FIGURES OF SPEECH
The Following is a partial quote from the INTRODUCTION
to the book:
Figures of Speech Used in the Bible
written by E. W. Bullinger and printed in 1898
JEHOVAH has been pleased to give us the revelation of
His mind and will in words. It is therefore absolutely necessary that we
should understand not merely the meanings of the words themselves, but
also the laws which govern their usage and combinations.
All language is governed by law; but, in order to increase
the power of a word, or the force of an expression, these laws are designedly
departed from, and words and sentences are thrown into, and used in, new
forms, or figures.
The ancient Greeks reduced these new and peculiar forms
to science, and gave names to more than two hundred of them.
The Romans carried forward this science: but with the
decline of learning in the Middle Ages, it practically died out. A few
writers have since then occasionally touched upon it briefly, and have
given a few trivial examples: but the knowledge of this ancient science
is so completely forgotten, that its very name to-day is used in a different
sense and with almost an opposite meaning.
These manifold forms which words and sentences assume
were called by the Greeks Schema and by the Romans, Figura. Both words
have the same meaning, viz., a shape or figure. When we speak of a person
as being "a figure" we mean one who is dressed in some peculiar
style, and out of the ordinary manner. The Greek word Schema is found in
1 Car. vii. 31,
"The fashian of this world passeth away"; Phil.
ii. 8, "being found in fashion as a man." The Latin word Figura
is from the verb fingere, to form, and has passed into the English language
in the words figure, transfigure, configuration, effigy, feint, feign,
We use the word figure now in various senses. Its primitive
meaning applies to any marks, lines, or outlines, which make a form or
shape. Arithmetical figures are certain marks or forms which represent
numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.). All secondary and derived meanings of the word
"figure" retain this primitive meaning.
Applied to words, a figure denotes some form which a word
or sentence takes, different from its ordinary and natural form. This is
always for the purpose of giving additional force, more life, intensified
feeling, and greater emphasis. Whereas to-day "Figurative language"
is ignorantly spoken of as though it made less of the meaning, and deprived
the words of their power and force. A passage of God's Word is quoted;
and it is met with the cry," Oh, that is figurative" -- implying
that its meaning is weakened, or that it has quite a different meaning,
or that it has no meaning at all. But the very opposite is the case. For
an unusual form (figura) is never used except to add force to the truth
conveyed, emphasis to the statement of it, and depth to the meaning of
it. When we apply this science then to God's words and to Divine truths,
we see at once that no branch of Bible study can be more important, or
offer greater promise of substantial reward.
Also from the same book:
NOTE ON FIGURES IN GENERAL.
A FIGURE is simply a word or a sentence thrown into a
peculiar form, different from its original or simplest meaning or use.
These forms are constantly used by every speaker and writer.
It is impossible to hold the simplest conversation, or
to write a few sentences without, it may be unconsciously, making use of
figures. We may say, "the ground needs rain": that is a plain,
cold, matter-of-fact statement; but if we say "the ground is thirsty,"
we immediately use a figure. It is not true to fact, and therefore it must
be a figure. But how true to feeling it is! how full of warmth and life!
Hence, we say, "the crops suffer"; we speak of "a hard heart,"
"a rough man," "an iron will." In all these cases we
take a word which has a certain, definite meaning, and apply the name,
or the quality, or the act, to some other thing with which it is associated,
by time or place, cause or effect, relation or resemblance.
Some figures are common to many languages; others are
peculiar to some one language. There are figures used in the English language,
which have nothing that answers to them in Hebrew or Greek; and there are
Oriental figures which have no counterpart in English; while there are
some figures in various languages, arising from human infirmity and folly,
which find, of course, no place in the word of God.
It may be asked, "How are we to know, then, when
words are to be taken in their simple, original form (i.e., literally),
and when they are to be taken in some other and peculiar form (i.e., as
a Figure)?" The answer is that, 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.
From non-attention to these Figures, translators have
made blunders as serious as they are foolish. Sometimes they have translated
the figure literally, totally ignoring its existence sometimes they have
taken it fully into account, and have translated, not according to the
letter, but according to the spirit sometimes they have taken literal words
and translated them figuratively. Commentators and interpreters, from inattention
to the figures, have been led astray from the real meaning of many important
passages of God's Word; while ignorance of them has been the fruitful parent
of error and false doctrine. It may be truly said that most of the gigantic
errors of Rome, as well as the erroneous and conflicting views of the Lord's
People, have their root and source, either in figuratively explaining away
passages which should be taken literally, or in taking literally what has
been thrown into a peculiar form or Figure of language: thus, not only
falling into error, but losing the express teaching, and missing the special
emphasis which the particular Figure was designed to impart to them.
This is an additional reason for using greater exactitude
and care when we are dealing with the words of God. Man's words are scarcely
worthy of such study. Man uses figures, but often at random and often in
ignorance or in error. But "the words of the Lord are pure words."
All His works are perfect, and when the Holy Spirit takes up and uses human
words, He does so, we may be sure, with unerring accuracy, infinite wisdom,
and perfect beauty.
We may well, therefore, give all our attention to "the
words which the Holy Ghost teacheth."
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