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FIGURES OF SPEECH IN THE BIBLE
Victor M. Eskew
A. “It is impossible to hold the simplest conversation, or to write a few sentences without, it may be unconsciously, making use of figures” (Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, E.W. Bullinger, p. xv.).
1. The ground is thirsty.
2. The crops are suffering.
3. I am as hungry as a horse.
4. Aunt Janes has been like a mother to me.
B. Some figures of speech are common to all languages; others are peculiar to one language.
C. The Bible uses figures of speech.
1. Some of the books of the Bible are poetical: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.
2. Some books of the Bible are prophetic and use apocalyptic language (Ex., The Revelation).
a. The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word “apokalupsis.”
b. The term means “disclosure” or “revelation.”
c. This revelation was “signified” to John (Rev. 1:1).
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John.
3. NOTE: When a figure of speech is used “we are at once bound to diligently examine the figure for the purpose of discovery and learning the truth that is emphasized” (Bullinger, xv.).
I. DEFINITION OF FIGURE OF SPEECH
A. “A figure is simply a word or a sentence thrown into a peculiar form, different from its original or simplest meaning or use” (Bullinger, xv.).
B. “A word or phrase used in a non-literal sense to add rhetorical force to a spoken or written passage” (www.google.com).
II. WHY FIGURES OF SPEECH ARE USED
A. To provide emphasis: “My suitcase weighs a ton” versus “My suitcase is heavy.”
B. To give freshness of expression: “The sun smiled on us at daddy’s funeral” versus “Dad’s funeral was on a sunny day.
C. To bring clarity of understanding: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get” versus “We do not know what will happen from day to day.”
III. HOW IS FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE DETERMINED?
A. “The answer is that whenever and wherever it is possible, the words of Scripture are to be understood literally…” (Bullinger, xv.).
B. But, when a statement
1. Appears to be contrary to our experiences
2. Appears to be contrary to a known fact or revealed truth
3. Appears to be at variance with the general teaching of the Scriptures
Most likely a figure is being used.
IV. TYPES OF FIGURES
A. Bullinger divides figures into three categories:
1. Figures involving omission
2. Figures involving addition
3. Figures involving change
B. Benjamin Keach divides figures into three categories:
1. Tropes and figures
2. Schemes and figures
3. Types and Parables
V. WHY STUDY FIGURES OF SPEECH IN THE BIBLE?
A. The Bible is full of them.
B. Non-attention to figures of speech will cause foolish and serious blunders in the interpretation of God’s Word.
1. Some have taken figures of speech literally.
2. Some have taken literal language figuratively.
C. If we do not understand the figure, we will lose the express teaching of the passage.
D. If we do not understand the figure, we can miss the special emphasis of the passage.
VI. A POSITIVE MINDSET
A. Some figures of speech are simple to understand; some are more difficult.
B. Just the terminology can be difficult.
C. To deal with these figures and others, we must maintain a positive attitude.
1. I can learn about these things.
2. I will learn about these things.
VII. A FEW EXAMPLES
A. Matthew 14:19
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
B. II Kings 2:9
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
C. John 20:25
And there are also many other signs which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
D. Luke 13:32
And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day, and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.
E. Ephesians 6:12
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood…
F. Psalm 87:2
The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
G. Galatians 3:21-23
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondwoman, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he that is of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory…
A. The Lord wants us to be good Bible students. To do this, we must rightly divide the Word of God (II Tim. 2:15).
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
B. To rightly divide the truth, we must be able to recognize figures of speech used by the Holy Spirit of God.