcoming Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. by Merrill C. Tenney. Permission to use this material has been granted by Zondervan Publishing House.]

With the possible exception of Revelation, the New Testament contains no single poetical book. In this respect, the New Testament differs from the Old Testament with its poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) and from the many poetical passages interspersed throughout the prophetical and historical books. Nevertheless, poetry has a significant place in the New Testament. Although not so abundant as in the Old Testament, it may be identified in the Gospels, Acts, some of the epistles, and more extensively, in Revelation, provided that poetry is not too narrowly defined. If only writing marked by rhyme or meter is classed as poetic, it must be said that the New Testament contains very few fragments of poetry. But if, in accord with most of modern literary criticism, poetry is defined as the expression of intense experience or thought in creative and connotative language with or without rhyme or meter, then much more of the New Testament is poetical than most readers realize.

In accord with this broader concept of poetry, five kinds of poetical passages may be identified in the New Testament: (1) quotations from ancient Greek poets; (2) quotations of unidentified poetical material—for example, quotations from ancient hymns; (3) passages in the form of Hebrew Old Testament poetry or New Testament quotations of Old Testament poetry; (4) other passages that, by reason of their form or their intense expression, are

genuinely poetical; (5) apocalyptic imagery (Rev and Matt 24; cf. Mark 13; Luke 21:5–36).

First, New Testament quotations from ancient Greek poets are confined to Acts and the Pauline epistles. In his sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22–31), Paul quoted (v. 28) from three poets: Epimenides of Crete, from whom “For in him [thee, in Epimenides] we live and move and have our being” comes; Aratus of Cilicia and the Stoic, Cleanthes, who both have the words, “For we are also his offspring.” From the same passage in Epimenides that he drew upon in Acts 17:28, Paul quoted in...

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