Figures of Speech in the Bible. Why They Are Important To Understand.

E.W. BullingerAs E.W. Bullinger writes, within his masterful book entitled Figures of Speech Used In the Bible, A FIGURE OF SPEECH is a word or a sentence changed into a different form, changed from its original or simplest meaning or use. Said another way: Figures of speech are legitimate grammatical usages which depart from literal language to call attention to themselves. 

These forms (or figures) are constantly used by every speaker and writer.They are also used markedly, as it were, as the Holy Spirit's own markings of our Bibles. This is the most important point of all. For it is not by fleshly wisdom that the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth are to be understood. A figure is, as we have before said, a departure from the natural and fixed laws of Grammar or Syntax; but it is a departure not arising from ignorance or accident. Figures are not mere mistakes of Grammar; on the contrary, they are legitimate departures from the law, for a special purpose.

   We may say: "It's raining." That is a straightforward statement of fact. When we say, however, "It's raining cats and dogs", that is a figure of speech. It draws special attention to itself, begging for you to pay attention. There are thousands of Figures of Speech within the Bible. God uses them to encourage us to pay attention. For example: "... LORD your God, his greatness, his mighty hand, and his stretched out arm..." God, obviously, does not have arms and a mighty hand; He is spirit. And yet, God uses human characteristics in the Scriptures to encourages us to take special notice. 

   We all use figures of speech on a daily basis. Some examples from modern syntax might be: 

  • She’s a cold fish.
  • The sky is threatening.
  • What a fox.
  • They're calling for rain.
  • He’s such an ass.
  • Man, she’s hot.
  • He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
  • Sweetheart.
  • Honey.
  • Hey, Dog.

As E.W. Bullinger writes: Whenever and wherever it is possible, the words of Scripture are to be understood literally, but when a statement appears to be contrary to our experience, or to known fact, or revealed truth; or seems to be at variance with the general teaching of the Scriptures, then we may reasonably expect that some figure is employed. And as it is employed only to call our attention to some specially designed emphasis, we are at once bound to diligently examine the figure for the purpose of discovering and learning the truth that is thus emphasized. One of my favorite and most helpful library books is  Bullinger, E. W. Figures of Speech Used In The Bible. I have quoted freely from the introduction in this article.

 Anthony Barbera