Hermen Who? Part 3 – “Understanding the Biblical Figures of Speech and Literature”
1. HYPERBOLE • A hyperbole is an exaggeration used for effect—an overstatement. • If everything Jesus ever did was written down, the world could not hold all the books that would be written (John 21:25).
2. METAPHOR • A simile makes a comparison by using a word such as “like”: “Life is like a circus.” A metaphor is a similar comparison, except that it omits the word “like”: “The world is a stage.” • “This is My body” (Luke 22:19)?
3. ANTHROPOMORPHISM • Do rivers have hands to clap (Psalm 98:8)? • Does God have eyes (Psalm 33:18), although He is spirit (John 4:24)? • Anthropomorphisms in the Bible describe nonhuman objects as though they have human characteristics.
3. ANTHROPOMORPHISM • But how do we understand those verses that say God “repents” (Exodus 32:12; Jeremiah 18:8; relents, regrets, NKJV)? • Does God change His mind? Or do these verses describe God from a human point of view?
4. PARABLE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALLEGORY AND PARABLE IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND… • An allegory is a totally made-up story. Even the details of an allegory may be significant. Pilgrim’s Progress is the classic example of allegory in which even minute details refer to other things.
4. PARABLE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALLEGORY AND PARABLE IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND… • But a parable is a story taken from everyday life. In a parable the speaker may not treat the details as important. They may be given to help the reader picture the situation more clearly.
4. PARABLE • Although a few parables have allegorical elements, most parables teach only one main point.
4. PARABLE • But what about the parable of the judge (Luke 18:1–14)? If the woman represents the disciple, is God the unjust judge?
4. PARABLE • Is the purpose of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) to teach that you cannot travel between heaven and hell?
5. PROPHECY 1. WHAT THE PROPHET FORESAW AS ONE EVENT MAY ACTUALLY BE TWO OR MORE… • The Old Testament thought of the “Day of the Lord” (Isaiah 2:12) as one event. But the last days actually began at Pentecost (Acts 2:20) and will conclude at Christ’s return (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
5. PROPHECY 2. PROPHECY EXISTS OF BOTH FORETELLING AND TELLING FORTH… NATHAN & DAVID
2 Samuel 12:7-10 (NIV) Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah.
And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own.
You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
6. POETRY • Hebrew poetry does not concentrate on rhythm or rhyme. It expresses itself by parallelism.
TWO PHRASES ARE JOINED SO THAT THE SECOND REPEATS THE FIRST WITH DIFFERENT WORDS • Psalm 95:2 (NIV) Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
THE SECOND STATES THE OPPOSITE OF THE FIRST • Proverbs 15:5 (NIV) A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.
THE SECOND ADDS A NEW THOUGHT TO THE FIRST • Proverbs 15:3 (NIV) The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
SOMETIMES THE COUPLET WILL BE ARRANGED WITH THE SECOND PHRASE REVERSING THE ORDER OF THE FIRST • Proverbs 15:21 (NIV) Folly delights a man who lacks judgment, but a man of understanding keeps a straight course.
Therefore, when interpreting poetry, the Bible student must recognize the type of parallelism being used, since the phrases interpret each other. • In addition, poetry often stresses emotional flow rather than logical precision.
7. APOCALYPTIC • THE KEY TO INTERPRETING THESE FIGURES LIES IN THE BOOK ITSELF…
In 1:20 the seven stars are interpreted as representing the seven angels, and the seven lampstands stand for the seven churches. • In 17:9–10 the seven-headed beast stands for the seven hills. • In 17:18 the woman is identified as the city that rules the earth.
Therefore, to understand Apocalyptic Literature and Revelation in particular, we must interpret the imagery as very figurative. • The images are describing things and spiritual realities in figurative language.
8. WISDOM • Old Testament wisdom literature is found mainly in Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.
8. WISDOM • NB - Since wisdom gives practical hints on how to cope with life and its problems, it often consists of rules of thumb rather than universally applicable promises.
Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”.
This is not a categorical imperative that works in every situation. • Biblical wisdom sayings must be used with due caution and great discernment (Proverbs 1:1–6).