Categories of Information - The Figurative Nature of Biblical Truths

No matter which side of the Evolution dispute you might belong to … it seems to be obvious enough that we should all become more familiar with how the figurative elements of the Bible are analyzed and defined by the many camps of thought. Below is a pretty nice introduction, even though it seems to be designed to corral people into one side of the topic.

Still… worth a reading!

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Examples of Figure of Speech Used in the Bible What are they, their purpose, recognizing them…
in Articles · Bible · Figures of Speech

What is a Figure of Speech?
A departure from the normal rules of grammar or word usage. Examples:

“breadth and length and depth and height”
“The mountains will sing.”

What is the purpose of figures of speech?

To give special emphasis.

To call attention to the point.

To add force or power to an expression. Which sentence is more memorable? “A burglar snuck into my house.” OR “A burglar slipped into my house like a cat stalking prey.”

Why are figures of speech in the Bible?

Figures of speech are universal to human communication. Every language, including the biblical languages, has them.

God used figures of speech to call attention to a point in the scriptures.

Why it is important to understand figures of speech in the Bible?

To get to the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Serious misinterpretations of Scripture come from:

Calling something figurative that is literal. For example, the 6 days of Creation in Genesis 1 are literal 24-hour periods. But many who want to believe Creation couldn’t have happened that quickly say they are figurative.

Calling something literal that is figurative. For example, John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am” is used to support that Jesus is eternal and pre-existed Abraham. Really, it is the figure of speech heterosis or switching of word forms (here, verb tense). It emphasizes the certainty of Jesus’ coming.

It is not honest biblical interpretation to call something figurative simply because you don’t understand it or don’t want to believe it.

The words in God’s Word are perfect. God has a reason for everything He says – where He says it; when He says it; to whom He says it; and how He says it.

Figures of speech in the Bible are precise and exact, not haphazard.

How do we know when the words should be taken literally or figuratively?

The Bible should be understood literally whenever possible.

But when a statement appears to be contrary to our experience, or to known fact, or to the general teaching of truth, then we can expect that a figure of speech is present.

If a word or words are truly a figure of speech, then that figure can be named and described. It will have a specific identifiable purpose.

How can we recognize figures of speech?

The words don’t make sense literally.

1 Corinthians 11:16-21, Paul calls himself a fool. He isn’t one, but is using the figure “sarcasm.”

Isaiah 55:12, “the trees will clap their hands.” Trees don’t have hands and don’t clap. The figure is personification.

The words are clear and literal, but meant to convey a deeper lesson or application, such as in a parable.

The words are clear and literal, but are put together in a grammatical or structural way that brings emphasis to the section. This kind of figure may be lost in translation.

Genesis 2:17, “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” The Hebrew reads, “dying you will die,” using the figure “many inflections,” that is the same word in different forms.

Ephesians 3:18, “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” The “ands” is the figure “Many ands” and gives separate emphasis to each part, more than a comma would.

What are the various / different kinds of figures of speech?

The study of figures of speech is complex because of the number of languages (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and English) involved, and because each language has many figures.

But the patterns of language are so universally common to mankind that most of the figures of speech cross over from language to language in a recognizable way.

Various scholars through the centuries have offered systems of classifying figures of speech. The clearest and best documented is by E. W. Bullinger, as follows:

  1. Figures Involving Omission (words or meaning left out)
    a. Affecting words (grammar or sentence structure)
    b. Affecting the sense (the meaning)
  2. Figures Involving Addition (words or meaning inserted)
    a. Affecting words (grammar or sentence structure)
    b. Affecting the sense (the meaning)
  3. Figures Involving Change (words or meaning changed)
    a. Affecting the meaning
    b. Affecting the order of words
    c. Affecting the application of words (interpretation of words)

Examples of Figures of Speech

  1. Figures Involving Omission (words or meaning left out)

a. Affecting words (grammar or sentence structure)

Ellipsis– words are left out.
Matthew 11:18, “For John came neither eating nor drinking.” Being human, John had to eat and drink. What is left out is “declining invitations to eat with others.”

b. Affecting the sense (the meaning)

Tapeinosis– lessening, demeaning or understatement
Acts 5:36, “Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody…” meaning “someone great.”

Antenantiosis – meaning “opposite.” Psalm 84:11, “No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless,” meaning He will give him every good thing.

