It is generally known that the Bible is rich in poetry. Most people will probably think first of the Book of Psalms. The various translators have shown that other books, especially in the Old Testament, contain much poetry. Ferrar Fenton, in his The Holy Bible in Modern English, has assembled his translation more in poetic form than probably any other translator. The Book of Revelation has been set into poetic form by the translators of the New Evangelical Translation.
In this essay, I am concentrating on five types of parallelism that are common in the Bible, but may not be easily identified by the average Christian. These are pointed out in the appendix of the New Evangelical Translation. I use this version and eleven other versions to show how the various translators have rendered and arranged these passages. The New Evangelical Translation is listed first because it has arranged them for identification. The passages are taken from the Synoptic Gospels, which are claimed to have been originally written in Hebrew before being translated into Greek, then into other languages. Having seen the parallelism in the first example of each of the five categories, can you see it in the others? Do you see where there may be a loss in some translating to modern English?
- CEV – Contemporary English Version
- CLNT – Concordant Literal New Testament
- CNT – Cassirer New Testament
- KJV – King James Version
- LB – Living Bible
- MSNT – The Modern Speech New Testament
- NCV – New Century Version
- NET – New Evangelical Translation
- NRS – New Revised Standard Version
- NSNT – Norlie’s Simplified New Testament
- REB – Revised English Bible
- TM – The Message
A-B Synonymous Parallelism
( Matthew 11: 30 )
Synonymous means that a second line repeats the first, but in different words. The thoughts are marked a and b in NET.
NET – for My yoke is easy, a
and My burden is light b
CEV – This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.
CLNT – for My yoke is kindly and My load is light.
CNT – For the yoke I put upon men is a kind one, and the burden I put upon their shoulders is lightly borne.
KJV – For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
LB – for I give you only light burdens.
MSNT – For it is good to bear my yoke, and my burden is light.
NCV – The teaching that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.
NRS – For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
NSNT – For My yoke fits so easily that My burden is light.
REB – For my yoke is easy to wear, my load is light.
TM – I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
A-B Antithetical Parallelism
( Luke 6: 25 )
Antithetical indicates that a second line says the opposite of the first. The thoughts are marked a and b in NET.
NET – Woe to you who are well fed now, a
for you will be hungry. b
CEV – You well-fed people
are in for trouble.
You will go hungry!
CLNT – Woe to you who are filled now, for you shall be hungering!
CNT – What misery is in store for you who now have food in plenty, seeing that you will be going hungry.
KJV – Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger.
LB – They are fat and prosperous now, but a time of awful hunger is before them.
MSNT – Alas for you who now have plenty to eat, because you will be hungry!
NCV – How terrible it will be for you who are full now,
because you will be hungry.
NRS – Woe unto you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
NSNT – Woe upon you who have plenty to eat now, for you will go hungry.
REB – Alas for you who are well fed now; you will go hungry.
TM – And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long.
A-B Constructive Parallelism
( Mark 12: 11 )
Two-line or three-line constructive is used to build ideas as a second and even a third line add to the first line. The thoughts are marked a and b in NET.
NET – The Lord has done it, a
and it is marvelous for us to see. b
CEV – This is something
the Lord has done,
and it is amazing to us.
CLNT – From the Lord came this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
CNT – This was the Lord’s doing, and how wonderful it is in our eyes.
KJV – This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
LB – This is the Lord’s doing and it is an amazing thing to see.
MSNT – THIS CORNERSTONE CAME FROM THE LORD,
AND IS WONDERFUL IN OUR ESTEEM.
NCV – The Lord did this,
and it is wonderful to us.
NRS – this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes
NSNT – it is the work of the Lord, and to our eyes it is most wonderful.
REB – This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes.
TM – This is God’s work;
we rub our eyes – we can hardly believe it!
A-B-B-A Chiastic Parallelism
( Matthew 3: 12 )
Chiastic represents the same idea in the first and fourth lines, but in a different vocabulary, while lines two and three parallel each other, also in different words. In this example, I have added the lettering to each. Those versions that use a-b-a-b and b-a-b-a have changed the chiasm and thus have taken out the Hebrew pattern. The key words of the chiasm are underlined in NET.
