Figures of Speech
1. SIMILE: A direct comparison of two things that are essentially different. This is characterized by the use of words such as: like, as, so, etc. e.g. Ps 1:3 “He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water.”
2. METAPHOR: A comparison in which one thing represents another. e.g. Matt 5:14 “You are the light of the world.”
3. PARADOX: A statement that seems absurd, self-contradictory, or contrary to logical thought.
e.g. Matt 16:25 “Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.”
4. HYPERBOLE: Exaggeration, not with the intent to deceive, but to emphasize and intensify an impression.
e.g. Gal 4:15 “…you would have torn out your eyes for me…”
5. RHETORICAL QUESTIONS: A question that requires no response, yet forces one to answer mentally and consider its ramifications. e.g. I Cor 1:13 “Is Christ divided?” “Was Paul crucified for you?”
6. IRONY: The author implies something different, even the opposite of what is stated. It is used for the effect of humor or sarcasm.
e.g. I Cor 4:8 “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings, with you!”
7. ANALOGY: A rather full comparison, showing several points of similarity between unlike things.
e.g. John 15:1-9 ‘The vine and the branches.’
8. PERSONIFICATION: Ascribing human characteristics or actions to inanimate objects (lifeless objects) or animals.
e.g. Is 24:23 “The moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed.”
9. EUPHEMISM: The use of a less offensive expression to indicate a more offensive one.
e.g. Gal 5:12 “Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.”
10. APOSTROPHE: Addressing a thing as if it were a person, or an absent or imaginary person as if he were present.
e.g. I Cor 15:55 “O death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?”
11. IDIOM: An expression peculiar to a particular people.
e.g. Judges 15:1 “And Samson said, I will go in to my wife in her room.”
12. ANTHROPOMORPHISM: The attribution of human features or actions to God.
e.g. Is. 59:1 “The Lord’s hand is not short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.”
13. LITOTES: This is the use of understatement. It is the opposite of hyperbole and is often used as irony.
e.g. Acts 15:2 “…no small dissension”
14. METONOMY: This is the substitution of one term for another. e.g. Rom 3:30 “Circumcision” for“Jews”
15. SYNECDOCHE: Part of something is mentioned, but the whole is meant. e.g. Gal 1:16 “…did not confer with flesh and blood…”
A parable is a story which, although not usually factual, remains true to life and teaches a moral lesson or truth. Every detail of a parable will reinforce the main theme, but you shouldn't always attempt to ascribe a specific spiritual meaning and application to each point.
Jesus frequently used parables in His reaching for two reasons: to reveal truth to believers and to hide truth from those who had rejected it and/or hardened their hearts against it.
The correctly interpret a parable:
- Determine the occasion of the parable. Since parables clarify or emphasize a truth, discover why the parable was told. What prompted it?
- Look for the intended meaning of the parable. The meaning will sometimes be stated. If not, it can usually be determined by the application of the parable to the hearer.
- Don't impose any meaning beyond what is clearly stated or applied to the hearers by the speaker of the parable.
- Identify the central or focal idea of the parable. Every parable has one central theme or emphasis. No detail of the story is to be given any meaning that is independent of the main teaching of the parable.
Since a parable has one central point of emphasis, identify relevant details. To attach meaning that is not in the context of the occasion or relevant to its central emphasis is to go away from the meaning of the parable. A detail is relevant only if it reinforces the central theme of the parable.
How many sermons have heard on the parable of the prodigal son? Many teachers violate the occasion and meaning of this parable, attaching all sorts of meanings to the details of this story. Jesus told this parable because He wanted the Pharisees to see what their hearts were like as they grumbled, "This man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). In order to make His point Jesus told three consecutive parables about three things which were lost: a sheep, a coin, and a son. In each of the parables Jesus uses the following words: lost, found, sin, and joy (rejoice). When He gets to the story of the prodigal son, He shows them the kindness of the father's heart versus the hardness of the elder brother's, and in doing so, shows the Pharisees that their hearts are like the elder brother's, not the Father's.
- Interpret parables in the context of the culture of Bible times rather than the culture of today. For example, in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the central emphasis of the parable is, "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour" (Matthew 25:13). Understanding Eastern wedding traditions would give insight into the parable and explain why some were ready and others were not.
- Do not establish doctrine when parables are the primary or only source for that teaching. Parables should amplify or affirm doctrine, not establish it.
An allegory is a description of one thing using the image of another - a story with an underlying meaning different from the surface facts of the story. Some refer to an allegory as an extended metaphor, which is an implied comparison between two different things. An allegory is a realistic or nonrealistic story created to teach one or more truths which may not be related.
The chart below comparing parables and allegories will help you distinguish one from the other. When interpreting an allegory , follow these guidelines:
- List the features of the allegory.
- Note any interpretation given within the text of the allegory.
- Study the allegory's features according to sound principles of biblical exegesis. Do not contradict the clear teaching of the Word of God by interpreting an unexplained detail in an allegory in a way contrary to other truths.
