I've seen it commonly said that Psalm 1 and 2 are to be considered "programmatic" for the Psalms. I've seen mention of the same for Luke 4 and Luke(-Acts). For example, Gordon Wenham writes:

This anonymity at the beginning of the Psalter has led most commentators to recognize that Psalms 1 and 2 are introductory to the whole collection. Recent canonical critics would go further and affirm that these two psalms are programmatic.

Gordon Wenham (2013-02-28). The Psalter Reclaimed (Kindle Locations 2931-2933). Crossway. Kindle Edition. "

My basic understanding of a "programmatic" passage is that it sets a theme as a lens perhaps for viewing an entire work or that perhaps it could be described as a controlling thesis.

What does it mean that a passage is "programmatic"? And how can one tell if a particular passage is programmatic to the rest of the work? Are there other passages that are commonly held to be programmatic?

  • I recommend you check out this website, where the concept of a rhetorical situation is defined fairly well. The site contains hyperlinks if you care to follow through with something which catches your eye and interest. Dec 26, 2013 at 1:11

2 Answers 2


I have found nothing on exegesis or hermeneutics that technically defines this word specifically or uniquely for this discipline. Yet, an online search provides an ample demonstration of its usage. Programmatic appears to be merely an adjective employed by theologians and scholars to articulate what they perceive a passage does. The definition of the word itself therefore would provide the parameters as to whether or not that word should be used to describe a passage.

Let us therefore look at the general definition of the term:

Mirriam Webster's Dictionary:

of, relating to, resembling, or having a program

Webster's New World Dictionary:

of, or having the nature of, program music of, or having the nature of, a program; often, specif., predictable, mechanical, uninspired, etc.

Therefore, if a passage provides a program for what follows, then programmatic may be the adjective one would employ to describe it.

Following are a list of some other passages thought to be programmatic.

Romans 1:17 (p.346)
Matthew 5;17 (p.352)
Mark 1:14 (p.354)
Isaiah 61 (p. 354)
Genesis 1-3 (last paragraph of p.1)

  • 1
    I guess the question then becomes "what clues factor into a theologian or scholars' perception"? This is a good start but I'm hoping for a more thorough treatment that covers that aspect.
    – Caleb
    Dec 30, 2013 at 10:45

The first two Psalms prepare us for what’s to follow with the others. Likewise, Matthew 5:17-20 and Luke 4:14-30 are considered programmatic for their areas to follow.

Matthew 5:17-20: 17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.(KJV)

http://www.enterthebible.org/resourcelink.aspx?rid=785 “Analysis: This summary statement of Jesus on the relationship of the righteousness of the kingdom and the commandments of the law is clearly programmatic for Matthew's understanding of Jesus' message and mission. … It introduces the remainder of the Sermon that will seek to…”

Luke 4:14-16 (of all the Luke 4:14-30) And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. (KJV)

http://www.enterthebible.org/resourcelink.aspx?rid=139 “ANALYSIS: This is the first extensively narrated act of Jesus' public ministry in Luke's Gospel. It is a pivotal scene that serves as a programmatic passage for all of Luke-Acts. Jesus' words give an encapsulated description of the work that he will do, defining him as one empowered by the Spirit of the Lord. The hostile response of the crowd foreshadows the rejection that he will face.”

  • Just asserting the very issue being questioned doesn't get us anywhere. Saying the text is "clearly programmatic" does not answer the "how" part of this question.
    – Caleb
    Dec 26, 2013 at 10:38
  • My "clearly programmatic" above is the quote from the site where I found an answer, learned and shared it for the answer. Thanks. I guess the better for me to say would be a "programmatic" prepares readers for what's soon to follow. Dec 26, 2013 at 12:58
  • I'm not saying these sources aren't relevant, but as far as I can tell they do not answer the question. The question is "how", but all these quotes do is pass the buck by in essence saying "because so and so says so". Even an expert saying "X is clearly so in this instance" doesn't answer the question of "how is X generally determined".
    – Caleb
    Dec 28, 2013 at 10:45
  • Ok. I guess I'm not following that Soldarnalit asks "how" first with "What does it mean that a passage is "programmatic"? I thought that once I gave the explanation to that and then another example or 2, that might also show how it marks the beginning of what follows. Dec 30, 2013 at 12:22
  • @Caleb-I think your response begs the question "from a reputable source". John's answer is referenced, and 'programmatic' is defined in the answer; the problem is it seems like a 'blogasphere' answer, rather than the detailed work of some eminant theologian. As an aside, I wonder if the "Psalms of Ascent" could be dealt with programmatically; there may be more to reference.
    – Tau
    Dec 30, 2013 at 14:56

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