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Figures of Speech


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Figures of Speech

An important and even decisive point for arriving at a correct understanding of a passage in the Bible (as in any other document as well) is that one recognizes and observes the use of figures of speech.

We are most likely all used in some form and different extent to the use of figures of speech because we do use figures of speech in certain expressions and statements throughout the day in what we say. For example, have you at some time said that someone "pulled your leg" when you wanted to emphasize that someone was trying to make fun of you? Many will be familiar with such an idiomatic expression. Perhaps you have been in a longer term situation with great difficulties and then mentioned that you "saw the light at the end of the tunnel" when first signs of improvement were seen? Were you literally inside a tunnel and saw the light at the end of that tunnel? Obviously not. Did someone literally pull your leg in the other situation (e.g. such as when a child sometimes pulls on dad's leg)? Obviously not. On the other hand, it is indeed possible that you perhaps were driving in the car through a tunnel and then as you came close to the exit you did "see the light at the end of the tunnel" in a literal sense, just as it is possible that in a certain situation someone may have literally "pulled your leg". When you then write a report and you mention the different situations, how can a reader recognize what you did mean with your "pulled my leg" and your "saw the light at the end of the tunnel"? It is the respective context in which you use such expressions that shows how you have used the expressions and which understanding would therefore be the correct one. If someone would understand an expression as a figure of speech which you meant literally, the person would have a wrong understanding and would be wrongly interpreting your words; just as would be the case if the expression was meant figuratively and the person would interpret and understand it in its literal sense.

Figures of speech are also used in the books of the Bible, and they are used to give emphasis to a stated truth. Therefore, a correct recognition and understanding of figures of speech used in the Bible is absolutely necessary if one is to interpret and understand the statements in the Bible correctly. As can be seen from the above metioned examples, the respective context of a statement is of decisive importance for determining whether the author meant an expression in its literal sense or whether the expression is part of a figure of speech which then must not be understood in a literal sense.

A major difficulty for many readers is likely the fact that only few are familiar to a greater degree with figures of speech and that they really only know rather few of the many figures of speech. An outline from the book "Figures of Speech Used in the Bible" by E.W. Bullinger has been included in a different section of the BibelCenter website, it provides a good overview of figures of speech used in the Scriptures (Outline - Figures of Speech Used in the Bible )