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Biblical Poetry

The Nature of Hebrew Poetry


Poetry can be difficult to define. There are times when Bible translations will even disagree about whether a passage should be considered poetry, which is usually presented in verse form. It is generally best to follow the consensus among translators.

The most striking characteristic of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. This occurs when two or more lines of poetry are set in balance to each other. There are many different opinions of how to define the different types of parallelism within Hebrew poetry, and the discussions can become quite complex. For the sake of simplicity, we will follow the three types of parallelism suggested by Robert Lowth:

1- Synonymous

2- Antithetical

3- Synthetic

Poetic Terminology

This guide will use the following terminology to refer to the structures of Hebrew poetry:

Colon: a single line of poetry (plural: cola)

Bicolon: two lines of poetry set in parallelism to each other, referred to as a single unit (plural: bicola)

Tricolon: three lines of poetry set in parallelism to each other, referred to as a single unit (plural: tricola)

Psalm 1:1

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

These three lines together form a single tricolon. Each separate line of the tricolon is a colon. These three cola form a tricolon.

Psalm 1:2

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

These two cola form a single bicolon. Each separate line is a colon.