When the Bible speaks, it does so using normal language. It can seem somewhat strange, but that is usually due to the translation from an ancient language and culture into modern usage. Part of recognizing that the Bible uses regular language is an acknowledgment that there are figures of speech throughout the Scripture. A simple “it means what it says” is not adequate for understanding what God’s word has to say, because many times, the words don’t mean to us (modern readers) what they meant to them (the original ancient readers). So here are a few more figures of speech that we find throughout the Bible:
(11) Euphemism: this is a way of stating something in a less harsh way. It takes the edge off of a tough reality. One of the most common ways to refer to someone who is dead, for example, in the Bible is to state that they are “sleeping” or “asleep.” In Luke 8:52 Jesus says “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” This seems to be straightforward, however, it does not mean what it seems to say. The family was well aware that the little girl was dead, and Jesus raised her back to life. She was dead, Jesus used a euphemism to soften the harshness of the event, and to highlight the fact that death is no more serious than sleep for him.
(12) Litotes: is a part of speech where a positive is expressed with a negative. It is to convey an idea by denying the opposite. When someone says that something is “not bad” it’s a denial that the thing is bad, thus showing that it is good. Luke 1:37 says “… nothing will be impossible with God.” which is the same as saying that all things are possible with God.
(13) Hyperbole: is an exaggeration to make a point. This may make some people uncomfortable because many might look at this figure of speech as not being truthful, but it is not. It is a common way of speaking, not to intentionally mislead anyone, but to make a point clear. Luke 14:26 says that if someone wants to follow Jesus they must “hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life.” Matt 5:19 says “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” These are extreme statements designed to highlight the cost of discipleship, it is high, but we’re not called to hate anyone, or to mame ourselves in the name of holiness. John 21:25 says of Jesus’ ministry “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” This is not a ‘true statement’ in that it is physically possible to record all the events of Jesus’ life within the confines of every book ever written, however this is not the point. The point is that the MAJORITY of Jesus’ life and ministry was not recorded.
When we don’t understand the figurative language of the Bible, we misunderstand what God is trying to say, and sometimes make God say something He doesn’t.