Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

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FigureSpeech.jpeg

Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

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by  E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913)

Book Review by Robert Guenther
This is the most comprehensive study of figurative language in the Bible of which we are aware. “A figure,” writes the author, “is simply a word or sentence thrown into a peculiar form, different from its original or simplest meaning or use.” This form of writing enables the author to use words out of their ordinary sense, place, or manner, to emphasize, or draw attention, to what has been said. It is essential that we understand how the Holy Spirit used this form of language when writing the Scriptures so that we may interpret them correctly.

Here are a couple of examples of how a figure of speech might be used: We might say that the ground is thirsty, when, in fact, the ground has no feelings. But by using this figure of speech we can imagine a land that is dry, parched and in need of rain. We might say the crops are suffering from the drought when, in fact, they do not have the capacity to suffer.

Dr. Bullinger asks, “how are we to know, then, when words are to be taken in their simple, original form (i.e. – as a figure)? The answer is that, whenever and wherever it is possible, the words of Scripture are to be understood literally, but when a statement appears to be contrary to our experience, or to known fact, or revealed truth; or seems to be at variance with the general teaching of Scriptures, then we may reasonably expect that some figure is employed.”

Dr. Bullinger explains there are some 217 different figures of speech used in the Scriptures. These can be divided into three classes; omission, addition, and alteration or change. The first and second classes are then subdivided into those affecting mood or sense. The author quotes almost 8000 passages of Scripture that can be classified as figures of speech. Unfortunately, Bible translators and commentators have basically ignored this form of writing. Figurative language is not a mistake, but an actual intended departure from the natural law of the language for the purpose of attracting attention and interest. This is not a personal opinion from any human, and should not be considered as less important than the literal form of speech.

In conclusion, we believe that the Holy Spirit used both literal and figurative forms of speech in the Scriptures. A direct study of figurative language can help to differentiate between the two, hopefully clearing up any previously misunderstood passage of Scripture.