February 22, 2004
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
More Figures of Speech
by Jack Northart
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. Words and sentences are then used in forms called figures of speech. (See Grapevine Issue 49). The ancient Greeks reduced these new and interesting 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 draw attention to in His Word. If it were left up to men to tell us what is to be emphasized, we would have too many opinions on the subject. Figures of speech are not mistakes in grammar. To the contrary, they are legitimate departures from the rules of language for a specific purpose.
II Timothy 3:16
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
These verses explain how we received the Scriptures. The study of figures of speech is vitally important if we are to rightly divide the Word of truth. All His works are perfect, and when the Holy Spirit uses human words, He does so with unerring accuracy, infinite wisdom, and perfect beauty.
Three figures of speech that are used many times in the Bible are, 1) a SIMILE, 2) a METAPHOR, and 3) HYPOCATASTASIS. Let's study each of these and look at some examples of them in God’s Word. Let’s look at the first one listed, simile.
A simile is a declaration that one thing resembles another or shows a comparison by resemblance. It is a clear and plain statement as to a resemblance between words and things. The whole application of the figure lies in resemblance, and not in representation. It is resembled using the words “like” or “as.”
He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.
The simile tells us that the man who meditates in God’s Word is planted and protected, just as a tree planted near water. A tree in the field would not be so fortunate.
Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.
The figure of speech gives a comparison to the type of behavior and speach that he now has. The next figure in the Bible that we will look at is a metaphor. Many times, a metaphor is confused with a simile and vise versa. A metaphor is more emphatic from a simile by declaring that one thing IS or represents another. It is comparison by representation. While a simile would say… “all flesh is AS grass,” the metaphor carries the figure across all at once. “All flesh IS grass.” This is the distinction between the two. A metaphor is confined to a distinct affirmation that one thing IS another thing.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Here we have a metaphor and it illustrates the blessed truth set forth by the representation of the Lord, Jehovah as a shepherd. It is He who tends His people, and does more for them than any earthly shepherd can do for his sheep. All of His attributes are wrapped up in His care as a shepherd. Do you see how the figure of speech gives emphasis on how God cares for His people?
Our third figure of speech that we will look at is hypocatastasis, pronounced: “hypo–cot-as–stasis.” This figure is a declaration that implies the resemblance or representation or comparison by implication. It differs from a metaphor because in a metaphor the two nouns are both named and given. While in hypocatastasis, only one is named, the other is implied.
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
He does not say that his enemies were like dogs, or that they were dogs; The word “enemies” is not even mentioned. It is implied.
But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.
This example of hypocatastasis mentions only plants, but people are implied. The lesson of this implication is that unless the word in the heart is that of God Himself, all is vain.
This is an example of three different figures of speech used in the Bible. One can take these three figures and begin reading God’s Word with a view toward seeing other places where they are used. It is amazing how many times you can see them and what God is emphasizing in each case.
This field of study is vast and very interesting for any sincere student of the Bible. As mentioned before, figures of speech are not mere mistakes of grammar. They are a legitimate departure from the rules of language for a special purpose. They are limited in number and and have a clear cut meaning and can be named and described.
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