romans study

The Book of Romans Part 9 (3:10-18) To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

The red of roses poured out upon the fields, upon the fields drenched in the rose’s blood The violets hue all purplish blue, the blue imbued into the violet’s hue

My poem is weak, without any strength, like the strong walls of Jericho, broken down as chaff
I don’t know what I’m doing with this, whoever knows what I’m doing please illuminate me

Sorry for the use of horrible poetry. If you want to read real poetry, perhaps you should look in greener pastures. This little poem I wrote up is a very weak re-write of my original “Roses are red” poem from the Romans post from long-long ago.

What you might notice in my poem is that although there is rhyming it is not necessary to what I was trying to convey since it’s not found throughout.

Now, what would you do if someone brought you this poem and told you the poet is saying that the fields are drenched with the blood of a rose? You would probably look at the thing and realize one thing, at least—that I (the poet) was speaking (writing) metaphorically. If the messenger also pointed out that the poet didn’t have a clue what he was doing with the poem by highlighting part b of the second verse, you would either agree or disagree completely because the passage has culminated to that stanza. It is a matter of proper interpretation in light of the literary structure. It would be one thing if the poem was written in prose…but since it obviously has metaphoric language and is obviously making analogies and there seems to be some sort of structure, the common reader should draw a different conclusion.

Welcome to Hebrew Poetry—the same poetry used in the Bible. You very well know that the Bible is loaded with poetry. Psalms comes first to your mind, perhaps followed by Song of Solomon and maybe Proverbs. Upon further investigation you may see tons of poetry in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Minor Prophets and scattered throughout much of the New Testament! One writer I saw had noticed that the entire book of Isaiah was in itself structured as a huge poem (which adds validity to the single authorship of Isaiah!)

What’s important about this is that some people take the scriptures and read a poetic passage as if it’s prose or direct commandments or a literal statement, completely ignoring the fact that the passage is written poetically.

Hebrew poetry uses what smarter people than me call “parallelism”. What this means, in simple terms, is that the first part is echoed or contrasted in the second part to convey a single point.

The red of roses poured out upon the fields
upon the fields drenched in the rose’s blood

 Note the first verse where the second part is conveying the same message as the first part…there is an allusion to the color of the rose being likened to blood and the rose is found in the fields. The passage is not highlighting the blood or the field but the color of the rose which is easily recognized by the second verse:

 The violets hue all purplish blue,
the blue imbued into the violet’s hue

It’s not that the blue of the violets are imbued while the red of the roses is drenched…the word picture is highlighting the seeming nature of the color. The violets magical hue seems to come from inside while the piercing red of the rose looks drastically different from its surroundings. Neither prophecy nor message of the nature of flowers…just thoughts on color. In English it would likely read:

 Roses are red
Violets are blue

Now sometimes in Scripture such parallelism uses contrasts to illustrate one point—even within the parts. If you note my verse:

My poem is weak, without any strength,
like the strong walls of Jericho, broken down as chaff

 The two phrases are in complete contrast but within the parts you’ll notice “weak” versus “strength” and “strong walls” versus “broken down as chaff”. The verse is describing that the penned words are weak…not pummeled or once strong…just that they are weak and worth throwing out. Let’s take an example from Scripture then from Proverbs 6:20 and 21:

 My son, keep your father’s commands
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
Bind them upon your heart forever;
fasten them around your neck.

“Father’s commands” and “mother’s teaching” are conveying the same thought—the very things that the son was taught. “Keep” and “do not forsake” are conveying the same thought—to hold those things. “Bind them” and “fasten them” are conveying the same exact thought as the previous line of putting these things close to the son. “Your heart” and “your neck” convey the same thought—very close and a matter of survival!

I’m not going to bother going into staircase, chiastic, external, and inverted parallelism. That reaches beyond the scope of the present study. The point is that a person can’t look at a passage that is speaking poetically without trying to understand what the poem is actually saying. Some people have taken a very famous poetic passage and interpreted it so strictly literally that the passage looses its hermeneutic meaning within the literal passage. Going above and beyond what dispensationalists have often been accused of (without warrant) the interpretation becomes so stilted that it does damage to the passage in general.

Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God, recipient of messages from the risen Lord Jesus Christ, an Apostle by the mercy of God, delves into the Old Testament passages (often poetry) and puts together a poetic passage in Romans 3:10-18. The passages he pulls together often refer to something else but by the guiding Spirit of God, Paul is allowed to put together one of the most inclusive summaries which illustrate the condition of man. Illustrate I say, for the passage here is not literal and although some will agree that some of it is metaphorical in other parts some will say are completely literal non-poetic statements.

For example, the words:

 Their throat is an open grave,
with their tongues they keep deceiving
The poison of asps is under their lips
Whose mouth is full of cursing

Is it too hard to see the similes or anthropomorphism that the inspired Apostle is illustrating in this portion of the passage? Is it too hard to see the repetition of parts of or dealing with the mouth (throat, tongue, lips and mouth)? It’s not that the throat is literally an open grave, is it? It’s not that the literal” poison of asps” are under their lips is it? What is the point that that the Apostle is trying to make by piecing together these poetic passages to formulate a poetic whole? For some will take the following portion and make it mean something realistically ridiculous:

There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks God
All have turned aside, together they have become useless
There is none who does good
There is not even one

 To take this portion to mean that not a single person does good is to destroy the very thought flow of the argument which Paul is presenting. To this point Paul has been addressing the heathen which knowingly denies the revealed attributes of God (Rom 1:18-18), the moralist who stands on the side of God and does the same as the heathen (Rom 2:1-11) and the Jew who stands on top of the Law while simultaneously being a lawbreaker (Rom 2:17-24). Sinners who deny God with their eyes wide shut, as it were, who in their efforts actually think that the things they are doing are just (Rom 2:23-25) and are proud to teach others to do the same (Rom 1:32).

The statement refers to all of mankind before the position of God in trying to attain the very honor of God on their own merit. It’s not that God ignores good works; that would be ridiculous. Go talk to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-3) if his works were useless or not prior to salvation. Go talk to the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23) who spoke to Jesus about keeping the entire law (doubtful but Jesus didn’t slam him down with a “You are become useless!”). We wouldn’t look at the heathen who is trying to do good in society and tell them that they are the same kind of sinner as a Manson but we would say that before the eyes of God they are not meriting anything.

The only merit God finds in man is via the all-pleasing sacrifice of the cross. In light of that perfectly bright and good work the works of man, no matter how good, are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6—poetic passage!). It is by the light of the denied gospel that men are condemned; it is by their works that they are judged (Rom 2:16; Rev 20:12 and many others—look at my Mission Statement if you want more passages).

You see, some have taken this passage (and certain others…) completely robbed it of its context and in the next breath have managed to send infants to hell with God finding pleasure in doing it.

Something that I’ve personally noticed from the Lord Jesus in Scripture, His message corresponded to reality. Whenever He spoke to the disciples, He wouldn’t say something so abhorrent or contrary to reason as to be completely Other and thrown into the realm of Reasonless. To look at the world through the colored lenses of catechisms, councils, confessions and commentaries is to look at the world without the light of God but the light of learned men. Approach poetic passages with proper interpretive methods and compare them to their surrounding context and enjoy how God’s plan unfolds, corresponding to reason found in the very wisdom of God.

Next, we’ll actually look at the climax to this section.

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