It’s illuminating to note that the same kinds of figures of speech that occur in everyday speech and general literature are also to be found in Scripture. Examples:-
Are rather few: their place is often taken by substantives.
‘Holy Spirit of promise’ = ‘Promised Holy Spirit.’ (Eph 1:13)
Acts 7:2; 1 Thess 1:3.
God – idiomatic use
The word ‘god’ is used not only of the Lord himself, but also of:-
1. false gods, Psa 97:7
2. the Devil, 2 Cor 4:4
3. judges, Psa 82:6 w Jn 10:34
4. the stomach, Phil 3:19
Height and depth
If today we can talk about ‘coming top of the class’; ‘being in low spirits’; ‘having high hopes’; and so on, we should not be surprised when, in the Bible, good, happy, and beautiful things are expressed in terms of height, and sinful, miserable and ugly things in terms of depth.
God is therefore said to dwell “in a high and holy place”, Isa 57:15, or up in heaven, Psa 80:14, since such language accurately expresses his transcendent glory and power.
Of course, God is actually omnipresent, Jer 23:24, and in terms of our experience of him is “not far from each one of us”, Acts 17:27.
A figure of speech, in which exaggerated or extravagant statement is used to express strong feeling or to produce a powerful impression; not intended to be understood literally:-
Not in the regions/Of horrid hell can come a devil/In evils, to top Macbeth.
2 Chron 28:4; Psa 6:6; Mt 7:3; Lk 14:26.
A figure of speech in which the speaker says one thing, but intends to opposite to be understood:-
“Fair sir, you spit on me Wednesday last/You spurned me such a day; another time/You called me dog, and for these courtesies/I’ll lend you thus much monies.”
Judg 10:14; 1 Ki 18:27; 22:15; Job 12:1f; Psa 6:6; Eccl 11:9; Mk 7:9; Lk 14:26; 1 Cor 4:8; 2 Cor 11:19.
A figure of speech consisting of an understatement, especially of a weak negative expression in place of a strong affirmative:-
“He is no fool” = “He is very clever”.
Psa 51:17; Isa 42:3; Rom 1:16; 2 Tim 1:12.
A figure of speech in which a name or quality is attributed to something to which it is not literally applicable:-
“Some books are to be tasted. others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested” (Bacon).
“Nerves of steel”.
Lk 13:32; 1 Tim 6:9.
Reference to something or someone by naming one of its attributes.
“The pen is mightier than the sword” (The pen is an attribute of thoughts that are written with a pen; the sword is an attribute of military action.)
“Crown” for “king”
‘Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands’ (Psa 128:2, AV).
A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms are combined to produce an epigrammatic effect:-
‘Cruel only to be kind’; ‘Bitter-sweet’.
Rom 9:6; 2 Cor 6:8-10; 12:10; Eph 3:19; 1 Thess 4:11.
A kind of metaphor, in which an abstract or inanimate thing is treated as if it had human qualities.
Psa 77:16 – ‘When the waters saw thee, they were afraid.’
Indirect quotation (‘The speaker said that…’) is absent, so that non-verbatim reporting occurs in direct quotation form.
Lk 4:22 – ‘They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”‘
An extended simile; a story designed to teach a moral or religious principle by suggesting a parallel in real life.
Parable of the lost sheep (Lk 15:3-7).
A kind of metaphor in which an abstract or inanimate thing is treated as if it had human qualities, Psa 77:16; 96:12; 98:8; Isa 55:12; Rom 8:19.
The introduction of an object, scene, or event with which the one in hand is compared for the purpose of illustration or ornament.
“Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark.” (Bacon)
“My love is like a red, red, rose.”
This is a Heb idiom often found in Scripture. To be a ‘son of’ something is to be characterised by that thing:-
1. ‘Son of Belial’ – a wicked man, 1 Sam 1:16; 2:12; 25:17.
2. ‘Son of peace’, Lk 10:6.
3. ‘Son of perdition’, Jn 17:12.
4. ‘Children of wrath’, Eph 2:3.
5. ‘Children of disobedience…children of light’, Eph 5:6-8.
In Heb, there is no superlative (corresponding to ‘-est’ in Eng). The idea is expressed in other ways:-
Judg 5:24 “Blessed from women” (lit)
The thought may be expressed by reference to heaven, or to the Lord:-
Deut 9:1 “Fortified up to heaven” (RSV). Gen 10:9 “Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Psa 80:10 ‘the cedars of God’ (lit). Jon 3:3 Nineveh was a city ‘great to God’ (lit). Acts 7:20 “Moses…was beautiful before God” (RSV).
The repetition of a word also denotes the superlative degree:-
Isa 6:3; 26:3 (lit ‘peace, peace’).
A whole is represented by naming one of its parts (genus named for species), or vice versa (species named for genus).
‘There were several new faces at the meeting.’
“I’ve got London on the phone” (meaning someone in the London office).
‘Soul’ for ‘person’.
‘The world’ for the Roman Empire.