Parallelism

This is straying slightly from the categories of Hebrew and Greek grammar, but it is interesting, and quite pertinent to next years’ hebrew class. Here’s the question: what is parallelism?

The traditional view is that parallelism is “saying the same thing twice in different words”.1 Such a view is followed by many modern handbooks on OT exegesis.2 Such a view follows the ideas of Robert Lowth’s lecturs in 1753. Proponents of this view generally categorise parallelism into three categories:

  1. synonymous – where the second line of poetry repeats the first
  2. antithetical – where the second line contrasts the first
  3. synthetic – where the second line does not seem to relate well to the first.

It is because of this third category of synthetic parallelism that many have questioned the traditional view. Duvall and Hays give expanded and more open details of how parallelism works but still fall fairly well into the traditional view.3

In Interpreting the Psalms Mark Futato suggests a different definition of what parallelism does:

Parallelism is the art of saying something similar in both cola but with a difference added in the second colon (p38)

Futato gives examples such as Ps 29:1 where

the repetition of “honor the LORD” establishes a correspondence between these two cola, which invites us to read the cola together…the poet then adds a difference: the first tells us who is to give honor…the second colon adds the idea of what the angels are to give honor to the Lord for


  1. C. S. Lewis, cited in Futato ‘Interpreting the Psalms”
  2. e.g. Fee and Stuart How to read the Bible for All Its Worth; Stuart Old Testament Exegesis; Sidney Greidanus The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text.
  3. Grasping God’s Words, pp349f

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