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Hebrew Parallelism

translation, Hebrew, quirks, redundant, poetry, speech patterns

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Hebrew and Aramaic speakers often repeat themselves.  This helps clarify and/or adds emphasis to what they are saying.  Typically they connect these parallel statements with the Hebrew 'vav', generally translated 'and'.  Since English speakers don't typically do this we are often confused.  English speakers usually use 'and' to connect two different things not two similar or identical things.  An obvious, unconfusing example of Hebrew use is Luke 1:20.

"But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place..."  Obviously mute and not able to speak are the same thing. 


Here's another example:   'Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth…."' (Joh 18:37)  Being born and coming into the world are the same thing. 


However sometimes this proclivity can be misinterpreted by English speakers.  For instance:


"But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." (Acts 15:5) They advocated keeping the law of Moses by circumcising the new converts.  The Jews here are also adding weight to their belief that circumcision was necessary, by invoking the instruction by Moses.  There was no movement afoot to discredit the Law of Moses.  Keeping the Law of Moses was not a second requirement, but a reason to be circumcised.  It was being referenced to tap its authority and lend weight to the belief that gentiles should be circumcised.


This Hebrew proclivity to be redundant is pervasive throughout scripture.  It is also probably the most frequently missed aid to correct understanding.  Hebrew speakers simply did not think like English speakers.  If we are to understand what they are saying we need to keep in mind how they tended to think.


Antithetical Parallelism

Not all Hebrew parallelism involves simple repetition.  Although categorized as parallelism, some forms of this quirk deal with opposites rather than sameness.  For instance:


Prov 9:8 "Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.


In this case we have two related, but opposite items.  “Do not correct a scoffer” is opposed to “Rebuke a wise man”.  Also “lest he hate you” is opposed to “he will love you”.


Mat 7:13 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.”


Mat 7:14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.


In this case there are three opposite elements: the wide gate as opposed to the narrow, destruction as opposed to life and many go there as opposed to the few. 


This type of antithetical parallelism can get fairly complex, involving multiple and often alternating lines in opposing thoughts.  Usually the flow and meaning is apparent.  However, if something gets dropped from the text the pattern will be broken.  The broken pattern will indicate a problem with the text.  Also if there is some difficulty in the translation or with understanding this opposing pattern can help resolve the matter.


For a more complete explanation see: http://www.crivoice.org/parallel.html