The Art of Observing What’s Not Said

The Art of Observing What’s Not Said

Observing what’s not said is definitely an art and not a science, so you need to use common sense. Identify what you might expect from a passage. Then make sure to observe how (and whether) the text subverts those expectations to sharpen its argument. The biblical authors are constantly working to subvert our expectations so they might better persuade us to trust the Lord and seek first his kingdom.

We’ve mentioned it a thousand times: When we observe a passage of the Bible, we’re trying to figure out what it says. However, sometimes we won’t fully grasp what it says without first observing what it doesn’t say. Ryan has made this point in two recent posts with respect to characters’ names. But what’s not said applies to many other types of observation as well. Here are three examples.

Example #1: Luke 15:11-32

The parable commonly known as “The Prodigal Son” is really about Two Brothers. We’re told of the bad choices of the younger son (Luke 15:12-16), and his risky decision to come back home (Luke 15:17-19). We’re told about what happened upon his return (father runs to meet him, throws a party, etc., in Luke 15:20-24).

Then we’re told of the bad attitude and choices of the older son (Luke 15:25-30). We hear the father’s appeal to his grumbling son (Luke 15:31-32). But we never find out what he decided or what happened.

The two brothers are parallel to one another. Their stories are parallel. Up to the point where we expect to hear the choice and results of the older son’s decision. But that choice and its results are left unsaid. The parable simply ends on a cliffhanger.

What is the point of the omission? Jesus lets the end of the story play itself out in the response of the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling (Luke 15:2). Luke 13-14 was all about the feast and joy of the kingdom of God. Will these grumbling scribes and Pharisees enter? Will those who are saved be few (Luke 13:23)?

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