July 14, 2003
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth
not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth. II Timothy 2:15
Figures of Speech in the Bible
By Jack Northart
Man's basic spiritual problem is not believing the integrity of God's Word. He simply does not believe that it is accurate, and that it means what it says and says what it means. Thus man is in a constant dilemma in his quest for truth. He has no touchstone for truth because he will not go to the Word and study its integrity and accuracy.
Many times a critic of the Bible comes along and says, "Well, the Bible is not true. I feel that there are too many contradictions; the Bible really is just another book among the rest of them." This is not the testimony of God's Word.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
II Peter 1:21
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost [Spirit].
II Timothy 3:16
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for [which is] instruction in righteousness.
In dealing with the integrity of God's Word, there are certain keys and principles that must be understood which we have discussed in previous issues of The Grapevine. For instance, we took a look at various Orientalisms in the Bible in Issue 33. These are vital to know in order to rightly divide God's Word. Another great key is understanding figures of speech used in the Bible.
It is absolutely necessary that we understand that there are rules that govern all languages. In order to increase the power of a word, or the force of an expression, these rules are deliberately departed from, and words and sentences are thrown into, and used in new forms called figures of speech. The ancient Greeks reduced these new and peculiar forms to a science and gave names to over two hundred of them. The Romans carried forward this science, but with the decline of learning in the Middle Ages, it practically died out.
Today, the most extensive work to re-vitalize the names and uses of figures of speech in the Bible was done by E.W. Bullinger in England at the end of the 19th century. His book entitled, "Figures of Speech Used in the Bible", covers over two hundred and twelve different figures of speech, with as many as forty varieties under one figure.
God has used figures of speech to give emphasis to what HE wants to emphasize in His Word. If it were left up to men to tell us what is to be emphasized, we would have more opinions on the subject than you could "shake a stick at." But these figures of speech are not a mistake in grammar. To the contrary, they are legitimate departures from the rules of language with a specific purpose.
As an example of a figure of speech, let's take a look at the expression in II Timothy 3:16, "given by inspiration of God." These five words in this verse are one word in the Greek text, theopneustos, which means "God-breathed." All Scripture is God-breathed. Now we ask, does God breathe? You and I breathe, but does God? John 4:24 states that God is Spirit. Furthermore, the Word of God says that a spirit does not have flesh and bones. We cannot see spirit with our eyes.
Whenever the Bible attributes human characteristics to God, as does this particular Scripture in II Timothy, it is called the figure of speech by the Greeks, anthropopatheia meaning "pathos of man." Or condescensio, by the Romans, from which is derived from our English word, "condescension." The emphasis in this verse is not on the word, "all" or the word "scripture." The emphasis is on the source, GOD BREATHED. God put the emphasis where He wanted it. He marked it by this figure of speech.
Another example of this particular figure of speech is in Isaiah 52:10 where it states, "The Lord hath made bare his holy arm..." Does God have an arm? No. But you and I do. This expression is the figure condescensio. It attributes human characteristics to God.
Translators and commentators, as a rule, have entirely ignored this subject of figures of speech, while by some it has been derided. But figures of speech are used with a definite purpose and with a specific object. Man may use figures in ignorance, without any particular object. But when the Holy Spirit takes up human words and uses a figure of speech, it is for a special purpose, and that purpose must be observed and receive our utmost attention.
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