What Does Alliteration Produce?
There are several “Bible Study Aids” which provide alliterated sermons covering the whole Bible. Some are expansive volumes which cover every chapter of the Bible
A Three-Ring Binder with 1,000 pages — 50,000 outlines
“Averaging three lessons per week for 50 weeks, for 50 years would only exhaust 7,500 of the 50,000 outlines.”
For some reason, which at times eludes me, alliteration is one of the most popular rhetorical techniques that attracts Bible preachers and teachers.
Some preachers focus on alliterate sermonic outlines. Their points begin with the same letter.
- Sometimes all the main points are alliterated.
- At other times the sub-points are alliterated.
- Still other follow the above example — alliterated main and sub-points.
- While some do not alliterate the sermon, they use alliteration to frame one or more pithy points within a message — which is of a different class.*
Typically, alliteration is used and justified because it is argued that such alliteration aids memory and/or helps make a point stick — which should be seriously questioned. Beyond that, the question should be asked — Is that the goal? – the remembering of the outline, an alliterated outline. Is that what will help God’s people live more Christlike?
There is an often unstated value in such alliterated outlines which is often unrealized and therefore unmentioned. Before I address the elusive value of alliteration, let me list the first difficulties that accompany alliteration.
Alliteration can be . . . .
#1) contrived: It can be “read by the audience” as unnatural or contrived. The listeners know that it really does not fit the content.
#2) confusing: As a speaker attempts to come up with a word which conforms to the “alliteration letter,” it can a word which fits that letter, but confuses the intended point.
#3) satisfying: It is possible and easy to teach members of the congregation that they have heard something meaningful if there is a flow of alliterated points.
However, it is #4 one I want to focus on . . . .
#4) misplaced: There is a potential value to alliteration which is often unseen. In spite of the fact that the alliteration may be contrived and confusing. Let me clarify this point by clearing a little ground first, which leads to the point “misplaced.”
The purpose of “Expository Preaching” is to “expose” exactly what a particular passage states, to avoid injecting one’s own ideas, thinking, vantage on what God has communicated.
While a commitment to expository preaching” is critical,
it is possible to conflate and confuse alliteration with exposition.
Alliteration is confused with expository preaching because of what it yields.
⇢ Alliteration’s potential value is latent and obscured and what makes it attractive is therefore often unseen and unstated.
⇢ It is what alliteration yields which is what is unknowingly valued by expository preachers.
⇢ What it obscurely and circuitously yields is where the potential value is found!
⇢ In spite of the “contriving” and “confusing” difficulties which accompany the use of alliteration in preaching — in preaching — it does lay out the content of the passage, that is what it yields!
Once one views alliteration in light of what it actually yields, its appeal and inclination become more understandable.
The exposing of a passage, which is what alliterated outlines can yield or produce, may be the main reason for the gravitational pull of alliteration.
While there may be those who are allured to alliteration for “artistic” reasons, or presumed memory advantage, those committed to exposition may be unaware as to why those books on alliterated biblical outlines pull on their thinking.
Let me also suggest that for some, it is because of a misunderstanding of expository preaching and/or a confusion about what those alliterated outlines yield with “expository preaching.”
As I stated, the respect given to expository preaching is due to the fact that “expository preaching” is focused on making sure the preacher or teacher “exposes” what the passage is saying, not what the speaker wants it to be saying.
Alliterated outlines . . . . .
. . . . are by their nature, forced to accomplish that goal — exposing and laying out the content — chunking the content — verse by verse, and even phrase by phrase.
That is why “alliterating points” is confused with expository preaching — alliteration exposes or lays out the actual content of the passage.
Just as a study Bible includes headings before various passages throughout this-or-that book of the Bible, the “passage headings” are designed to capture what is found in the next series of verses. The “passage headings” break down the nature and/or purpose of the coming content.
Likewise, alliterated points seek to provide a handle on the content — the “passage content,” or the “partial passage content.”** That is why alliteration is confused with expository preaching. It yields an outline of the passage as does a study Bible. It “chunks” the content AND provides a “statement heading” (though – in an alliterated format) which captures the content.
The alliteration accomplishes what we want to do in the pastoral study — breaking down the flow and content of the book, chapter, and/or passage.
Another way of seeing the attractiveness of alliterated outlines is that such outlines are by design a means of “observation.” The first step in Bible study or sermonic preparation is to “observe” what the passage states. In doing that — alliterated or not – it means breaking down the content in such a way as to grasp what it is saying — and thereby to understand what it is not saying
What “The Alliterated Bible” is accomplishing — is yielding — is that such an outline is breaking down the content of the passage. It could be done just as well without alliteration. In fact, often it is done without alliteration before it is stated in an alliterated form. Before this-or-that particular content is stated in as an alliterated form, what the content is about is first mentally determined — what that “chunk” says and/or what “its place is” in the passage — precedes the alliteration.
If you are drawn to alliteration, consider that it may be more useful for the pastoral study than for framing a sermon. Any value which may inherently lie within alliterated outlines is misplaced — its value is not in the sermon, but the study. Unless you want God’s people to go home with an alliterated outline or breakdown of the content and not the driving point-truth-principle that content and passage is seeking to make.
* The alliteration of a pity point is of a different class. The alliteration of a pity point can help make the point pithy. The alliteration does not carry the weight but contributes to the weightiness of the point.
** Obviously, there are variations and exceptions.
Sometimes the alliteration is an alliteration of the arguments — These verses tell us “Why we ought to . . . ” The next verse tells us “When we ought to . . . .
Sometimes there are three alliterated words which are synonymous which directly match what the actual passage states — Luke 10:27 — “And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind” . . . . .Love God with — heart, humanity, hardiness, and head.
Example: You may think you have a sermon with this, but it is just a running alliterated commentary on the obvious.
Paul – the Person
An Apostle – his Postion
By the will of God – his Permission
To the saints in – the People