Beautiful Truth

Gregory E. Reynolds

When I emphasize the importance of poetry in my lectures on preaching, I always ask if anyone in the audience likes poetry and reads it regularly. Invariably only a few say yes. Then I tell them that I am certain that they do like poetry, because they like the Bible—more than a third of God’s Word is in the form of poetry. And all of the Bible is artfully composed in the forms of various literary structures.

In our age of bits and bytes we are told that science alone gives us truth, the hard facts of reality. Thus, we are generally suspicious of poetry. Many Christians believe that all talk of literary structures undermines our confidence in God’s Word. The creation debates in our own circles often yield such ideas. However, it is often overlooked that poetry was written under the inspiration of God’s Spirit to enshrine the Exodus event in a song (Exod. 15) and in many psalms (cf. Pss. 106, 136). They are no less historical or less true for being poetry. Poetry in the Bible presents truth in beautifully memorable form.

When we look at the intricacy of the design of all things in the created order, is it not a proof of the unique inspiration of the Bible that it is artfully composed? Among the Bible’s “incomparable excellencies” the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.5) refers to “the majesty of the style.” There are patterns in everything. Think of the beauty of the patterns of our DNA and the human genome system. So, because we are made in God’s image, we think and live and create in patterns. The eternal Word through whom all things were created and are presently upheld, became flesh in order to create a new humanity after his own glorified humanity. Thus, he refers to us as “his workmanship” or artistry (Eph. 2:10). The Greek word for “workmanship” is poiēma, the same as the English word “poem” or “poetry” (ποίημα). The Greek word refers more broadly to all creating or creations than our English word “poetry.”

The writer of Ecclesiastes has some important things to say about the artistry involved in composing the Scriptures:

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Eccles. 12:9–12)

The inspired words of the sage in this text are carefully crafted divine wisdom—“arranging many proverbs with great care.” He fashions wisdom especially designed for troubled believers living amidst the injustices and wackiness of a fallen world. We must remember to leave the mystery of God’s disposition of our lives in the hands of God, recognizing our mortal and human limits. The beauty of the design of the book of Ecclesiastes is itself a testimony of the perfect control and benevolent purposes of our God in caring for us. God’s Word is crafted with the original Designer’s care—a care with which he gifts the writers of Scripture—“weighing and studying and arranging.”

The concept of artfully wrought truth reminds me of the Roman architect Vitruvius’s three rules of good architectural design exposited in his foundational The Ten Books of Architecture: firmness (structural integrity), commodity (usefulness), and delight (beauty). They are all necessary to one another, just as biblical truth must be expressed artfully. So the text describes its own words in two ways.[1] The first is “words of delight (hephets #p,xe).” The basic meaning of “delight” is to feel great favor towards something. The Author of beauty gave literary skill to the human authors of Scripture to draw us to its meaning and transforming power. The second is “words of truth (emeth tm,(a/).” These are straight or orthodox words. Truth and beauty go hand in hand. The medium is perfectly suited to the message. In God’s Word content and craftsmanship are inextricably linked. The medium and the message are perfectly complimentary as they teach us the beauty of God’s grace. This should give us confidence in our task of communicating God’s Word in an artful way to the rising generation through preaching, teaching, and writing to the glory of God.

Gregory E. Reynolds serves as the pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Manchester, New Hampshire, and is the editor of Ordained Servant.


[1] We could also relate the three rules of Vitruvius to the biblical text in this way: 1) firmness (structural integrity) is found in the various literary forms of the biblical text, which serve the interests of the text’s meaning—chiasm, for example, is structured to make a main point in the center; 2) commodity (usefulness) is the application of the biblical text in worship and service; and 3) delight (beauty) is the beauty of the text artfully crafted and structured to fulfill the purposes and designs of the ultimate author, God.

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Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

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Ordained Servant: January 2015


Also in this issue

Lord Defender: Jesus Christ as Apologist

Countercultural Spirituality: A Review Article

Renaissance by Os Guinness

Science as God’s Work: Abraham Kuyper’s Perspective on Science: A Review Article

China’s Reforming Churches edited by Bruce P. Baugus

Old and New Year Ditties

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