Biblical Metaphors & Figures Of Speech
Figures Of Speech
What is a Figure of Speech?
Biblical metaphors & figures of speech are departures from the normal rules of grammar or word usage. Example: “The mountains will sing”
Why it is important to understand figures of speech in the Bible?
1. To get to the correct interpretation of Scripture.
2. To prevent serious misinterpretations of Scripture which come from:
- Calling something figurative that is literal.
- Calling something literal that is figurative.
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. Ex. “The lamb of God” (John 1:29).
One of the major causes of incorrect Bible teaching is when readers take obvious figures of speech in a literal fashion.
In Biblical times people often used figures of speech which were used to help them emphasize what they were saying.
In order to properly understand the Bible, a basic knowledge of commonly used Biblical metaphors & figures of speech is important. Such knowledge is often helpful in refuting erroneous claims, made by skeptics, that the Bible contains errors or discrepancies.
1. Analogy – A likeness of some attribute which corresponds to a person or event with similar attributes or circumstances. Analogies can be drawn between different times and events in history.
1) Luke 17:26 (NKJV) “And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man.”
2. Comparison – One object is compared to the other on the basis of their common attributes. The difference between comparison and metaphor is that in comparison two things are obviously compared (joined by the words “as” or “like“), in metaphor comparison is implied.
1) Isaiah 53:6 – “All we like sheep have gone astray”
2) Jeremiah 23:29 – “Is not My word like as a fire?”
3) Matthew 17:2 – “His face shone like the sun”
3. Ellipsis – Omission from a sentence of one or more words, which are obviously understood, but must be supplied to make the expression grammatically complete eg “This is My body”, and “This is My blood”, (Matt.26:26, Mark 14:24). These elliptic statements grammatically correct would read, “This is (what represents) My body” and “This is (what represents) My blood”.
4. Hyperbole – An Exaggeration of the size, power, meaning, and so on, of an object or phenomenon in order to emphasize that.
A hyperbole (which is an “exaggeration”, when more is said than is literally meant to make a point) is another common figure of speech form used in the Bible. We who use the English language are quite familiar with the use of hyperbole, even though we may not be as familiar with the term itself. When a teenager explains to her parent that “everybody” is going to be at the party, does she mean that literally the world’s population of 6.6 billion people will be there? Of course she does not. She is intentionally exaggerating to make a point. When a teacher explains to his class that “everybody” knows who the first president of the United States was, does the teacher believe all toddlers can correctly answer the question? No. Once again, the teacher is simply using a well-understood figure of speech to convey a point.
The Bible uses hyperbole on numerous occasions. Take John 4:39 as an example. In this passage, a Samaritan woman spoke of Jesus and said: “He told me all that I ever did” (emp. added). Had Jesus really told that woman everything that she had ever done in her life? No, she was using hyperbole to make her point.
To illustrate further, consider Mark 1:4-5: “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (emp. added). Taken literally, these verses would mean that John baptized every single person (man, woman, and child) in all of Judea and Jerusalem. But these verses are not to be taken literally. They are utilizing hyperbole, in which intentional “exaggeration” is employed to explain that John’s baptism was extremely popular.
5. Metaphor – The Representation use of a word in a figurative meaning on the basis of the similarity of two objects or phenomena in some way.
1) John 6:51 – “I am the living bread”
2) Matthew 5:13 – “You are the salt of the earth”
3) John 1:29 – “Behold! The Lamb of God”
6. Metonymy – Change of noun when one name or noun is used instead of another to which it is in some way related eg the cause for the effect, or the effect for the cause. l “Two nations (boys) are in your womb…” Gen.25:23
1) Genesis 25:23 (NKJV) “Two nations (boys) are in your womb…”
2) Romans 8:3 (NKJV) “…He condemned sin (desires) in the flesh.”
7. Personification – Attributes of living beings are ascribed to inanimate objects.
1) Genesis 4:10 – “And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”
2) Luke 19:40 – “If these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out”
Other Biblical Metaphors & Figures Of Speech
Found in the Bible:
(Isaiah 9:6) For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: – (figure of speech)/ not literal) and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Ref: Isaiah 9:6 – The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father)
(Ephesians 3:17-19) That Christ may dwell in your hearts – (figure of speech)/ not literal-the heart is a blood pumping organ) by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
(Ephesians 3:19) And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. – (figure of speech)/ not literal – if you had all of God no one else would have God during that same time you possessed God)
(Colossians 2:9) For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. – (figure of speech)/ not literal – It has the same meaning as the above verse)
(Hebrews 6:5) And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come – (figure of speech)/ not literal – We do not taste words )
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