  1. Figures Involving Addition (words or meaning inserted)

a. Affecting words (grammar or sentence structure)

Epizeuxis – duplication; repetition of the same word in a sentence.
Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, comfort my people…” John 1:51 (KJV), “Verily, verily I say unto you…” Translated in the NIV as “I tell you the truth.”

Anaphora – like sentence beginnings; repetition of the same word at the beginning of successive sentences.
Matthew 5:3-11, “Blessed are the poor…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…”

Polysyndeton – many ands; repetition of the word “and.”
Acts 1:8, “…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Paradiastole – neithers and nors; repetition of neither or nor.
Romans 8:38 and 39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God…”

Epistrophe – like sentence endings; repetition of the same word at the end of successive sentences.
Psalm 115:9-11 all end in “he is their help and shield.”

Epanadiplosis – encircling; the same word and the beginning and end of a sentence.
Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice.”

Anadiplosis – like sentence endings and beginnings; the same word at the end of a sentence and beginning of the next sentence.
Psalm 121:1 and 2, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…”

Repetitio – repetition of the same word irregularly in the same passage.
John 16:12-15, the words “shall” and “will,” depending on the translation, appear 11 times in 4 verses.

Polyptoton – many inflections. The repetition of the same word in different forms.
Ephesians 6:18 (KJV), “Praying always with all prayer…”
Revelation 17:6 (KJV), “I wondered with great wonder…”

b. Affecting the sense (the meaning)

Hyperbole– exaggeration
2 Samuel 1:23, “Saul and Jonathan…they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

  1. Figures Involving Change (words or meaning changed)

a. Affecting the meaning

Metonymy – change of one noun for another related noun.
Proverbs 10:20, “The tongue (words, speech) of the righteous is choice silver.”
Matthew 6:21, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart (thoughts and affections) be also.”

Synecdoche – transfer; exchange of one idea for another associated idea.
Mark 16:15 (KJV), “Preach the gospel to every creature (man).”
Philippians 3:19, “Their god is their stomach (themselves)…”

*Metonymy and synecdoche are very similar. The distinction is that in metonymy, the exchange is made between two related nouns; in synecdoche, the exchange is made between two related ideas.

Hendiadys – two for one; two words used, one thing meant.
1 Timothy 1:17, “honor and glory” meaning “glorious honor.”
Luke 1:17, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah…” (the powerful spirit, or spiritual power of Elijah)

Antonomasia – name-change; change of a proper name for an appellative.
Acts 3:14, “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One (meaning Jesus)…”

Euphemismos – euphemism, change of what is unpleasant for something pleasant.
Genesis 15:15, “You, however, will go to your fathers (die) in peace…”
John 11:11, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep (died)…”

b. Affecting the order of words

Hyperbaton – transportation; placing a word out of its usual order in a sentence.
John 6:60 (KJV), “Hard is this word…”
1 Timothy 3:16 (Greek), “Great is, of Godliness, the mystery!”

c. Affecting the application of words (interpretation of words)

Simile – resemblance; a comparison by resemblance.
Psalm 17:8, “Keep me as the apple of your eye.”
Ephesians 5:22, “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.”
Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church…”

Metaphor – representation; a comparison by one thing’s representing another.
Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd…”
Matthew 26:26, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

Hypocatastasis – implication; implied resemblance of one thing to another.
Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.” (both dogs and pigs imply people)
Mark 1:17, “I will make you fishers of men.”

Parabloa – parable; continued simile.
Matthew 13, the parable of the sower. The story may be true or imaginary, but the events must be possible or likely.

Gnome – quotation
Matthew 1:22 and 23 quotes Isaiah 7:14.

Amphibologia – double meaning; has two interpretations both of which are true.
Acts 13:22, “…‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” A man after my own heart could have two correct interpretations. From God’s perspective, David was like-hearted with God; from David’s, he was after, or seeking, God’s heart.

Eironeia – irony; expression of thought in a form that conveys its opposite.
Judges 10:14, “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”
Job 12:2, “Doubtless you are the people and wisdom will die with you.”

Oxymoron – wise-folly; a wise saying that seems foolish.
Isaiah 58:10, “Your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
1 Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Idioma – idiom; peculiar usage of words or phrases.
“break bread,” “turn to ashes,” “hide from your eyes,” etc.

Prosopopoeia – personification; things represented as persons.
1 Corinthians 12:15 and 16, “If the foot shall say, “Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body…And if the ear shall say, “Because I am not the eye…”
Leviticus 18:25, “The land vomited out its inhabitants.”

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