How is your summer going? How is your summer reading of Scripture going? Here’s another quick tip that can help you more deeply engage and understand what you are reading. As with all of the Summer Reading Challenge posts (here and here), the key to reading more carefully is thinking a bit more about what is going on and why the writer would have phrased it that way. Today’s tip concerns the coupling of positive and negative statements to convey one main point.
In most cases, the same idea could have been conveyed with either one of them; using both is a little overkill, but that’s the point. The extra piece, generally the negative statement, serves as a contrasting backdrop for the positive element that follows. In the NT, we most often find the negative preceding the positive, essentially moving you to ask, “What should I do instead?”
In the OT, the positive generally comes first, with the negative statement reinforcing what precedes, as in Deuteronomy 1:17:
You must not be partial in your judgment; hear out the small person as also the great person; do not be intimidated by any person, because the judgment is God’s; and the case that is too difficult for you, bring it to me, and I will hear it out.’ (LEB)
The verse begins with the command not to be partial, then we have a positive command to hear out the small and great alike, without partiality. This is followed by a negative statement not to be intimidated. Each statement is making a similar point, but the alternation of the negative and positive offers more insight into different facets of the issue.
We tend to be efficient, to not say more than we have to in order to get our point across. This means that if the writer has added these extra positives or negatives, they felt they were needed to fully convey their point.
So as you are reading this summer and beyond, be on the lookout for positive/negative pairings of similar statements. Why include both here? What might we have overlooked if only one had been used? Which seems like the more important? Find some interesting examples? Share them in the Faithlife HiDef Bible Study group!