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How to Read the Book: Discourses
Authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays qualify the term “discourse” to refer to “units of connected text that are longer than paragraphs.” Think of the text relating the episode of David and Goliath within the grander narrative of 1 Samuel; or the several chapters Paul writes to unpack the concept of our death and resurrection in Christ in Romans 5-7. These would be considered a discourse to be studied, according to the authors.
Duvall and Hays use the example of Sherlock Holmes’ observations skills with regard to viewing discourse; that is, we should not simply see the text but observe it. They list five particular things to look out for in discourses: Connections between Paragraphs and Episodes, Story Shifts, Interchange, Chiasm, and Inclusio.
As always, the text goes deep into each concept. One of particular interest is Story Shifts or major breaks in the text. In the Old Testament Story Shifts might spark a turn in the narrative or the end of the story altogether. In the epistles the author might “shift topics, frequently changing from doctrinal discussion to practical discussion.” Consider Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where Chapters 1-3 deal primarily with doctrine (redemption, reconciliation, and unity) whereas Chapters 4-6 deal with everyday living. A good way to see the break is in the use of verbs. In Chapters 1-3 Paul utilizes descriptive verbs (“has blessed,” “made known,” “were dead,” etc.) whereas, beginning in Chapter 4:1, he utilizes imperatives (“be,” “make,” “put off,” etc.).
The authors remind us that, “when we study the Bible, we are engaging in a conversation with the infinite God.” This requires that we do more than just skim the surface of His written revelation. We must read carefully, observe closely, look at all the details, and ask numerous questions of the text.
Check back next week for Chapter 6: The Historical-Cultural Context.
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 J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 91.
 Ibid, 93-102.
 Ibid, 97.
 Ibid, 102.