SUMMARY VERSES IN LITERATURE
Some books, such as the Epistle to the Romans, do not have a "Central theme." Rather, they pursue a development of thought. Other books, both secular and sacred, have a central point that they are making. In a book such as Galatians, it is hard to miss the point. It is plain and blunt. It is a defense of the doctrine of grace.
However, when an author uses imagery and thematic literary techniques to make his point, he runs the risk that the reader will get lost in the facts, and miss the point. To prevent this, many authors, in both secular literature and cinema, and in Scripture, who use narrative literature (i.e., stories) to communicate a point, will include within their work, one or more statements that summarize their point in plain blunt language whose meaning clarifies the central theme of the work.
For example, the theme of the movie "Gone with the Wind" was about the end of the "Old South" in America. It was a culture that was lost forever after the American Civil War. But to ensure that the point of the book, and the movie, were understood by the reader, the theme of the story is summarized at least twice. First, it is summarized in the title, "Gone with the Wind." The culture that was the Old South was gone with the wind. Later, the theme is summarized by the words of Rhet Butler spoken to Scarlet O'Hara, "The world as you know it is passing away Scarlet."
We see a similar blend of thematic development and a "summary statement" in the movie "Casablanca." The movie focuses on the inner struggles of a man named "Richard Blain" (played by Humphrey Bogart), during World War II in North Africa. This central theme is disclosed in multiple scenes teaching the same central theme. Rick continually denies with his mouth that be believes in anything or loves anything but himself. But his actions continually betray his words. The nobility of his character transcends the denial of his lips.
He tries to convince himself that he is no longer capable of love, and scorns the affections of a lovely woman named Yvonne. But when a strange set of circumstances places him face to face with the woman who broke his heart, his denial of feelings or emotions is betrayed by the pain he still feels. And he is still in love.
Later in the movie, a Bulgarian woman comes to his saloon and gambling house (Rick%u2019s Café American) seeking his counsel. She has been married only a few weeks, and she and her husband are trying to escape war torn Europe to America. But the couple cannot leave Casablanca without an exit visa, and they have no money to purchase one. The Captain of the Police is willing to provide her two exit visas in exchange for sexual favors. When seeks Rick's counsel and advice, his words are harsh. He tells her. "Everyone in Casablanca has problems. Yours may work out. You'll excuse me." With his words, he tells her he does not care what she must do to get out of Casablanca. It is her problem.
But again, his actions betray his words.
As the owner of the gambling hall, and instructs his employee at the roulette wheel to ensure that the woman's husband wins enough money to purchase two exit visas from Casablanca, so the young bride does not need to defile her marriage to escape to America with her husband. As the owner of the saloon, this money essentially comes out of Rick's own pocket.
Of course, Rick denies any kindness or goodness on his own part, insisting that the husband won at roulette because he was "just a lucky guy I guess."
Throughout the movie, he also denies having any nobility in political matters, claiming that he does not care whether Hitler, or the allies, win the war. With this, he also claims repeatedly that he does not care if the great freedom fighter, Victor Laslow, is able to escape Casablanca, or if he gets killed by the Nazis in Casablanca.
But once again, his words are betrayed by his actions. Rick not only forfeits the only woman he loves, he risks his life to help the great resistance leader, Victor Laslow, escape to America with his wife.
But in the event that the viewer is not very literary, and has not grasped the central theme by the repetition of this theme in a sequence of stories about Ricks life, the entire point of the movie is summarized in a short conversation between Richard Blain and Victor Laslow.
Victor Laslow has just come from a meeting of resistance fighters in Casablanca. The Nazis raided the meeting, and Victor cut his hand in his escape. He meets Rick, and the following exchange takes place:
Rick: "Do you sometimes wonder if its worth all this? I mean, what you're fighting for."
Laslow: "We might as well question why we breath. If we stop breathing, we die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.
Rick: What of it? It will be out of its misery.
Laslow: Do you know how you sound like, Mister Blain? Like a man who is trying to convince himself of something he does not believe in his heart. Each of us has a destiny, for good, or for evil.
Rick: I get the point.
Laslow: I wonder if you do. I wonder if you know that you are trying to escape from yourself? And you'll never succeed.
And this statement summarizes in a didactic manner all that has been said before by the narrative accounts of Rick%u2019s life. He is an embittered man who lost the only woman he ever loved. To cope with his loss, he tries to deny that he has any feelings at all left in his soul. He continually tells himself (and anyone who will listen), that he does not love or care about anything but himself. He is a man trying to convince himself of something that he does not believe in his heart, but he will never succeed. The nobility of his character continually betrays his words. His actions show a man who is still deeply in love . . . a man of nobility, who is willing to sacrifice the profits of his business to protect the sacredness of a young woman%u2019s marriage . . . a man who not only forfeits the only woman he ever loved, but even risks his life for the cause of freedom in the face of world domination by Nazi regime.
It is a story told by a recurring theme in narrative fashion, with a summary statement that summarizes the theme of the movie in a few words.
The Gospel of John uses a similar literary approach. John reports many events in the life of Jesus. Jesus forgives a man's sins. Jesus raises a man from the dead. Jesus is crucified on the Passover while the robber, Barabbas, is able to go free because of Jesus%u2019 death. Until the upper room discourse, the thematic development of John points the reader to the following conclusions: 1) Jesus is the Son of God. 2) Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world by his death on the cross. And 3) by faith in Jesus as our God and Savior, we can have eternal life.
However, in the event that the reader is not very literary, and does not grasp this message from the repeated events of Jesus life, John summarizes the point of his gospel several times in what could be called thematic summaries, or "summary verses."
One such "summary verse" is John 3:16
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, That whosoever believeth on Him would not perish, but have everlasting life."
John again summarizes the purpose of his gospel in John 20:31.
"But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
This technique is not necessary in literature that advances its theme in more direct language, such as Paul%u2019s epistles. However, when an author communicates his point in a highly literary fashion, he runs the risk that the reader may not notice the thematic thread running throughout the entire work. This is the case with the Gospel of John, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. To protect the integrity of their central thesis, these two authors used the same technique. They peppered their literary works with a series of %u201Csummary verses%u201D . . . statements that summarized, in plain language, the thesis that they developed more elegantly throughout the thematic development of their respective works.
And when a summary statement is repeated multiple times throughout a book, whether Scripture or secular literature, the reader would to well to consider the possibility that it just may have something to do with theme or purpose of a book.
The following hypotheses are offered for interpreting the Epistle to the Hebrews:
1) The purpose of the Epistle is disclosed in the thematic development of the opening two chapters.
2) This same thematic purpose is also repeated at least eight times in "summary verses," peppered throughout the Epistle.
3) The "warning passages" should be interpreted against this thematic purpose.
4) The theme of those warnings could be summarized in the following statement:
"Hold fast the confession of faith with which we began our Christian journey in order to lay hold of the promise."
Below, we will consider these summary verses, and also, consider how well each of them fits with the first three interpretative heuristics (the Arminian view, warning the reader he is in danger of losing his salvation; the Calvinist view, warning the reader that he is in danger of finding out he was "never really saved," and the inheritance view, warning the reader that, if he continues his departure from the Christian faith into a cultic mix of Judaism and Christianity, he will forfeit the privilege of ruling and reigning with Christ.
If the message is consistent, it weighs heavily against the fourth view (the "variety pack" interpretation) to the book of Hebrews. If none of the first three heuristics seem to consistently fit the summary verses or thematic development, then the fourth heuristic (the variety pack) is the most likely interpretation.