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Prior to any study of the Bible it is important to realize that the composition of the text can and does play an important role in conveying a written message to its reader, regardless of the type of writing that is being studied. We will frequently make use of the rules of composition unconsciously as we read or write. In her book How to Study Your Bible Kay Arthur lists several compositional tools to look for:

Introduction - Presents the information that the reader will need in order to understand what is to follow.

Comparison - Holding one person, event or thing against another in order to show similarities between them

Contrast - Holding one person, event or thing against another in order to show differences between them

Repetition - Use of a word, phrase or concept more than once in order to emphasize and/or call the audience's attention to the idea being conveyed

Progression - The development of an idea or theme as the reader progresses through the passage to increase the reader's understanding by degrees

Climax - The use of progression to develop an idea or theme to a critical point

Pivotal Point - A change in the overall direction of the passage where ideas on one side of the pivotal point differ in some way from ideas on the other side

Radiation - The central point of a passage which can be either the target or source of all other points in the passage

Interchange - The author switches between two or more significant themes in a sequential manner

General to Particular - The passage moves from discussing a theme in global terms to covering the same theme in more detailed terms, can also be reversed to move from detailed coverage of a theme to a more general coverage of the same theme

Cause and Effect - The passage progresses one action to subsequent actions caused by the first, can also be reversed so that caused events are traced back to their sources

Analysis - The author presents an idea and proceeds to analyze the idea

Interrogation - The author presents a question to the reader and follows by presenting the answer

Summarization - The author presents an overview of what has been said, reviewing the principal points and making appropriate concluding comments

One must always be careful to observe the context of any figure of speech or literary device as the context will always allow us to determine the cause and situation for any specific passage. We cannot isolate discrete passages from their context at the risk of greatly misrepresenting the truth of the Bible. An example of this taken to the extreme is found in the Bible student who took the following two passages out of their context:

Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, felt remorse, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? You see to it.” He threw down the pieces of silver in the sanctuary, and departed. He went away and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:3-5

He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:37

It is obvious from this example that the context is important to the proper understanding of any passage within the Bible if we are to remain true to and gain a proper understanding of its teaching. Most Bible passages will very likely have more than one context; using the book of Ruth as an example, these various contexts would be:

A) The immediate, or literary, context is the face-value meaning of the text. In the book of Ruth that would be (but is not necessarily limited to) the description of the faithfulness of a daughter-in-law (Ruth) to her mother-in-law (Naomi) and the endearing romance between an honourable woman (Ruth) and and an honourable man (Boaz).

B) The historical context is the historic period in which the passage is set. Since the book of Ruth begins with by setting itself in the period of the Judges, we know that the events it describes take place in parallel to some of the events described in the book of Judges. We also know that there is no king in Israel and, by reading Judges, that Israel possessed the land of Canaan but were continually rebellious against God and consequently punished by God by His allowing other nations to overrun them. Which sheds some light on Elimilech and his decision to live in Moab; on the decisions of his sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to take Moabite wives; and on the faithfulness of Ruth, a Moabite, to Naomi, an Israelite.

C) The theological context is the meaning of the passage in relation to the rest of the Bible and God's plan for creation. Since Boaz and Ruth are ancestors of King David and since God promised King David that he would be the ancestor of Jesus, the Sacrifice who would save His people and the King who would reign forever, we see that the book of Ruth is more than the story of a daughter-in-law's love for her mother-in-law or the love of a man and woman for each other; it is the story of God's love for His people and His working in our history to ensure that all that must happen to complete His plan for creation takes place in the proper place and at the proper time. The theological context of the book of Ruth also emphasizes that God's gift of redemption is not limited to the nation of Israel but is given to any and all who come to Him, including Ruth the Moabite, whom God saved and made an ancestor of our Messiah.