Figurative Language (5-7)

As we seek the truth, it’s important that we go to the Scripture to see what God tells us. We should not go to the Bible to confirm what we already believe, that’s doctrine, and though it has it’s place, when we are determining the truth, we need the Bible, not doctrine.

We can’t simply say that the Bible means what it says, that’s a subjective prospect. The goal should be as objective as possible. This means, among other things, that we need to understand the kind of language that the Bible uses. To understand God’s word “literally” is to understand its statements within the figures used in the language of scripture. So here are the next three types of figures.

(5) Matonomy: This is where one thing is used in place of another. We’re familiar with this. When the news says “the Whitehorse said today…” we know that the actual building did not release any statement. It simply means the president, or one of his representatives, said something on behalf of the president. In the same way, when the Bible speaks of the “shedding of blood” by the prophets or the fact that we are saved by “Jesus’ blood” these are a representation of death. It is not that Jesus or the prophets lost red/white blood cells, or that they became low on plasma, it is talking about the taking/giving of their life. It is through Jesus’ death that we are saved, not the liquid that was contained in his cardiovascular system. There is no significance to the fact that in Luke 24:39 Jesus is described as having “flesh and bone” and not “flesh and blood” – idiomatically they are the same – it is not a statement that Jesus was empty of blood.

(6) Synecdoche: This is when part of something is presented as a representation of the whole. Just like when someone drives up in a new vehicle and a friend says “nice wheels.” Their actual wheels might be nice, but what they mean is “nice car.” The wheels are part of the car, and so by virtue of synecdoche they represent the whole. When Eph 6:12 says that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” that phrase “flesh and blood” represents people. Physical human beings are made-up of flesh and blood, and a lot of other things. Part of humans, is stated as a representation of the whole.

(7) Personification: Is when human traits are given to non-human things. In Gen 4:10 God tells Cain that his brother’s “blood cries out from the ground.” Blood doesn’t really speak, this is used as a poetic/creative way of speaking about the murder of Able. Isa 55:12 says “…the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” This, too, is personification. Mountains, trees, rocks, blood, etc. don’t cry out, sing, or make any kind of noise. It’s figurative language.

About John Harris

χian, Jesus saves. μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, Pastor at Pleasant Heights, PhD (NT) candidate at Midwestern; forever Texan, μολὼν λαβέ; Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Allons-y
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