Emphasis in the Bible

One of the most effective Bible study tips I have come to know is paying attention to emphasis. Emphasis is something we normally do when we are communicating when we want people to pay attention to something in particular. In school what a teacher emphasises is really important to understanding what he is teaching and before an exam, it is often a clue to help you study for the test. Scripture is likewise a teacher and we should be alert to its cues.

Studying the Bible carefully for a while now, I know what it emphasises is key to understanding the text. Now emphasis can come in many forms and at different levels of the text. It can appear as the repetition of a word, phrase or an idea. Sometimes those words or ideas are restated in a different way. Sometimes it appears more subtly as a recurring theme. This can happen within a book of the Bible, across books by the same author or appear in different books by different authors. Sometimes it is a reoccurring theme or idea throughout the entire canon. Sometimes emphasis can be seen by how much space is given to a particular thought or idea. Sometimes it is elaborated in depth. Emphasis however can be easily spotted by the text directly saying so.

A great example of emphasis can be found in the synoptic gospels with the phrase “kingdom of God/heaven.” It is repeated several times, given a lot of space, a consistent theme and it is elaborated on. Jesus himself calls you to pay attention to it. Without understanding the kingdom of God it is impossible to understand what “gospel” is. Like many points of emphasis, it is not that the other things are unimportant. Rather acknowledging what it stresses helps you organize the message and import of the writing by finding out what the central idea is and how other ideas fit together with it. Emphasis is a way the Bible communicates to you how to comprehend it.

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