William Andrew Dillard
IN FIGURES OF SPEECH
In every language known to mankind, there is no shortage of figures of speech that serve to color, emphasize, and deepen the points of thought being presented. The Bible, far from being an exception to this, is a repository of dozens of kinds, and multiple usages of practically all of them.
Unfortunately, many students of the Word have not been exposed to a survey of the Bible from a “figures of language” viewpoint. So, some chap will roar in negative reply that the Bible must always be interpreted literally. Really? So, the Bible says “All flesh is grass.” What grass is your flesh: Bermuda or Zoysia? Johnson grass or Centipede? Obviously, a figure of speech is in play. If it were to use “Like” or “as” it would be a simile, but since it omits those words and simply call one thing another it is a metaphor.
It is impossible for this article to be inclusive of all the figures of speech in the Bible. But a few are offered as an encouragement to recognize them, and to appreciate them for their rich enhancement to understanding the vivid points under consideration
Parable: a continued simile such as Matt. 13, the parable of the sower, etc.
Idiom: particular words or phrases such as “break bread” to indicate “eat a meal.”
Hyperbole: exaggeration. Of Saul and Jonathan, David said, “They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.” Again, David said, “Rivers of water run down mine eyes. . . “ Psalm 119:136.
Omission: words or meaning are purposefully left out, but the meaning of them are obvious. “For John came neither eating nor drinking.” Note Matt. 11:18. Obviously John had to eat and drink to live, but “declining invitations to eat with others” is the sense understood in the omission.
Allegory: a continued metaphor as Paul so wonderfully stated in Galatians 4:24.
Oxymoron: an apparent contradiction of word meanings as Wise-fool or as one might humorously say in modern times. “military intelligence.”
There are more, so many more that a course in Biblical Figures of Speech is offered in many liberal arts colleges, and theological schools. Figures of speech make ideas vivid, more understandable and memorable. After all, that is what language is supposed to do. So, far from weakening the inference of an implication, it strengthens it, and enhances the success of both speaker and hearer in sharing ideas. Surely, the author of language provided for our understanding these marvelous figures which fill His Word, and which He used in His mission on earth. Their presence enhances one’s love of the Word!