Interpreting Figures of Speech Part 12

Posted By Thomas Perez. December 16, 2010 at 8:02pm.

I. Introduction to Figures of Speech

A. What are figures of speech? Figures of speech are picturesque colorful ways of presenting matters that could have been stated in a normal or plain way.

B. Examples of figures of speech

“It’s raining cats and dogs.” (It is raining very hard.)

“The Falcons beat the Eagles.” (The Atlanta football team defeated the Philadelphia football team.)

“She has a green thumb.” (She is good at growing plants.)

Jesus is the “lamb of God” (John 1:29).

C. Purpose of figures of speech. Figures of speech add color to statements and make language more exciting. They also can help aid in remembering statements.

D. Part of literal interpretation Figures of speech express truths in non-literal ways, but they still convey literal truths. Jesus called Herod a “fox” in Luke 13:32. Although Herod was not a literal fox, the imagery of a fox points to the literal fact that Herod was sly and cunning.

II. Categories of Figures of Speech

A. Simile A simile occurs when one thing is compared to another by the terms “like” or “as.”

1. “All men are like grass” (1 Pet. 1:24).

2. “And his feet were like burnished bronze” (Rev. 1:15).

3. “And he will be like a tree” (Psalm 1:3).

4. “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (Prov. 11:22).

B. Metaphor A metaphor occurs when two non-similar things are said to be the same.

1. “All flesh is grass” (Isa. 40:6).

2. “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).

C. Personification: Personification is the ascribing of human characteristics or actions to non-human objects or ideas.

1. “And all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isa. 55:12).

2. “The moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed” (Isa. 24:23).

D. Anthropomorphism: An anthropomorphism is the attributing of human features or actions to God.

1. So the Lord changed His mind (Exod. 32:14).

2. God’s fingers (Ps. 8:3).

3. God’s eyes (2 Chron. 16:9).

E. Apostrophe Addressing a thing as if it were a person is called an apostrophe.

1. “O death, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

2. “Listen, O Earth, and all who are in it” (Micah 1:2).

F. Hyperbole: Hyperbole is an exaggerated or extreme statement used to make an emphatic point.

1. “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out. . . . If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you” (Matt. 5:29–30).

2. “The cities are large and fortified to heaven” (Deut. 1:28).

G. Using a mild or less offensive term in place of a harsh or offensive term. Instead of saying, “He died,” you say, “He passed on” or “He went home.”

III. Principles for Understanding Figures of Speech

A. Use the plain literal sense unless the context indicates otherwise. Remember, the old adage, “If the literal sense makes common sense, seek no other sense.”

B. Opt for a figurative meaning if the literal meaning makes no sense.

C. Remember that certain types of genres emphasize figurative language.

1. Apocalyptic literature (lots of symbols in texts like Daniel 2; 7; and Revelation)

2. Psalms

3. Proverbs

D. Remember that Jesus used much figurative language to describe Himself and His ministry.

1. “I am the true vine” (John 15:1).

2. “I am the door” (John 10:7).”

3. “He who eats My flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:56).

NOTE: The violation of this point in regard to John 6 has led some to erroneously believe that Jesus was speaking about literally eating His body and drinking His blood. In this passage, eating and drinking Jesus refers to seriously committing one’s life to Jesus, not literally eating Him.

Next post: Interpreting…

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