Good Stories Bear Repeating

sluggo-on-repetition1I received an email from a friend a few days ago.  She asked about the duplication and repetition in Scripture, specifically why there were two versions of the Ten Commandments.

I’ve expanded and edited it, but this is basically what I said.

Scripture is full of repetition.  There are four gospels, with a lot of overlap, particularly among the three synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  Chronicles overlaps with major sections of Samuel/Kings.  Isaiah 36-39 seems to be cut and pasted directly from 2 Kings 18-20.  David’s song of thanksgiving of 2 Samuel 22 is found almost verbatim in Psalm 18.  Speaking of psalms, 14 and 53 are literary doppelgangers.  This doesn’t even count the places in the New Testament where the Old Testament is being quoted.  There are two accounts of the Ten Commandments (or as I like to say, The Fourteen Commandments).  There are more examples, but I think I’ve made my point.

Why the repetition?  Some things bear repeating.  In the same way a text will repeat a word to emphasize it (and I highlight it to bring out the repetition), Scripture repeats stories to highlight and emphasize important themes.  Paul’s conversion is retold 3 times in Acts, but each time with slightly different things included.

Good films are worthy of being watched more than once, and with each repetition you discover new things, and your appreciation grows.

I find it curious when a story isn’t repeated, like why do only two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke) include the story of Jesus’ birth?  And yet in Christian culture, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year.  Hmm…

Thinking about the Ten Commandments, for the command about the Sabbath (#5) the Exodus version refers to creation (Exo. 20:11), as taking a Sabbath is to remind us of how God rested on the seventh day.  But the Deuteronomy version of the Sabbath command (Deut. 5:15) recalls the deliverance from enslavement in Egypt, because God gave them rest and deliverance from oppression.  They are emphasizing different aspects of God’s story.  Immediately after they came out of Egypt they didn’t need to be reminded of the deliverance, but of the creation.  They just lived the deliverance.  However, forty years later in Deuteronomy as they were about to enter the Promised Land it was appropriate to recall the Exodus, to help the next generation remember.

Since we humans often forget what God has done in the past we need to be reminded, so there is a lot of retelling of the story.  Good stories bear repeating.  Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 retells the Old Testament story with a negative spin (your ancestors were hard-hearted), while the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 retells the OT story with a positive spin (your ancestors were people of great faith).

Why else does Scripture repeat things?

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