Figurative Speech in the Bible

The Bible is written in figurative language, picturesque speech.  There are comparisons of all kinds:  analogies, metaphors, models, parables, patterns, similes, symbols, signs, examples, and more.  Such imagery transcends words, for indeed a picture is worth a thousand words.

There is, however, more to the Bible’s use of figurative speech than just being an effective form of communication.  We can also see that images are among the easiest communications to translate between one human language and another.  If something has been seen, every language will have a word for it.  This is particularly helpful in a world carrying the curse of the Tower of Babel, where it seems there is always some people group into whose language the Bible has not yet been translated – even if it is the slang of latest generation of teenagers.

Yet there is an even more important reason than these for why the Bible speaks in pictures.  Most importantly, the Bible is describing to us a world we cannot see, and it must draw on the world that we can see to do so.  It is as if God has made the entire physical creation to be a storehouse of audio visual aids to use in teaching us about the spiritual world.  Thus there is hardly anything described in the Genesis creation account that is not used later in the Bible to explain something spiritual.  It seems that the best way for God to teach us about something spiritual is to compare it to something physical.

If you wish to understand the Bible better, think visually and think concretely.  Theological books are typically abstract, but there is little that is abstract in the Bible.  It uses physical concrete images with which most everyone is familiar.  Yes, some of the imagery becomes dated.  However, most everyone understands the concepts of seed and fruit even though hardly anyone – in America at least – still lives on a farm.  Similarly, everyone knows what a king implies even though hardly any nations have one anymore.  The Bible’s predominant images transcend time and culture.

Sometimes, many analogies link with each other, forming a sort of “ecosystem” for understanding.  These “expanded comparisions” include the world of vegetation and the world of animals – both richly drawn upon by God and the authors of His Scripture.  For a list of these and other such linked metaphors in Scripture, see the sub-category “Expanded Comparisons” beneath the category of “Figurative Language” to the right (or, simply click here).  There are also Metaphorical Themes to consider.

Also, types and shadows are worth singling out because they usually focus on Christ – the ultimate object of all our affections.

The purpose of this blog is to proclaim Jesus Christ in terms familiar to those who read the Bible, and to help others become more familiar with the Bible. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, see the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted.