A Guide to Interpreting Bible Lists


Most people use lists. We use them to aid us in grocery shopping, to accomplish our daily tasks, and to work on projects. David Letterman made a name for himself on late night television by including a ten point list during each of his shows.

The Bible also uses lists to recount details, to catalogue bits of information, and to instruct us. Particularly with the instruction type of lists in the Bible, we discover a literary device that is often employed. By understanding this device, our learning and application of listed instructions will certainly be enhanced.

The Bunching List

Many types of lists use some type of device that guides our reading or doing of the lists. For example, a grocery list is best when it bunches together the items which correlate to the departments in the grocery store. Milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter are bunched together in the dairy section of the list. Chicken, beef and pork are bunched together in the meat section of the list. And so on. Having a list like this prevents the shopper from reaching aisle 14 and realizing that they have to get something that is back on aisle 3.

The Chronological List

Some lists are simple in that they are chronological. Your calendar may be listed this way. A meeting at 8am is listed before the appointment at 9am. When I name my children, I typically begin with my oldest and end with the youngest.

The Climatic List

Other lists are constructed building to a climax. With this approach the first items on the list are minor with the major items at or near the end. Musical artists may build a set list in this fashion. The emotion or intensity of the songs build to a point of crescendo so that the audience leaves on a high.

The Priority List

Instead of bunching, chronology, or climax, other lists will employ the priority factor when being comprised. The most important element on the list is placed first. Productivity gurus recommend this approach to accomplishing big things in your work. This allows one to major on what is major.

As a general principle, instruction lists in the Bible employ a type of priority factor that aids our understanding of the entire list. Here is what I mean – when you find a list of instruction or something akin to instruction, focus on the first item on the list. This first item may very well serve as the key to interpreting the entire list. This may not be true for every list, but use this method of interpretation as the starting point for interpreting lists that are intended to teach us.

In subsequent articles, I will demonstrate this with a few particular lists in the Bible. In the meantime, look for these lists as you read and pray through your Bible.

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