One of the main ways the biblical writers emphasized important points was through repetition – utilizing what is called “reduplication for emphasis or intensification” – in what they wrote. This is not talking about repetition of the same things, such as the Ten Commandments, in different parts of the Bible, though that is clearly often done to emphasize something’s importance.
Reduplication for emphasis or intensification applies to repetition occurring in the same verses or passages of scripture. This is common in the Old Testament because the Hebrew language often uses repetition in this way in order to stress something that is being said. For example: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God” (Numbers 15:41, emphasis added here and in the following scriptures), or “…Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” (Zechariah 4:7).
This kind of repetition is easy to see and to understand, but there are other times when the reduplication is not so obvious. Hebrew storytellers often used the technique in stressing important elements of their accounts. If we look at the story of Joseph, for example, we may notice repetition but not think about its significance: Joseph receives two robes (one from his father, one from Pharaoh); his robe is used twice by those trying to destroy him; Joseph has two dreams in which his family bows to him; Pharaoh has two dreams foreshadowing the coming famine in Egypt; Joseph’s brothers make two visits to Egypt to seek his help; and so on.
The reduplication does not mean that the two events are not both part of the story, but that they are carefully selected to make the story’s main points.
The same principle is found in the New Testament. We see the same repetition of individual words and phrases for effect – for example “… But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God ... For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:11-14) or, more simply: “… Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty …” (Revelation 4:8).
But repetition of ideas was also used in the Old and New Testaments as well as the repetition of words. We often find Jesus himself employing this more subtle form of repetition in order to stress important points in his teaching. For example, in his Sermon on the Mount we find that he gives numerous pairs of examples with only slight variation. He uses salt and light to teach about the responsibilities of the disciple (Mathew 5:13-14); he speaks of food and clothing as things that we should not be worried about (Matthew 6:25-31); he mentions both birds and lilies to show God’s care (Matthew 6:26-30); and he also uses dogs and pigs as examples of animals to which we would not give things of great value (Matthew 7:6).
This kind of reiteration in the teaching of Jesus was not accidental or unplanned. Both biblical and rabbinic tradition used the repetition of ideas to teach, and Jesus utilized the principle carefully in some of his most important messages.
So if we realize we are “seeing double” in our study of the Scriptures, we need to take special notice – seeing double in the Bible often means that what is being said is doubly important!