Figures of Speech

Figures of speech are conscious departures from the natural or fixed laws of grammar and syntax that
make language colorful. When a statement is absurd or even contradictory to the rest of revelation or
the usual order of creation, it is probably a figure of speech. A mismatch of subject and predicate
also indicates a figure of speech, e.g., “God is our Rock,” an animate subject (God) is identified with
an inanimate predicate noun (Rock). Observe the following figures of speech:

1. SIMILE is an expressed comparison of two essentially different things based on some similarity
(or similarities). It usually uses “as,” “like,” or “so.”

2. METAPHOR is an indirect comparison of two things by establishing identity between them. It is
the substitution of one thing’s name for the other’s name, e.g., “This is my body” for the bread or
“holy hands” for an unpolluted life.

3. ALLEGORY is a metaphor extended to form a real, or fictitious story in which the details are
symbolic of a meaning different from the literal meaning, e.g., the Good Shepherd and the Sheep;
the Vine and the Branches. Paul takes the Sarah-Hagar account of Genesis and makes it into an
allegory to illustrate figuratively a theological truth in Galatians 4:21-31. Pilgrim’s Progress is a
classic allegory.

4. METONYMY is the name of one thing is used in place of that of another associated with or
suggested by it, e.g., “Blood” for “life” or “death;” “Kingdom of Heaven” for “Kingdom of God;
” or “White House” for “President”

5. SYNECDOCHE is a part is used for a whole, an individual for a class, a material for a thing, or
the reverse of any of these, e.g., “Bread” for “Food.”

6. HYPERBOLE is a deliberate exaggeration, not to deceive but rather, to emphasize a statement
with the purpose of intensifying its impression. Jesus is a master of hyperbole, e.g., “If your right
eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away.”

7. IRONY is a statement that implies something markedly different from the actual statement (often
just the opposite) that calls attention to the actual situation. It may be used for humor or sarcasm.
Paul is a master of irony, e.g., Paul wrote to the immature, worldly Corinthians, “Already you
have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings . . .”.

8. LITOTES or MEIOSIS is understatements (opposite of hyperbole) where an idea is stated
negatively. It affirms a fact by denying its opposite, e.g., “Wolves will not spare the flock.”

9. EUPHEMISM is the substitution of a word or phrase that is less direct or milder, than the direct
word or phrase which might be violent, brash or distasteful, e.g., “Hell” in Acts 1:25 is “Judas left
to go where he belongs.”

10. RHETORICAL QUESTION is use of a question to which no answer is expected. It is to gain
attention, e.g., Romans 8:31-36.

11. ANALOGY is a full comparison showing (or implying) many points of similarity (as of
appearance, structure, or quality) between things that are not like each other. Analogies are seen
in parables, allegories, and types, all of which employ this feature of resemblance, or
correspondence.

12. PERSONIFICATION is an attribution of personal qualities to an inanimate thing, a quality, an
idea, or an abstraction, e.g., “Creation groans.”

13. APOSTROPHE is a thing, idea, quality, or abstraction addressed in an exclamatory tone as if it
were a person, e.g., “Where, O death is your victory?”

14. IDIOM is the vernacular jargon, lingo, slang of the period, e.g., “Jews” for Israelites of Judah
since the captivity; or “Christians” for disciples (Acts 11:26).

15. HENDIADYS is use of two words when one thing is meant, e.g., “It rained fire and brimstone”
equals “burning brimstone.”

16. PARALLELISM is prominent in Hebrew poetry, but it also occurs in prose occasionally. It
consists of a balance of thought when one idea is followed by another parallel to it. There are
three basic kinds (e.g., Proverbs 22:1; 4:18; 10:1):

Synonymous/Comparing—where the second idea is similar to the first
Synthetic/Complementing—where the second idea extends the first
Antithetic/Contrasting—where the second idea sharply contrasts the first

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