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Figures of Speech Used in the Bible: Explained and Illustrated

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Have you noticed how often the English language uses figures of speech?

Imagine someone coming home from work saying, “Honey I’m home. I sure hope you don’t want to paint the town tonight because I am one whipped pup. I just want to stay around the crib this evening. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse and my feet are killing me. I want to down some groceries and hit the hay. No sheep counting for me tonight. I bet I’ll be asleep before my head hits the pillow. I’m going to sleep like a baby. Before I ‘catch some Z’s’ though, I’m going to see what’s on the tube, do a little web surfing and catch up on some email.”

Would you have any trouble understanding the meaning of the conversation? Not at all. Consider, however, someone from a different culture or time period hearing these words. I’m sure there would be no small confusion.

“Why would anyone want to paint a whole town? How can feet murder someone? Does an adult really sleep in a crib? What’s this sport web surfing? Either you have big spider webs or very small people.”

We would definitely have to translate the figures of speech for our confused visitor.

“Figures of speech” or idioms suspend the normal meaning of words to convey an emphasized message that is easily understood by people in a particular culture.

The Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek use figures of speech just like English does. The problem is, we’re thousands of years and miles removed from the Biblical culture. We don’t always quickly identify a figure of speech. Are we really supposed to hate our parents (Luke 14:26)? Was Jesus being rude to His mother (John 2:4)? Does a camel really go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24)?

We need help recognizing ancient Middle Eastern figures of speech. Bullinger’s classic Figures of Speech Used in the Bible is just that help. He describes hundreds of different types of figures of speech and then presents numerous Biblical examples of each.

Resource Experts

"'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle' (Matt. 19:24. Mark 10:25. Luke 18:25). This was a proverbial expression for a thing very unusual and very difficult."

"To 'Take the Sword' is used for rashly usurping magisterial power instead of giving obedience and subjection to God Matthew 26:52."

The content of the book is incredible, and as a Logos edition, Logos Bible Software makes finding the content instant!

In his book, Bullinger describes in great detail 217 distinct figures of speech. Each idiom includes the pronunciation and etymology, as well as passages of Scripture in which it appears along with a full explanation. Throughout the work Bullinger covers nearly 8,000 passages with idioms in them in this extensive resource which covers 1,104 pages in print.

How literally do you interpret scripture? When you go to study a passage do you exegete the figures of speech or do you assume they are taken literally? If you recognize a possible figure of speech in a passage do you follow the principles of interpreting that type of figure? E. W. Bullinger’s classic work, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, exhaustively describes and illustrates each figure of speech as it is found is scripture carefully explaining how each one has certain guidelines for proper interpretation. This helps ensure that you are not interpreting by a rigid literalism nor speculatively reading all kinds of meaning into a passage outside of the normal boundaries for interpreting that particular figure of speech.

Jeremiah 29:11 as is translated in these three versions illustrate one example of how a figure of speech properly interpreted rightly clarifies the passage. Jeremiah is not saying the Lord will give them two things: a future and a hope, but one, a future filled with hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NASB95) 11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord , 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) 11 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'

Jeremiah 29:11 (NET) 29:11 'For I know what I have planned for you,' says the Lord. 'I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.'

NET Translators’ Notes: Or “the future you hope for”; Heb “a future and a hope.” This is a good example of the figure called hendiadys where two formally coordinated nouns (adjectives, verbs) convey a single idea where one of the terms functions as a qualifier of the other. For this figure see Bullinger, Figures of Speech, pp. 658–72. This example is discussed on p. 661.

Top Highlights

“Thus it will be seen that Metonymy is not founded on resemblance, but on relation.” (Page 538)

“i. The ACTION or the EFFECT for the person producing the effect, or for the author of it” (Page 560)

“It is a common and powerful way of emphasizing a particular word, by thus marking it and calling attention to it.” (Page 189)

“The Hand is also put for instrumentality or agency, especially in connection with Inspiration.” (Page 547)

“6. Hyssop is put for the sprinkling which was effected by it” (Page 549)

  • Title: Figures of Speech Used in the Bible: Explained and Illustrated
  • Author: Ethelbert W. Bullinger
  • Publisher: Eyre & Spottiswoode
  • Print Publication Date: 1898
  • Logos Release Date: 2002
  • Era: era:modern
  • Language: English
  • Resources: 1
  • Format: Digital › Logos Research Edition
  • Subjects: Bible › Language, style; Figures of speech
  • Resource ID: LLS:46.50.9
  • Resource Type: Monograph
  • Metadata Last Updated: 2024-03-25T18:59:43Z

Ethelbert William Bullinger (1837–1913) was an Anglican biblical scholar, theologian, and clergyman. He served in parish ministry throughout his life and was clerical secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society from 1867 until his death in 1913. He is most recognizable for his role in developing ultradispensational theology, which is sometimes referred to as “Bullingerism.” His best-known works are the Companion Bible, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, and Figures of Speech Used in the Bible.


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  1. 2 Timothy 2:15
  2. Josephine Mazibuko
    Greeting, it is so profitable to use the software, though I am still struggling to use it due to technology skills.
  3. Mark Spencer

    Mark Spencer


    Classic and essential tool. Sometimes OLD is better - case in point.
  4. Stephen Jones

    Stephen Jones


    I love this book! I wish someone would make an updated version of this. I have both the hard copy and the digital one, and every time I go to study a passage, I look to see in Figures of Speech if there is a figure that I may have missed. It is so helpful, especially in the NT, Psalms, and Proverbs for me. Narratives not so much. But that's just me, not the book. I would encourage any student of the Scriptures, lay or clergy, or whatever to get this book. It is worth every penny! Can't speak highly enough of it. A Fantastic work.
  5. Alex Dillon

    Alex Dillon


  6. Joe Marshall

    Joe Marshall


    great book
  7. Brian Nelson

    Brian Nelson


    Priceless! The best work made to date on Figures Of Speech. Several scriptures unfold as the clear grammatically constructed figures of speech are explained. You don't have to be a scholar to understand this work. It is relatively easy to understand. Bullinger made this work so that the lay man can enjoy and understand the Bible better. My study "bookshelf" would be incomplete without it.
  8. James Brooks

    James Brooks


  9. Faithlife User
  10. Ian Thatcher

    Ian Thatcher



Print list price: $39.95
Save $19.96 (49%)