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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.”[1] 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.[2]

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.”[3] 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.[4] We must read carefully, observe closely, look at all the details, and ask numerous questions of the text.[5]

Check back next week for Chapter 6: The Historical-Cultural Context.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 91.

[2] Ibid, 93-102.

[3] Ibid, 97.

[4] Ibid, 102.

[5] Ibid.