Literary Style As Used By Jesus -- By: Richard V. Clearwaters
CenQ 13:1 (Spring 1970) p. 2
Literary Style As Used By Jesus
President Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis
“To know wisdom and instruction;
To perceive the words of understanding;
To receive the instruction of wisdom,
Justice and judgment and equity;
To give subtility to the simple,
To the young man knowledge and discretion.
A wise man will hear and will increase learning;
To understand a proverb, and the interpretation,
The words of the wise, and their dark sayings” (Proverbs 1:2-6).
Among all the great men who have graced this earth there is no better example of common simplicity of language than that of Jesus, and yet, from this multitude of great men, we could not choose one who has been more misunderstood. These two facts are strange companions. In this brief treatise I propose to call attention to a few simple, yet significant, language characteristics that will explain, at least in part, why Jesus has been so misunderstood.
In brief resume: He spoke as all men of all times have spoken in that He mingled figures of speech and figures of words (or literary figures) with literal facts. He mixed the real and the imaginative. This type of combination and the rough cut-lines of Hebrew poetry are traceable in much of His language. He used, very often, apocalyptic imagery about such matters as resurrection, heaven, hell, judgment, the Messiah, and the Kingdom of God (which involves such dualisms as good and evil, light and darkness, truth and falsehood, freedom and bondage, Savior and Satan), and in this apocalyptic imagery Jesus often makes the present and the future to flow in a single stream. All of this would seem complex enough, but Jesus’ most popular form of teaching was a
CenQ 13:1 (Spring 1970) p. 3
composite picture of them all, namely, the parable. Hence in some of Jesus’ parables, for example Luke 1–8, we find Jesus mixing together, to be sure with a pattern, facts and figures, elements real and imaginative, and the present and future of time.
When a word is employed in another than its primary meaning, or applied to some object different from that to which it is appropriated in common usage, it is considered a figure of speech, a trope, or a word used in an accommodated sense. Figures of speech have been divided into two classes, figures of words and figures of thought; that is, a figure of words is one in which the image or resemblance is confined to a single word, whereas a figure of thought may require for its expression a great many words and even sentences and paragraphs. This division will not be rigorously made in this presentation, but examples will ...
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