Understanding Biblical Literary Devices– A Key to Correctly Interpreting Scripture

Psalm 57

Psalm 57:1, In the shadow of your wings. Other Scriptures that refer taking shelter under the shadow of YHVH’s wings in times of trouble (and all the time for that matter) include Psalms 17:8; 61:4 and 91:1. The wings of Elohim is an example of an anthropomorphism which is “the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal or object.” Obviously, Elohim is not a Bird-God, for he does not have wings like a bird. This is an example of a poetic or literary device that the writer employs to help us to understand  difficult spiritual concepts using physical analogies. 

Author’s note: At the end of this article, I will address the false concept that the earth is flat, which I refer to as “flat earth foolishness.” Those who believe that the earth is flat base this notion on a twisted understanding of the Scriptures. A basic, 101 level comprehension of the rules of logic, biblical interpretations (called hermeneutics) and understanding the literary devices and cultural contextual background of the biblical authors will summarily dispel this false notion, as this article will point out.

Furthermore, I am not open to debate about this issue. If you want to argue with me that the earth is flat, then take your nonsense and peddle it somewhere else, but not on MY blog. Your comments will not be allowed to be posted and they will be immediately deleted. So don’t waste your or my time trying. — Natan Lawrence

The Bible is full and running over with literary devices. This is because much of the Bible is poetry or literary prose. Understanding these many and varied literary devices will help one to correctly interpret Scripture, find the deeper meaning of a Scripture, understand the richness found therein, and enables one to better understand the true message and intent of the author. 

But why does the Bible employ so many literary devices from Genesis to Revelation as we are about to see from the examples below? There are specific reasons why YHVH Elohim inspired the writers of Scripture to employ various literary devices besides for the sake of making the Bible more interesting to read. There are definite and deep spiritual reasons for this that relate to our gaining a deeper, personal relationship with our Creator. We will discuss these reasons later.

In the mean time, having an understanding of the literary devices that YHVH inspired the biblical authors to employ will insure that one does not derive errant understanding from Scripture by, for example, understanding something in a literal sense that was meant to be figurative, symbolic, metaphorical or hyperbolic. Much of biblical prophecy, for example, has been written using literary devices and one can easily misconstrue something to be literal when it is figurative and end up with all sorts of bizarre interpretations and twisting of the Scriptures engendering false doctrines and heresies.

The following is a list of literary and figurative devices found in the Bible with definitions and examples:

Acrostic: A composition usually in verse in which sets of letters (such as the initial or final letters of the lines) taken in order form a word or phrase or a regular sequence of letters of the alphabet. An example of this is Psalm 119 in which the first words in successive units of the poem start with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In Psalm 145, the first word in each verse starts with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Allegory: A story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life. Parables are form of allegory where symbols are used to teach biblical principle. Yeshua employed this teaching method to convey deep spiritual truths by using everyday examples from life that his listeners, with a little reflection, could understand. Examples of this include:

  • The mustard seed in Matt 1331–33 and the leaven in Matt 13:33 are symbols for the kingdom of Elohim. 
  • In the Parable of the Prodigal son represents believers who backslide and come back to Elohim (Luke 15:11–32). 
  • The Parable of the Vine and Branches symbolizes the believer’s relationship with Yeshua (John 15:1–8). 
  • Paul compares of Hagar and Sarah in Galatians 4:21–31 to represent salvation by works versus salvation by grace. 
  • Ezekiel uses two sisters to represent apostate Judah and Samaria (Ezek 23:1–49). 
  • In Psalm 80, Israel is likened to a grape vine.
  • In Ezekiel 16, Israel is likened to a virgin bride and then an adulterous woman.

Alliteration: The use of the same initial consonants in a line. This biblical literary device is only noticeable in the original languages. 

Allusion: An indirect reference to something else. The referent and meaning are understood from cultural, personal context, or inside knowledge. Examples of this include:

  • The great sign in heaven in Revelation 12:1 refers back to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9. In John 8:58 when Yeshua declared, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM,” his listeners knew that he was telling them that he was the I AM of Exodus 3:14. 
  • While hanging on the cross and Yeshua declared, “My Father, my Father, who have you forsaken me,” he was signalling to his hearers that he was fulfilling the Messianic prophecies of Psalm 22. 

Anthropomorphism: This is a type of personification where human characteristics (physical form, human-like emotion, or other human characteristics) are attributed to Elohim, in order to make his spiritual qualities more understandable to finite and limited human understanding and linguistics. An example of this is found in Genesis 6:6 where YHVH is grieved, or in Jeremiah 3:12 where YHVH is angry. Other examples from Scripture include

  • So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. (Exod 33:23)
  • For thus says YHVH of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. (Zech 2:8)
  • Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications. (Ps 130:2)
  • …[N]o one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. (John 10:29).

Aposiopesis: The leaving of a thought incomplete usually by a sudden breaking off in mid-sentence. Examples include:

  • Then the YHVH Elohim said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—therefore the YHVH Elohim sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. (Gen 3:22–23)
  • Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written. (Exod 32:32)
  • But if we say, “From men”—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. (Mark 11:32)
  • And if it bears fruit—but if not, after that you can cut it down. (Luke 13:9)

Apostrophe: The addressing of a usually absent person or a usually personified thing rhetorically. This is a type of indirect type of personification where the speaker addresses an inanimate object including him or others who cannot respond to the statement or question. For example, sometimes a psalmist addresses his soul or commands mountains and rivers to praise Elohim. Examples of this include:

  • Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? (Ps 43:5)
  • Sing, O heavens, for YHVH has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; Break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! (Isa 44:23)
  • Then he cried out against the altar by the word of YHVH, and said, “O altar, altar! Thus says YHVH…” (1 Kgs 13:2
  • Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! (Isa 1:2)
  • Open your doors, O Lebanon, That fire may devour your cedars. Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, because the mighty trees are ruined. Wail, O oaks of Bashan… (Zech 11:1–2)
  • O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! (Matt 23:37)

Assonance:  This is poetic literary device where the internal sounds of words are repeated. This biblical literary device is only noticeable in the original languages. 

