Literary devices in the Bible Jan 9, 2021 2:37:37 GMT -5
Post by PrisonerOfHope on Jan 9, 2021 2:37:37 GMT -5
Literary devices in the Bible
The Bible contains many types of figurative language, whether in poetry or prose, gospel or epistle. Why does God use such literary devices to communicate His word to us? Well, these devices are a part of language. God created language, and gave us the ability to use language creatively for communication and pleasure. So naturally He would reveal Himself to us using the language ability and creativity that He endowed us with. And like other great works of literature, the Bible contains many types of figurative language. Sometimes the meaning is very clear, but sometimes difficulties arise in understanding the precise meaning of certain passages, due to the differences in time and culture since the writing of the Bible, and because we aren't used to some the types of literature and literary devices in the Bible. And beyond these general reasons for use of literary devices, there are particular reasons for literary devices. When we encounter them in a passage, it is sometimes helpful to consider the specific reason that the writer (the human writer and the Holy Spirit inspiring the writing) chose to use a particular means of expression, in order to understand the passage more deeply. Namely:
Reasons for figurative language:
presents descriptive truth, rather than propositional truth
more concrete (not just abstract ant theoretical)
efficient and compact presentation of ideas
emotional and more engaging
easier to remember
Take, for example, Psalm 91:4 describes God protecting us under His wings, in the same way that a hen would protect her chicks under her wings. Obviously this hen image doesn't mean God is a big bird. Rather, it communicates important truths about God. It does so descriptively, rather than in in prose, as straight propositional truth. It presents an image that is real to us, rather than an abstract set of theological concepts. It teaches about God's love, compassion, comfort, protection, etc. to us. It does so in a way that is more concrete, easier to remember, and more compact that a paragraph long prose exposition would be on the same theme. And it engages us not only spiritually, but emotionally and intellecutally as well. So it's no surprise that the Bible contains much beautiful language that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but communicates to our entire being—spiritual, intellectual, and emotional.
II. Literary devices (figures of speech)
Below are the different types of literary devices used in Scripture:
A comparison of two items using a connective such as like, as, etc.; i.e., X is like Y.
James. 1.23-24: "Anyone who listens to the words but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."
Prov. 10.26: "Like vinegar to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes, so are the lazy to their employers."
A direct comparison of two items, or X=Y.
James 3.6: "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body."
Mt. 7.7-8: "...knock and the door will be opened to you...and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
Ps. 17.8: "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings..."
Prov. 15.19: "The way of the lazy is overgrown with thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway."
In this type of metaphor, one item or concept is used to signify another that is closely related or associated with it; a, metaphorical or spiritual association between two items, such that one is used interchangeably to mean the other. For example, in communion, wine and blood are used interchangeably for one another. Hence, sometimes a literal item serves as a metaphor for an abstract item.
Jn 6.53-54: "...I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life..."
Hosea 1.2: "...the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord." (land = people in the land)
Rev. 1.18: "...I have the keys of death and Hell." (keys symbolize authority)
Similar to metonomy; a part is used to symbolize the whole to which it belongs; e.g., in English: "three heads of cattle" means three whole cattle.
Acts 27.37: The original Greek uses "276 souls" for 276 men.
A listing of opposite parts stand for a whole. E.g., "day...night" in the Psalms mean 'all the time'.
Psalm 91.5: You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.
Rev. 8.1-5: Incense is used as a symbol of prayer.
Rev. 13: The Beast symbolizes the Roman emperor and government.
Mt 23.24: "You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."
Rev. 7.1: "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth..."
( = an idiom based on language of appearance)
Something inanimate (or divine) is given human form.
Prov. 9.1-6: Wisdom is personified as a woman calling out to those in need.
This type of personification involves ascribing human characteristics (physical form, human-like emotion, etc.) to God, in order to make Him more understandable to us.
Gen. 6.6: "The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain."
In this indirect type of personification, the speaker addresses an inanimate object, him/herself, or others who cannot respond to the statement or question. Sometimes a psalmist addresses his soul ("Don't be downcast, O my soul!") or commands mountains and rivers to praise God.
An indirect reference to something else. The referent and meaning are understood from the cultural or personal context or knowledge.
Rev.12.1: "A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve starts on her head." (This refers back to Joseph's dreams of the sun, moon, and stars in Genesis 37.
A literary prefiguring: one person or item serves as a metaphorical prefigure or type of another that is to come later. That is, the first is a theological precursor and symbol for the latter in some particular respect. For example, Isaac in almost being sacrificed serves as a prefiguring and foreshadowing of Christ, Elijah prefigures John the Baptist, and the golden snake of Numbers 21 serves as a type of the cross of Christ (Jn 3.14).
13. word play
Biblical writers and speakers, especially prophetic and poetic writers, make plays on word meanings in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages.
Mt 16.18: "And I tell you that you are Peter [Greek: Petros], and upon this rock [Greek: petra] I will build my church..." ('Peter' means a small rock, stone, or pebble; petra means a large, unmoveable, impenetrable rock.)
Micah 1.11: "Those who live in Zaanan will not come out..." (The town name Zaanan in Hebrew means 'come out'; this is pronounced as a judgment against the town.)
Literary exaggeration for emphasis or rhetorical effect.
Lk 14.26: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life— he cannot be my disciple." (Our love for God must be so strong, that our love to others would seem like hate in comparison.)
Mk 9.43: "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell..."
A statement that seems illogical or contradictory on the surface, but actually conveys truth.
John 3.3: "...no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
Mt. 16.25: "For whoever wants to save is life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it."
Prophetic and poetic writers, such as Micah, Psalms, etc., use alliteration for narrative effect - use of the same initial consonants in a line. This is a technical device found in the original languages, which technical commentaries will point out.
Poetic writers sometimes repeat word-internal sounds; this occurs in the original language, and is pointed out in technical commentaries.
Occasionally numbers are used in symbolic ways in Scripture, especially in prophesy and apocalypse. These are particular symbols, not magical keys to interpreting everything, so be careful. Numerology is limited to a few common theologically significant numerals, like 3 (=trinity), 7 (=divine perfection), 12 (=God's people), and 40 (=divine testing).
Occasionally names have meanings in the original language which relate to their actual character (sometimes called charactonyms); for example, Isaac ("Chuckles"), Ichabod (="glory has departed").