- Do not try to identify all the features of an allegory.
| Parable|| Allegory |
| 1. Has one central point. |
2. Teaches one truth.
3. Every relevant detail reinforces the central theme or point of emphasis.
4. Can have irrelevant details; all features of the parable.
5. Usually the story is separate from its interpretation and application.
6. Application usually follows the parable.
| 1. Can have more than one central point. |
2. Can teach a number of truths.
3. The details of an allegory may be many and varied, relating to more than one theme.
4. Can have irrelevant details; all the features of an allegory do not have to be identified.
5. Intertwines the story and the meaning.
6. Application is found within the allegory.
A type is a prophetic symbol designated by God. The word type comes from the Greek word tupos. A tupos was a mark formed by a blow or an impression, creating a figure or a image on the object that was struck. Therefore, a type prefigures something or someone to come. That which it prefigures is called an antitype.
A type prefigures only one antitype, although it may parallel many points in the antitype. An illustration of this is the tabernacle, a type of man's redemption. According to Hebrews 10:20, the veil that separated the holy place from the holy of holies prefigured the flesh of Jesus Christ.
When determining types, although it may not be formally stated, there should be some evidence of divine affirmation of the corresponding type and antitype. For example, in Romans 5 :14 we read, "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is type of Him who was to come." The word translated type is the Greek word tupos. Adam was a type or figure of Christ, who was to come. In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Christ is referred to as "the last Adam." If the Word does not designate something as a type, then the Bible expositor should simply show the parallels without calling it a type.
A Symbol is a picture or an object that stands for or represents another thing. For example, the seven candlesticks mentioned in Revelation 1:20 represent the seven churches described in Revelation 2 and 3.
When nothing symbols it is important to remember the following:
- The item used as a symbol can symbolize different things. For example, water is used to symbolize the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26) and the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39).
- Although a symbol can represent many things, when it does symbolize something in a given passage, a single parallel is intended. For instance, in John 7:37-39 water symbolizes the Holy Spirit, not the Word.
- Interpret symbols in the light of a biblical setting and culture rather than the culture of the current interpreter.
- Symbols are timeless and can symbolize something past, present, or future.
Laws of Composition
Like an artist, an author uses Laws of Composition to arrange paragraphs, segments, sections, and divisions into a literary unit. The Laws of Composition reflect an author’s style. They are to be discovered, notimposed upon the text.
An understanding of these Laws of Composition will help you discern what the author is seeking to communicate. The following list is not exhaustive, but includes some of the most common. The relationship between the parts you should look for is:
|1. COMPARISON: |
Comparison is the comparing of things in order to show similarities. A comparison is the association of like things.
Example: Romans 7:1-6
A Contrast is an evaluation of things that are different or opposite in the context being viewed. (Things that are not alike)
Example: Acts 4:36-5:1
Repetition is using the same word, phrase or idea a number of times.
Example: Paul’s testimony in Acts
4. CONTINUITY / PROGRESSION:
Continuity/Progression is an extension of a specific theme throughout a portion of Scripture. Many times the author will amplify what he is saying or add to what he has said as he progresses in his writing. It’s similar to repetition but with some development.
Example: The three “lost” parables in Luke 15
A Climax is the high point built by a progression from the lesser to the greater. A climax is simply the extension of the law of progression that reaches a peak of intensity before descending.
Example: Job, Revelation, Ecclesiastes
6. CRUCIALITY / PIVOTAL POINT:
A Cruciality is a changing or a turning in which the elements on each side of the point differ in some way.
Example: Mark 8:27-30, 2 Samuel between chapters 11 and 12
Interchange is the alternating, in sequence, of at least two main thoughts, subjects, or characteristics.
Example: Luke 1-3: A. John’s birth announced. Jesus’ birth announced, A. John born. Jesus born; Opening chapters of 1 Samuel
8. CHIASM (CHIASTIC):
Chiasm is the symmetrical interspersing of two or more themes meeting at a central point.
9. PRINCIPALITY / PROPORTION:
Emphasis and de-emphasis. (Attention to what is stated and what isn’t. Note different amounts of space the author devote to different subjects, themes or events, etc.)
Example: The amount of space the Gospels devote to the last week of Jesus’ life on earth; Genesis
Interrogation is the presentation of a question, usually followed by its answer. It can also be asking repeated questions or questions and answers.
Example: Malachi; Rom. 6-7; Habakkuk; Malachi
Radiation is the central or single point from which or to which other truths point. Everything ties up into a central point or theme.
Example: Philemon, v. 10; Philippians 2:1-11, 1 Corinthians 13
12. THEOLOGY TO APPLICATION:
The theological ideas or concepts are stated first followed by instructions on how to put into practice those principles.
Example: Ephesians; Colossians
13. PROBLEM TO SOLUTION:
The author lists the problems and then gives the solution.
Example: Galatians; I Corinthians; Jude