Figurative Language
• Figurative language is so common, it is
used without a 2nd thought
– She is as pretty as a picture; I’m caught
between a rock and a hard place; My cup is
running over
Avoiding Making the
Figurative Literal
• When a child hears it and takes it literally,
the result can be very disturbing
– If you do that one more time, you are going to
be in hot water
• We must be careful to understand the
figurative language of the Bible lest we
become confused as to the Lord’s intent
A Simile
• An explicitly stated comparison using the
words “like” or “as”
– The Psalmist says the blessed man who delights in
God’s law is “like a tree planted by the rivers of
water” (Psalm 1:3)
– Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as lambs
among wolves” (Luke 10:3)
– “He will separate them one from another, as a
shepherd divides his sheep from the goats”
(Matthew 25:32)
– God promised Abraham, “I will multiply your
descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the
sand which is on the sea shore” (Genesis 22:17)
A Metaphor
• It uses comparison by direct assertion in which
one thing is described in terms of another
– God told Jeremiah that he made him “a fortified
city, and an iron pillar, and bronze walls against the
whole land” (1:18)
– “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”
(Psalm 23:1)
– Jesus told his disciples, “Take, eat; this is My body”
(Matthew 26:26), since he was bodily present at the
time of that statement, we know he meant the
bread metaphorically represented his body
• A figure of speech in which a part is used to
stand for the whole, or a whole for the part
– In John 3:16, the “world” particularly is concerned
with all men in the world
– In Genesis 46:27, “soul” stands for the person
– One condition of salvation may be mentioned in
place of all conditions (Acts 16:31; 1 Peter 3:21)
– A plural may be put for the singular (Genesis 19:29;
21:7; 46:7)
– A definite number may be put for the indefinite
(Psalm 50:10; 1 Corinthians 14:19)
• Deliberate exaggeration for emphasis
– The 10 spies said they were grasshoppers in their
own eyes when compared to the sons of Anak
(Numbers 13:33; Deuteronomy 1:28)
– John said there were many other things Jesus did,
“which if they were written one by one, I suppose
that even the world itself could not contain the
books that would be written” (21:25)
– Paul describes himself as “less than the least of all
saints” (Ephesians 3:8)
– Paul described himself as the chief, or greatest, of
sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)
• Uses questions to plainly declare for, or
against, a certain point, in other words, no real
answer is desired
– Nicodemus used it to point out that the law did not
allow a man to be condemned without a hearing
(John 7:50-51)
– Paul used it to declare himself a free man, an
apostle, one who had seen Jesus and one of the
teachers who started the work at Corinth (1
Corinthians 9:1)
– Paul also used it to show that Jesus’ name is the
only one we should wear and he is the only man we
should follow (1 Corinthians 1:13)
• An agreeable expression which is substituted
for something delicate, offensive, or unpleasant
• In Genesis 4:1, it says Adam “knew” his wife
and she bore a son
• Acts 7:60 says Stephen “fell asleep,” instead of
saying he died
• Paul used similar wording in talking about
brothers in Thessalonica who had died (1
Thessalonians 4:13)
• A story with facts that are true to life which is
used to illustrate spiritual truths
– In the Greek, para = beside and ballein = to throw,
hence to throw along beside for the purpose of
• Dungan observed 4 basic purposes of parables
(Matthew 13:10-17; 2 Samuel 12:1-14)
To conceal the truth
To reveal the truth
To embalm the truth
To cause men to assent to the truth before they
realize such truth will expose their guilt
Rule 1: Let the Author Interpret
Figurative Language for You
• Jesus interprets the parable of the sower in
Luke 8:4-15
• Ezekiel 37:1-10 tells of a valley full of dry
• The prophet went on to explain that the
valley of dry bones represented Israel and
her lost hope, which God was going to restore
and put life back into
Rule 2: Look for the Meaning as
Explained by Other Inspired Men
• Isaiah tells of a virgin that would
conceive, bear a son and call his name
• Matthew 1:18-23 explains that this
foretold the virgin birth of Jesus Christ
• Peter explains that the events of the day
of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21 are a
fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32
Rule 3: Let Clear Teaching on the
Same Subject Guide Our
Understanding of Less Clear
• Psalm 41:9 says, “Even my own familiar
friend in whom I trusted, who ate my
bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”
• Peter told the others David foresaw the
betrayal of Jesus by Judas (Acts 1:15-18)
Rule 4: Be Careful Not to Make an
Analogy Say Too Much
• Our heavenly Father should not be
considered an “unjust” judge because of
the parable meant to teach persistence in
prayer (Luke 18:1-8)
• We must also realize that figures can be
used to represent different things
– Jesus is called the “Word” (John 1), but not
every use of “word” refers to him

Figurative Language - Abiblecommentary.com