Standing alone

Heigh-ho, the derry-o . . .
The cheese stands alone.


from “The Farmer in the Dell”

For a melancholy introvert, standing alone is no uncommon experience.  Among the areas in which I feel increasingly alone is the study of scripture.

In biblical studies, I am coming to know (read that as an intentional use of the imperfect  tense/aspect — I am not in a perfected state of having arrived at the end!) a little more than “just enough to get you in trouble.”  I don’t know how to use all the tools I have available, and sometimes I take the wrong exit ramp or stop at the wrong rest stop in exegetical study, but I am as confident as one can be that I’m on the right road.  It is a lonely highway. . . .

Recently, during Bible class, a very good man (A)

made a very un-good statement. (B)

His statement (C)

reflects the bad ideas (B’)

of lots of other good people out there who read their Bibles.  (A’)

The statement was something like this, in part:  “I’m not very much into the ‘structure’ of Paul’s letters.  I think verses X-Z stand alone.”  And in one fell swoop — and I really don’t think he intended to do this — he undercut the very idea of the importance of literary context.

The indented layout of the five blue lines above shows chiastic arrangement.  Because of my acquaintance with chiasms and my interest in biblical exegesis, and because I felt like using it as an emphatic illustration, I composed that little chiasm (in all of one minute).  It’s cathartic for me, in a way.

This type of arrangement is quite common in ancient texts.  Scholars sometimes disagree on the particulars, but nary a scholar worth his salt denies the prevalence or significance of such things in the rhetorical thought-patterns of the ancients.  In terms of structure, the “text” above is actually very much like something that might be found in a gospel or in one of Paul’s letters.  The emphasis in such a section of text is in the middle—in this case, the statement made by my sibling.  My intent, then, in communicating through the chiastic structure above, is to focus attention on the statement itself, not on the person.  Secondary and tertiary emphases may also be presentsuch as the relationship of bad statements and bad ideas (B and B’ lines).

Anyway, back to the statement itself. . . .  I took it as an expression of some lack of understanding, or maybe some frustration with being confronted with new emphases on context and purposeful literary analysis in Bible study.

The thing is, the statement that “verses X-Z stand alone” was flat wrong, insofar as it went.

The intent of my brother’s heart was completely fine; he was just off-base in suggesting that we might get just as much from a short section by letting it stand alone.

In the course of reading, studying, and coming to understand a literary document, nothing stands alone.

But the cheese and I do stand alone far too often, I think.  Maybe we are limburger.


5 thoughts on “Standing alone

    • Brian Casey 02/06/2015 / 9:02 am

      Yeah, nothing stands alone! Actually, I can see Paul re-appropriating a phrase in another context at times, but Paul is Paul, and he was an apostle, and I’m not. My task is to understand what he was saying to this or that Christian context — and only after coming to some understanding, trying to “apply it.”

      This is one of the hardest things to learn in Bible study. In my case, after (give or take) a dozen years o​f paying more rapt attention to context, I still catch myself going off on tangents and liking the supposed message of this or that “verse” — outside of its context. Even a couple days ago, I found myself “sermonizing” with a small group about something that was only vaguely referred to in the text of Mark 9.

      If it is so hard for me to stay contextual, at times, given the good teachers and associations and opportunities (and software) I’ve had, I can only imagine how difficult it is for someone who has only sat in church and heard (most) preachers do their thing. When confronted with the reality that, for example, “I can do all things through Christ” means something only in its context, and not in a fanciful brain or heart that earnestly wants it to mean something “in my life,” it can be painful for folks . . . until they realize that even greater treasures await, when they pay attention to context!


  1. Steve 02/06/2015 / 10:16 am

    You have to admit that there is a ‘geekiness’ to those of us who enjoy the literary structure–of anything, in today’s world. Grammar is not sexy, nor is the incredible, creative linguistics of our Hebrew and Greek Biblical ancestral writers. I recall last summer teaching a class from Proverbs, enthusiastically showing a couple of sections that exampled chiastic structures–and why the writer would do this. After diagramming the section, I turned and looked at the class members: most eyes were totally gazed over…but the three who got it were smiling brim to brim. We teach all students; some–savor the meal, and that encourages us to do our homework. …and I won’t touch the limburger cheese comment with a 10 foot pole…


    • Brian Casey 02/07/2015 / 8:20 am

      Enjoyed the anecdotes. There is one of those apparent “brimmers” in the back of the room in one of the places I teach currently. She doesn’t get close enough (spatially or with comments/questions) for me to tell whether she’s just glad not to have the last

      I’m teaching today in a first-of-its-kind (for me) opportunity in this particular interactive/internet program. I’ve put in probably 30-40 hours on 5 “verses.” I have very little confidence in some aspects of this class, but in others, I may be over-confident. I just had a shower to wash the limburger residue, but something still reeks a little. A closed mouth gathers no feet, but I’m going to open mine in a couple hours anyway.


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