NET – He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn in a fire that cannot be put out. [a-b-b-a]
CEV – He will store the wheat in a barn and burn the husks in a fire that never goes out. [a-b-a-b]
CLNT – and will be gathering His grain into His barn, yet the chaff will He be burning up with unextinguished fire. [a-b-b-a]
CNT – and his wheat he will gather together into his granary. The chaff, however, he will burn up in a fire never to be extinguished. [b-a-b-a]
KJV – and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. [a-b-a-b]
LB – burning the chaff with never-ending fire, and storing away the grain. [a-b-a-b]
MSNT – gathering His wheat into the storehouse, but burning up the chaff in unquenchable fire. [a-b-a-b]
NCV – He will put the good part of the grain into his barn, but he will burn the chaff with a fire that cannot be put out. [a-b-a-b]
NRS – and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. [a-b-b-a]
NSNT – He will put His wheat into His granary, but He will burn the chaff in unquenchable fire. [a-b-a-b]
REB – he will gather his wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn on a fire that can never be put out. [a-b-b-a]
TM – He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he will put out with the trash to be burned. [a-b-b-a]
A-B-C-D Stairlike Parallelism
( Luke 4: 18, 19 )
Stairlike moves downward on the page, but upward in memory as each line adds a thought to the former. The thoughts are marked a, b, c, and d in NET.
NET – He sent Me
to announce freedom to prisoners and a
[to announce] the restoring of sight to the blind; b
to set free those who have been oppressed; c
to announce the favorable year of the Lord. d
CEV – The Lord has sent me
to announce freedom
for prisoners, to give sight to the blind,
to free everyone
and to say, “This is the year
the Lord has chosen.”
CLNT – He has commissioned Me to heal the crushed heart,
To herald to captives a pardon,
And to the blind the receiving of sight;
To dispatch the oppressed with a pardon,
To herald an acceptable year of the Lord.
CNT – He sent me forth to announce to the captives that they would be set free, to the blind that they would recover their sight, to the down-trodden that they would be set at liberty. The task I was set was to make proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favour.
KJV – he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
LB – he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.
MSNT – HE HAS SENT ME TO ANNOUNCE RELEASE TO THE PRISONERS OF WAR
AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND:
TO SEND AWAY FREE THOSE WHOM TYRANNY HAS CRUSHED,
TO PROCLAIM THE YEAR OF ACCEPTANCE WITH THE LORD.
NCV – He has sent me to tell the captives they are free
and to tell the blind that they can see again.
God sent me to free those who have been treated unfairly
and to announce the time when the Lord will show his kindness.
NRS – He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
NSNT – He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to tell the captives they can be free and the blind that they can once more see, and to give liberty to the oppressed. In short, to say that the year of the Lord’s favor is here!
REB – to proclaim release for prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind;
to let the broken victims go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
TM – Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act.”
Since only the New Testament is included in my base version here, no examples from the Old Testament are used, except when the writers have quoted from the Old Testament. Other examples mentioned include the following:
- Synonymous: Matthew 3: 3.
- Antithetical: Luke 6: 21; Luke 7: 32.
- Constructive: Ephesians 5: 14.
- Chiastic: Matthew 13: 15; Romans 2: 7-10; 1 Timothy 1: 8-11.
- Stairlike: Romans 3: 10-18 (constructive plus triple stairlike)
Multiple parallelisms can be found in Matthew 12: 18-20; Luke 1: 46-55, 68-79; Revelation 4: 2-8; and Revelation 18: 11-13.
If my reader be interested, he can trace out the patterns of these passages and search for others in both Testaments (any version), for example, the large chiasm in Genesis 9: 8-17; the constructive in Psalm 24: 7-9; the antithetical in Proverbs 12; and the stairlike in Amos 9: 14.
Has anything Hebrew been lost in some passages and in some versions?