Ever Notice All the Opposites in the Bible? (Learning to Recognize “Contrasts” in Inductive Bible Study)

If you are just beginning to explore Inductive Bible Study, you may want to start by reading my article, Inductive Bible Study: An Overview. And then come back and read this article on “Contrast.”

Looking for Major Structures in the Biblical Text

One of the primary steps of Inductive Bible Study is the Survey. This is where you take a birds eye view of the passage you are studying. Part of the Survey process is to look for major structures that connect the text together. I’m going to review some of those structures here in the coming weeks and months.

As you start learning and practicing Inductive Bible Study, you will begin to notice these structures. They will give you a deeper understanding of what God is showing you through the biblical text.

Today, we will begin by learning about the major structure known as “Contrast.”

Let’s Begin with Prayer

Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to pray. You should always begin your Bible study with prayer, asking God to guide your time in the scriptures.

Let’s pray:

God, we thank You for the Bible that You have given us. Help us to go deeper in Your Word, by Your leading, by Your Spirit, and by Your revelation. Be with us during our time of study. Draw us closer to You as we study Your Word. We treasure this time with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Keeping It Major

When you are doing Survey, you are looking for major structures (like” Contrast,” for example) that cover large sections of the passage. We call these “unit-level” structures because they cover the whole passage as a unit (i.e., not broken down into smaller pieces).

In other words, when you do a Survey, you won’t be looking for structures at the paragraph level. Instead, you will be looking for ways the author uses structures to connect major portions of the whole unit together – at the unit level.

To recap: In Survey, the structures you want to learn to recognize and identify will be the ones that connect major portions of the text you are studying.

In a future article, I’ll go into more detail about how major units are divided. For now, just remember: in Survey, we are thinking “big.”

Recognizing the Use of “Contrast”

Let’s start with the major structure known as “Contrast.” This is one of the easier-to-recognize structures. It is usually clear when something is being contrasted, even though you may find deeper and more subtle layers of contrast as you look more closely at the text.

To recognize Contrast, look for ways the author puts two things opposite against each other: people, themes, places, behaviors, activities. In other words, where does the author emphasize major differences throughout the passage?

Even though Contrast is fairly easy to recognize, I am amazed at how often I overlook it – until I make a point to notice it. That may be what you will discover too, as you look for examples of Contrast in the Bible passages you study.

It’s important to note that not every structure will appear in every passage. You want to learn how to recognize the various types of structures so you know them when you see them. So today, we are focusing on how to recognize Contrast.

A Few Examples of “Contrast” in Biblical Passages

Let’s look at several passages where we can see Contrast at work. To make the most of this exercise, take the time to read each passage all the way through first. Then come back and look at the discussion of Contrast in that passage. After you go through the discussion, read the passage again, looking specifically at the author’s use of Contrast.

Remember, Inductive Bible Study is a slow process that takes time and continual practice. Give it the time it requires – it is worth it. That is all time spent with God in His Word.

Example 1 – Exodus 32-34

In Exodus 32-34, you can see how the author shows a contrast between God’s wrath against the people (32:9-10; 33:3, 5) and God’s offering of a covenant relationship with the people (34:27-28).

To recap, the contrast looks like this: God’s wrath versus God’s covenant relationship.

That’s a major difference highlighted throughout this passage.

How does that contrast shape your understanding of this text? One thing you might notice is that the contrast shows you how wrath and covenant are two very different sides of God’s great big love for His people.

That’s just one insight that God helped me to see through this contrast, as I studied this text. See what God shows you through these contrasts. There is so much to see as you look closely at God’s Word.

Example 2 – Matthew 16:1-20

In a Survey of Matthew 16:1-20, I noticed the author uses Contrast in the following ways:

The author contrasts the way the Pharisees and Sadducees respond to Jesus with the way the disciples respond. The Pharisees and Sadducees demand that Jesus show them a sign (verse 1). Their repeated demand for signs and questioning of Jesus through the preceding chapters (Matthew 12 and 15) is contrasted with the disciples’ acceptance of Jesus and (in verses 13-17) the opening of their eyes to the revelation that Jesus is the Christ (verse 16).

In other words, the Pharisees and Sadducees question who Jesus is, while the disciples accept who He is, and therefore more is revealed about who He is. Through this contrasting structure, the author continues the contrast between good and bad soil, open and closed hearts, and the teaching that whoever has more will receive more described in Matthew 13.

The author also seems to have positioned the contrast in a way that highlights the revelation of Jesus’ identity as the Christ (verse 16). The Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ doubts and tests concerning Jesus’ identity (verse 1) are contrasted with God’s revelation of Jesus’ identity to Peter and the disciples (verse 16).

Example 3 – Psalm 1

Psalm 1 is a psalm of contrasts. The entire psalm is structured holding opposites against each other. It’s a great psalm for studying how contrast shapes meaning and understanding.

Verses 1-3 focus on the blessed man, while verses 4-6 focus on the wicked. Not only is a stark contrast evident between the first and second half of the psalm, but also this overall contrast is woven more subtly throughout the verses. Even in the discussion of the blessed man, we see hints of contrast with the wicked (verses 1, 2), while verses 5-6 contrast the wicked and the righteous.

I would suggest that even these more subtle contrasts are part of the overall unit-level contrast (between the first and second half of the psalm), and that the unit-level “structure of contrast” is woven deeply into the text.

The greatest dichotomy is found when contrasting the last sentence of verse 3 and the last part of verse 6. These two verses show us the extreme end of two contrasting paths: prosperity of the blessed and perishing of the wicked.

Keep Looking for Contrasts

As you spend time studying the Bible, look to see if the passage you are reading has a structure of Contrast.

You won’t always find contrasts in every passage. “Contrast” is just one of many structures you will come across – and I will write about more of those structures in future articles here.

But when you do find a major structure of Contrast in a passage, make a note of it. Then ask God to show you how those contrasts help communicate the meaning of the text.

God bless!