Figures of Speech & Hebrew Poetry

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Hermeneutics
Figures of Speech
&
Hebrew Poetry
What Is a Figure of Speech?
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“The laws of grammar describe how words normally
function. In some cases, however, the speaker or writer
purposely sets aside those laws to use new forms,
forms we call figures of speech” (Zuck, p. 143).
“A figure is simply a word or a sentence thrown into a
peculiar form, different from its original or simplest
meaning or use” (Bullinger, as cited in Zuck, p. 143).
There are thousands of figures of speech in the Bible.
They serve to express truth in vivid and interesting
ways.
Why Figures of Speech Are Used
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To add color or vividness.
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To arrest attention.
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“You are like whitewashed tombs” (Matt 23:27).
To summarize a concept.
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“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore
you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself ” (Exod 19:4).
To make a truth easier to remember.
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“Beware of the dogs” (Phil 3:2).
To make abstract ideas more concrete.
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“The Lord is my rock” (Psa 18:2).
“The Lord is my shepherd” (Psa 23:1).
To encourage reflection.
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“And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water” (Psa 1:3).
How Do You Know If an Expression
Is Figurative or Literal?
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The short answer: context!
“Generally an expression is figurative when it is out of
character with the subject discussed, or contrary to fact,
experience or observation” (Zuck, p. 145).
Guidelines
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Assume literal communication unless there is good reason for
taking it otherwise.
A figurative sense is intended if the literal would involve an
impossibility or absurdity.
Note whether a figurative expression is followed by an
explanatory literal statement (i.e. “those who are asleep” in 1
Thess 4).
Note qualifying adjectives (“sword of the Spirit,” “a living
stone”).
Does Figurative Language Oppose
Literal Interpretation?
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No! Figures of speech are part of language, and
convey literal truth. They do not oppose literal
interpretation, but are part of it.
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Zuck uses the terms ordinary-literal and figurativeliteral.
There is a distinction between figures of speech
and figurative (or allegorical or mystical)
interpretation.
Figures of Speech Involving
Comparison
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“You are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13).
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“Dogs have surrounded me” (Psa 22:16)
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Metaphor - a comparison between things in which
one thing is, acts like, or represents another.
Hypocatastasis – a comparison in which the likeness
is implied by a direct naming.
“They are like chaff which the wind drives
away” (Psa 1:4).
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Simile – a comparison in which one thing explicitly
(by using like or as) resembles another.
Figures of Speech Involving
Substitution
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“Let us strike at him with our tongue” (Jer 18:18).
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Prisca and Aquila “risked their own necks” for the apostle Paul
(Rom 16:4).
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Synechdoche – the substitution of the part for the whole or the whole for
the part.
“Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up” (Psa
139:2
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Metonymy – the substitution of one word for another.
Merism – a form of synechdoche in which the totality of whole is
substituted by two contrasting or opposite parts.
“To occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas
turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:25).
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Hendiadys – (“one through two”) substitution of two coordinate terms
for a single concept in which one of the elements defines the other.
Figures of Speech Involving
Substitution
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“The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy
before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands”
(Isa 55:12).
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“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the
earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is
completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
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Personification – ascribing human characteristics or actions to inanimate
objects or ideas or to animals.
Anthropomorphism – ascribing human characteristics or actions to God.
There are also anthropopathisms and zoomorphisms in Scripture.
“Listen, O earth and all it contains” (Mic 1:2)
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Apostrophe – direct address to an object as if it were a person, or to an
absent or imaginary person as if he were present.
Figures of Speech Involving
Omission or Suppression
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“He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1
Cor 15:5).
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Ellipsis – an omission of a word or words that must
be supplied to complete the sentence grammatically.
“Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” (Gen
18:14)
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Rhetorical question – a question which does not
require a verbal response and is given to force the
reader to answer in his mind and to consider the
implications of the answer.
Figures of Speech Involving
Understatement or Overstatement
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“Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my
tears” (Psa 6:6).
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“But Paul said, ‘I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no
insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the
people’” (Acts 21:39).
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Litotes – an understatement or a negative statement to express an
affirmation.
“But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the
daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, ‘How the
king of Israel distinguished himself today!’”(2 Sam 6:20).
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Hyperbole – a deliberate exaggeration, in which more is said than is
literally meant, in order to add emphasis.
Irony – a kind of ridicule expressed indirectly in the form of a
compliment.
“I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear” (Job 42:5).
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Pleonasm – a repetition of words or the adding of similar words, which
in English seems redundant.
Figures of Speech Involving
Inconsistency
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“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies
of God, to present your bodies a living and holy
sacrifice” (Rom 12:1)
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Oxymoron – a combining together of terms that are
opposite or contradictory.
“For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it;
but whoever loses his life for My sake and the
gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35).
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Paradox – a statement that is seemingly absurd or
contradictory to normal opinion.
Guidelines for Interpreting Figures
of Speech
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Determine if a figure of speech is involved.
Determine the figure and the referent.
Determine the points of comparison between
the figure and the referent.
Do not assume that a figure always means the
same thing; context will determine the meaning
in each case.
Do not press a figure beyond its intended
meaning (“I come like a thief ”).
Hebrew Poetry
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It has been estimated that nearly half of the OT
has been written in Hebrew poetry.
Its distinguishing characteristic is not syllables
per line or rhyme, but parallelism.
Different types of parallelism include:
Synonymous
 Antithetic
 Synthetic
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Examples of Parallelism
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“Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov 14:34).
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Antithetic (simple)
“An ox knows its owner,
And a donkey its master’s manger,
But Israel does not know,
My people do not understand” (Isa 1:3)
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Antithetic (compound)
Examples of Parallelism
If you have been snared with the words of your
mouth,
Have been caught with the words of your mouth
(Prov 6:2)
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Identical
They did not keep the covenant of God,
And in His law they refused to walk (Psa 78:10)
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Inverted
Examples of Parallelism
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How blessed is the man who does
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not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
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Synthetic (Cumulative) - consists of a climax of
thought running through the successive parallels.
Relationship Between Figures of
Speech
extended
Simile
Parable
Metaphor
Allegory
extended
Next Week:
Types and Symbols
Additional Assignment
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Go to the Berachah website
(www.berachahbiblechurch.org), to the
“Institute” tab, then to “BBI Schedule.”
Go to the discussion forum for Hermeneutics
Login: users
 Password: blessing
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Establish a sign-in and password for yourself.
Post a response to the question there between
now and next Friday, October 20.
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