The text of Scripture, like other texts and writings, contains many figures of speech. The Bible is not a textbook or manual that uses wooden propositions that are always literal and bland. When you read recipes or the instructions for your daughter’s new bike, you’re not going to find many figures of speech. You’ll just get plain words that give bare information you need to finish a task.
Scripture, however, is full of all different kinds of writing, speech, reports, emotions, commands, propositions, explanations, stories, and so forth. When reading the Bible it’s good to remember that it’s not a dry textbook or straightforward instruction manual! I’ve been going through one resource that is meant to help Bible readers read the Bible better: Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E. W. Bullinger. Although this book is just over one hundred years old, it is a helpful tool for learning about the different figures of speech in Scripture. This resource will help the reader better interpret Scripture and it’ll help those who translate Scripture to think about the figures of speech in translation.
I have to admit Figures of Speech isn’t the easiest book to read. It is somewhat dated and it does contain many linguistic terms that are new to me. But for the most part, it’s not too tough to understand what Bullinger is getting at. The book contains three main sections: 1) Figures of speech that involve the omission of words, 2) Figures of speech that involve the addition of words, and 3) Figures of speech that involve the change of words. There are a few appendices that talk about things like the use of the genitive case and Hebrew homonyms, for two examples. At the end of the book, there are helpful indexes so you can look up words, Scripture citations, and subjects.
Here are a few examples of the figures of speech Bullinger explains:
Epizeuxis: or, Duplication – The Repetition of the Same Word in the Same Sense. When the word is repeated in close and immediate succession, no other word or words coming between, it is called GEMINATIO, pronounced Gem-i-nā´-tio, which means a doubling, duplication, a re-doubling. …It is a common and powerful way of emphasizing a particular word, by thus marking it and calling attention to it. Examples: Gen. 6:17 – and behold, I, even I, bring a flood of waters upon the earth. Gen. 7:19 “And the waters prevailed exceedingly.” Here, as in other passages, the doubled adverb is used for a superlative. מְאֹד מְאֹד (meōd, meōd), greatly, greatly.
Pleonasm; or, Redundancy When more Words are used than the Grammar requires – Ple´-o-nasm. Greek, πλεονασμός (pleonasmos): from πλέονάζειν (pleonazein), to be more than enough. …The figure is so called when there appears to be a redundancy of words in a sentence; and the sense is grammatically complete without them. … But this redundancy is only apparent. These words are not really superfluous when used by the Holy Spirit, nor are they idle or useless. …Gen. 1:2.—“And darkness was upon the faces of the deep,” i.e., upon the deep. But how much more forcible and emphatic the expression becomes by the pleonasm. … Gen. 11:8.—“So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth:” i.e., all over the earth.
Anyway, it’s hard to give great examples that are properly formatted here on the blog. Bullinger goes into much detail for every figure of speech and gives tons of examples from Scripture of the figure of speech he’s discussing. If you’re interested, I suggest going online and looking through some pages of the book. I don’t agree with all of Bullinger’s interpretations and divisions/descriptions, but the book is for sure helpful in getting the student of Scripture to think about the figures of speech in the Bible. It’ll help us read the Word better for sure.
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