Figures of Speech in the Bible (Bullinger)

 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.

Here’s the Amazon link to the hardcover or paperback of Bullinger’s Figures of Speech and here’s the Logos edition.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Christian Writing, Vulgar Speech, and William Tyndale

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice by [Teems, David] Sadly and unfortunately there are Christian books, blogs, and other Christian writings that contain coarse and vulgar language.  Although I don’t read blogs very often, I’ve read enough to know that some popular Christian blogs use edgy and crude language.  I’ve read enough blogs and Christian social media to know that some authors use sketchy language that I try to avoid, language I wouldn’t want my kids to use.  Apparently some bloggers and authors think vulgar and crass language is humorous or has a “shock” factor that grabs attention and entertains the readers.  And sometimes the coarse and crass language isn’t just “toilet” talk.  It ventures into the sexual realm and anatomy.

Of course there is plenty of instruction in Scripture about the tongue and Christian speech.  Paul says we should put away “obscene talk” (Col. 3:8 ESV).  The Christian should “let no unwholesome word” come out of his or her mouth (Eph 4:29 NASB).  There should be no foolish talk or crude joking in our vocabulary (Eph 5:4).  Scripture is very clear on Christian speech, which, of course, includes the words we write.

One historical example worth mentioning here is the exchange between Thomas More and William Tyndale in the early part of the 16th century.  Thomas More was a staunch defender of the Catholic church and the Pope.  Tyndale was highly critical of the Catholic church and the pope.  The two engaged in a heated written debate.  More’s writing often contained speech that was unbecoming a Christian – very coarse and vulgar langauge.  How about Tyndale?  Here’s how David Teems answers the question:

“Tyndale doesn’t give himself that kind of levity in his text.  His muse won’t allow it.  …He doesn’t rage, he doesn’t curse, and he certainly doesn’t throw fecal material.  This restraint is consistent with his faith, and with the beauty of his translation.

‘Let no fylchy cōmunicacion procede oute of youre mouthes: but that which is good to edifye with all/when nede is: that it maye have faveoure with the hearers. And greve not the holy sprete of God by whom ye are sealed unto the daye of redempcion. Let all bytternes/fearsnes and wrath/rorynge and cursed speakynge put awaye from you/with all maliciousnes.’ (Eph. 4:29-30 Tyndale NT)

There was certainly ‘fierceness and wrath, roaring and cursed speaking’ aimed in his direction when these words (Scripture above) were first translated.  Tyndale never pretends to be the saint, but he is the adult.  He has fight in him, certainly, but he is never the bully, never the adolescent.  He is never reduced to primary urges, or to tantrum text.

When reading the above quote, I couldn’t help but think how it applies to Christian writing today (including my own).  If you’re a Christian writer, rember to use Christian speech!

The above quote is found in David Teems, Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice, p. 251.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Christian and Language

 Eugene Peterson wrote a few helpful things about words in his introduction to Tell it Slant.  I appreciate his take on language and how Christians should speak:

Language and the way we use it in the Christian community are the focus on this conversation on the spirituality of language.  Language, all of it – every vowel, every consonant – is a gift of God.  God uses language to create and command us; we use language to confess our sins and sing praises to God.  We use this very same language getting to know one another, buying and selling, writing letters and reading books.  We use the same words in talking to one another that we use when we’re talking to God: same nouns and verbs, same adverbs and adjectives, same conjunctions and interjections, same prepositions and pronouns.  There is no “Holy Ghost” language used for matters of God and salvation and then a separate secular language for buying cabbages and cars.  ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ and ‘pass the potatoes’ come out of the same language pool.

There is a lot more to speaking than getting the right words and pronouncing them right.  Who we are and the way we speak make all the difference.  We can sure think of enough creative ways to use words badly: we can blaspheme and curse, we can lie and deceive, we can bully and abuse, we can gossip and debunk.  Or not.  Every time we open our mouths, whether in conversation with one another or in prayer to the Lord, Christian truth and community in every generation is that we diligently develop a voice that speaks in consonance with the God who speaks, that we speak in such a way that truth is told and community is formed, and that we pray to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and not to some golden calf idol that has been fashioned by one of the numerous descendants of Aaron.

Eugene Peterson, Tell it Slant, p. 2-3.

Shane Lems

Keeping Up Your Greek

Learn to Read New Testament Greek In college, we used Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek.  In seminary, we used Baugh’s First John Reader and his PrimerI enjoyed these grammars, learned much from them, and still value them (although somehow, somewhere, I lost Mounce; I need to get another copy!).

In order to keep up my Greek I recently purchased David Alan Black’s Learn to Read New Testament Greek.  It is a bit different from the other grammars I’ve used, but so far it’s been good to go through.  The Greek font is very readable, Black’s explanations are clear, and I like how he gives vocab helps by showing English words that correspond to Greek words (i.e. swma – body – somatic; kardia – heart – cardiac, etc.).  I also like the exercises at the end of each chapter – so far they fit the chapter well.  If you’re looking to learn Greek, this one would be good for that, but there is a lot of discourse – it gets wordy sometimes.  I don’t mind it now, but it could have been too much for me when I was starting to learn Greek.  FYI: I read through a chapter a week (give or take), which is a good pace so far.

