Is Poetry Less or More Accurate – Part II

scribe.2After the last post, I found in my old friend from the last 40 years, The New Bible Commentary, IVP, 1960 the following quote.  The commentators on the Psalms in that work are Leslie M’Caw, J. A. Motyer.  My guess is that this particular quote is by Motyer, it sounds like him. ( His commentary on Isaiah is the best mis of scholarship and faith on that book that I have encountered.)

The question was, is poetry less accurate than theological language?  I said that poetry and theological prose are complimentary.


 “It is characteristic of the bible to express its great truths in the context of personal experience.  Partly, this is because God is never proposed as a subject of man’s intellectual, speculative enquiry (cf. Jb. 11:7,8), but for his devotion, worship and obedience. It is also because the Bible never considers a truth ‘known’ until it controls the life of the learner.  Of all this view of things, Ps. 139 is a classic instance. The psalm could be said to teach  God’s omniscience (vv. 1-6), omnipresence (vv. 7-12), sovereignty (vv. 13-16) and holiness (vv. 17-24), yet in the truest sense nothing could less exactly express the psalmist’s mind than these four great abstractions.  To the psalmist, omniscience is “god’s complete knowledge of me’, omnipresence is that ‘God is with me no matter where I am’, an so forth.  The ‘I-thou’ relationship is basic to the poem.”   (p. 537)


“Security is the central truth of the psalm. God’s complete knowledge of him (vv.1-6) focuses on God’s encirclement and tender care (v. 5); God’s omnipresence (vv. 7-12) means that his hand ever guides and holds (v. 10); and God’s creative power (vv.13-16) includes the pre-planning of all his days (v. 16).  At all times, in all places and in every circumstance, god is in control and the psalmist is in safety.”  (p. 528)

Psalm 139 (NRSV)

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.

Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
    and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
    and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Is Poetry less or more accurate? – Psalm 139

everywhereIn the Favorite Verses series I am speaking on Psalm 139.  This is great poetry.  Some wonder if that makes it less accurate.  For example from Derek Kidner

“This statement of omniscience is characteristically vivid and concrete; not formulated as a doctrine but, as befits a psalm, confessed in adoration.”  (Psalms, Tyndale OT Commentary, vol 2, p 464)

Which is a better description of Omnipresence?

Psalm 139:7-12

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Wayne Grudem in “Bible Doctrine” p. 78

“God’s omnipresence may be defined as follows: Gd does not have size or spacial dimensions, and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.”  

In reference to the above passage he adds, “There is nowhere in the entire universe, on land or sea, in heaven or in hall, where on can flee from God’s presence.”

I believe these kinds of statements are complimentary.  They have equal value and accuracy.  If by accuracy we include the idea of being comprehensive.  Poetry may miss a few fine gradations of definition found in theological prose. It adds a great deal in the importance and impact on our minds and hearts.  Theological prose does not have the poetry and the power to move, but it helps us stay where the scripture speaks and not travel off and beyond the content of revelation.

Unbelievably to me, one of the most boring series of lectures I ever heard was a theologian unenthusiastically delineating definitions of attributes of God, in the manner of one reading the tax code.  I consider that a crime against good theology!  The gentleman needed to look up from his curled yellow pages and read a little from the Psalms, Job, Isaiah, John, Colossians, Proverbs and maybe open the hymn book and find something like “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”

J. I. Packer rightly said,

…knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a man’s heart.”

(Knowing God, IVP, p. 32)

About the Weather – Job 38



We have had a cold winter so far – about 10 degrees below average.  It is become so that any temperature without a minus sign is good news!


In that light, a little poetry from Job 38

22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
    Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
    when the surface of the deep is frozen?


Mind Your Business – Luke 2:8

Mind Your Business

  “Mind your own business,”

My mother said when I was

Inserting my nose and opinions

Into the lives

 of friends and foe alike.

Get your head out of the clouds

And take care of business.

You have work to do today

And more tomorrow

And even more the day after.

Mind your own business

Said shepherd mothers to their sons.

There are ewes and lambs to watch

Wolves and foxes to watch for

And brambles and crevices.

It is dark, and it is cold  

Make sure you are awake

As your watch crawls slowly to dawn

Or you’ll lose your lambs

And death will come to the flock.

Minding our business,

Passing the watches of the night,

Watching our flocks one night

When it came, but it was not death

It was light, joy and song.

It had to be angels

There’s no other option

They came, first one,

And then a host,

Speaking and then chanting

A baby has been born in David’s city,

Yeah, that happens all the time,

Saul had a girl last year at this time

And got to leave us with the sheep

To keep watch with his new family.

But this child is different,

He comes with a choir

Angels, looking like soldiers,

Armed with words not swords,

Told us to go and see.

Mind your own business,

I thought, as look at the sheep

The same sheep I had watched

For days, weeks and months.

Mind your own business.

Glory to God

In the highest

Peace on earth

To whom God chooses

As He minds His business

So we go, and see the newling

Like one of our lambs,

In a stall, not under the stars,

But with straw and

That country smell we know.

She had been

Minding her business

And he his,

When angels came to them

About a boy child

To be called Jesus.

So we looked,

And it was as they had said

We left our business

To observe for once

Something of heaven.

Mind your own business!

We did get back to our sheep,

Who were watched by the Almighty

While we, we watchers,

Became tellers of tales

Mind this business!

Angels, a baby,

Signs and wrapped cloth,

Sheep and straw

And something totally new.

Now you, mind this!

Your business goes on each day

As the day before,

And the day to come.

The Lord has come,

Mind this business!

David E. Carlson, 2010

2 Corinthians 5 – is this poetry?

Having preached a series of messages on imbedded hymn texts in the New Testament (such as Philippians 2:6ff) and having spent a lot of time in the Wisdom Literature and Psalms, which are laden with literary pattern, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were not two such passages in last Sunday’s text.  2 Corinthians 14b-15 contain a passage that is set off as a summary, and it’s structure and brevity suggests poetry to me.  I have laid it out schematically below.  v. 14a is an introduction, and 14b and 15 are in an ABABCCB Structure.  A – Christ’s Death (and life); B – consequence; C – detail.  We note that the section is set of with “that” (“hoti” in Greek), often a way to introduce a quotation (not quotations marks in Ancient or Koine Greek).

For the love of Christ controls us,

            because we have concluded this:

                        that one has died for all,

                                    therefore all have died;

[15]                  and he died for all,    

                                    that those who live

                                                might no longer live for themselves

                                                but for him who for their sake

                                    died and was raised.

Further, there seems to be two more:  v. 16 is ABAB

[17]      Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,

he is a new creation.

            The old has passed away;

behold, the new has come.

And v. 21 – ABCABC

            For our sake

                              he made him to be sin

                                         who knew no sin,

             so that in him

                            we might become

                                                the righteousness of God.

the Commentators seem to be disturbed over the lack of detail (who are the “all” who died (v. 14b), for example).  If this shares the OT Poetic  characteristic of terseness, that would be explained.  We can use the example of using the structure of parallelism to explain the meaning.  That is use the A sections together and the B sections to give context to the words used.