Anyway, if you’re looking to keep your Greek up, I recommend getting another Greek grammar that you can work through and review the concepts and vocab.  So far, Black’s grammar has been helpful!  Feel free to suggest others if you have favorites.

shane lems

Christian Words (Marva Dawn)

I picked this up for well under $10 (used) a few weeks back: Talking the Walk: Letting Christian Language Live Again by Marva Dawn.  It is a neat book, something like a devotional glossary of Christian terms.  Dawn briefly discusses words like Messiah, Good Shepherd, confession, guilt, mystery, substitution, and redemption – around 70 total in 200 pages.  Here is part of the reason why she wrote this book.

“I want with love… to reclaim some words significant in the heritage of the Christian faith and to insist that they be properly preserved and embraced.”

“I am solemnly concerned about the corruption of words in contemporary Christian faith.  When we speak bad theology, we live badly theologically.  When our theologians and pastors and communities reject or abuse significant words in the heritage of faith, our Christianity is reduced or decimated.”

She also asks probing questions concerning Christian speech:

“When we use other words not from the tradition to deny the meanings of that legacy, is it still Christian faith?  When we corrupt words or use corrupted ones, do we lose our ability to verbalize the faith well?”

I agree with Dawn’s emphasis on wanting to keep these key Christian words robustly alive.  Positive, encouraging Christian radio has reduced the Christian faith to an a-theological good feeling about Jesus.  Mormons have borrowed Christian terms to make their sheep’s clothing look more convincing.  And the American culture generally speaking does not have time for words and terms that are not instantly gratifying.

If we want to keep these orthodox Christian terms living, we have our work cut out for us!  Dawn’s book is a good primer for this purpose of letting the Christian language live.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Barth on Church Confession and Language

I ran across a great section of Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline (p. 86-87) that is important for us in our age of language-games, equivocation, and loss of definite truth.

“The Church…looks in its message at this immeasurable and unfathomable fact, that God has given himself for us.  And that is why in each really Christian utterance there is something of an absoluteness such as cannot belong to any non-Christian language.  The church is not ‘of the opinion,’ it does not have ‘views,’ convictions, enthusiasms.  It believes and confesses, that is, it speaks and acts on the basis of the message based on God himself in Christ.  And that is why all Christian teaching, comfort and exhortation is a fundamental and conclusive comfort and exhortation in the power of that which constitutes its content, the mighty act of God, which consists in the fact that he wills to be for us in his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ” (emphasis in original).

Great stuff. 

This is also a good time to remind readers that when we post a blurb from a book, it doesn’t always mean we love (or hate, if the post is critical) the whole book.  We do think that most of the books we post on are helpful to some extent, even when we disagree with small or large parts of their theological content.  

shane lems

sunnyside wa

New Event, New Words, New Genre

I’m reading a powerful book called Night by Elie Wiesel.  No doubt many of you have read this and/or some other award winning book or play by Wiesel.  Though the content is well worth commenting on, I was very intrigued at Wiesel’s search for words to describe the hellish darkness he faced and saw in Nazi concentration camps.  In fact, one reviewer wrote “Wiesel has taken his own anguish and imaginatively metamorphosed it into art.”  Thinking linguistically, in terms of event and its interpretation, it is important to realize that often times an event can and does require a new grammar and genre.  Here are Wiesel’s own words.

“Convinced that this period in history would be judged one day, I knew that I must bear witness.  I also knew that, while I had many things to say, I did not have the words to say them.  Painfully aware of my limitations, I watched helplessly as language became an obstacle.  It became clear that it would be necessary to invent a new language.  But how was one to rehabilitate and transform words betrayed and perverted by the enemy?  Hunger-thirst-fear-transport-selection-fire-chimney: these words all have intrinsic meaning, but in those times, they meant something else.  Writing in my mother tongue – at that point close to extinction – I would pause at every sentence, and start all over again.  I would conjure up other verbs, other images, other silent cries.  It was still not right.  But what exactly was ‘it?’  ‘It’ was something elusive, darkly shrouded for fear of being usurped, profaned.  All the dictionary had to offer seemed meager, pale, lifeless…”

Indeed, Wiesel has done with language what few people have done: in this book, the language is so simple yet so complex that it forces you to read again, usually through the tears of Auschwitz, Buna, Birkenau.

This makes me wrestle over Scripture.  Are the Psalms – or some Psalms – examples of an event followed by a new genre, grammar, language?  How were Ezekiel, Daniel, or John bumping up against the limits of language, struggling for the right words?  Did the human authors of Scripture pause and wrestle over it as they wrote?  Did certain events stretch, tweak, and redefine their grammar, the syntax, the definition?  Did they hesitate to use certain words because, for example, the Babylonians “wrecked” them?  Of course, there are many other such questions, but in summary, books like Night help the reader become sensitive to language in a whole new way.  May we not forget the “humanness” of Scripture!

shane lems

sunnyside wa