Chiasmus: A figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through the reversal of the lines of a poetic structure in order to make a larger point. Examples of this include:

  • Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed. (Gen 9:6)
  • But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matt 19:30)
  • Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart… (Isa 6:10)

Climax: A series of actions or qualities that repeat each other that intensify. Examples of this include:

  • What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; what the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; and what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten. (Joel 1:4)
  • In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4–5)
  • And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint. (Rom 5:3–5)
  • But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” (2 Pet 1:5–7)

Euphemism: A mild or pleasant word or phrase that is used instead of one that is unpleasant or offensive. Examples of this include:

  • “You shall go to your fathers in peace,” (Gen 15:15). In other words, you shall die.
  • “Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would soon have settled in silence,” (Ps 94:17). In other words, my soul would have died and been buried. 
  • “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up,” (John 11:11). In other words, Lazarus is dead.
  • “From which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place,” (Acts 1:25). In other words, Judas went into the grave.

Hyperbole: Literary exaggeration for emphasis or rhetorical effect or language that describes something as better or worse than it really is. Examples of this include:

  • Every one could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss. (Judg 20:16) 
  • Also the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones… (2 Chron 1:15)
  • So the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim, dwelt in their cities, and all Israel in their cities. (Ezra 2:70)
  • I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. (Ps 6:6) 
  • YHVH looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek Elohim. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, no, not one. (Ps 14:2–3)
  • Thus says the Adonai YHVH: “The whole earth will rejoice when I make you desolate.” (Ezek 35:14)
  • For all people walk each in the name of his god, But we will walk in the name of YHVH our Elohim forever and ever. (Mic 4:5)
  • Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck out of your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye?” (Matt 7:4)
  • Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. (Mark 1:5)
  • If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched. (Mark 9:43)
  • The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:19)
  • And there are also many other things that Yeshua did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)

Idioms: A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., rain cats and dogs, see the light, to be in a in a pickle, to pay through the nose, break a leg,” or “to have a bee in your bonnet. Examples of this include: 

  • So Joab put the words in her mouth.” (2 Sam 14:3) 
  • And I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.  (Job 19:20)
  • Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me? (Job 19:28)
  • YHVH is near to those who have a broken heart… (Ps 34:18)
  • They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end. (Ps 107:27)
  • Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when YHVH shall bring again Zion. (Isa 52:8)
  • Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matt 7:15)
  • And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. (Matt 12:25)
  • Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matt 23:24)
  • In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor 15:52)

Irony: The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect. Examples of this include:

  • And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kgs 18:27)
  • No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you! (Job 12:2)
  • Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.” (Judg 10:14)
  • Come to Bethel and transgress, at Gilgal multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days. (Amos 4:4–5)
  • For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! (2 Cor 11:19)

Imagery: This is the use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects, actions, or ideas. Examples of this include:

  • Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. (Rev 12:1)

Litotes: An understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary. Examples of this include: 

  • After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A flea? (1 Sam 24:14)
  • Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the balance; look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.” (Isa 40:15)
  • And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.” (Acts 20:12)
  • I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city.” (Acts 21:39)

Merism: A rhetorical term for a pair of contrasting words or phrases (such as near and far, body and soul, life and death) used to express totality or completeness. An example of this is: 

  • You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day… (Ps 91:5)

Metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable, or a direct comparison between two different items. Examples of this include: 

  • YHVH is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. (2 Sam 22:3)
  • Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings… (Ps 17:8)
  • We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. (Ps 100:3)
  • Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matt 7:7)
  • And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)
  • I am the bread of life. (John 6:35)
  • I am the light of the world. (John 8:12)
  • I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  (John 10:9)
  • I am the good shepherd. (John 10:11)
  • I am the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25)
  • I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
  • I am the true vine, and My father is the vinedresser. (John 15:1)
  • And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. (Jas 3:6)

Metonomy: A word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated. Examples of this include:

Numerology: The Bible often employs numbers in symbolic ways. For example, the number seven represents perfection or completion and forty represents divine testing.

Onomastics: This refers to the study and origins of words and proper names. In Scripture, often names are given to people to signify their qualities, character, divine mission or circumstances surrounding their life. Examples of this include:

  • Adam means “red earth”.
  • Abraham means “father of many nations”.
  • Isaac means “laughter”.
  • Israel means “one who prevails with El”.
  • Moses means “drawn forth”.
  • Ichabod means “the glory has departed”.
  • Yeshua (Jesus) means “salvation” .

Paradox: A statement that seems illogical or contradictory on the surface, but actually conveys truth, or something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible. Examples of this include:

  • For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matt 16:25)
  • Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:30

Parallelism: A figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through the lines of a poetic structure in order to make a larger point. While many forms of poetry rhyme sounds, Hebrew poetry rhymes ideas. Since the rhythm is logical rather than phonetic, much of it is retained in translation. In most verses, the thought of the second line is parallel to the thought of the first line. Some verses are made of three, four, and even five lines, and the parallelism can extend throughout. An examples of this is:

  • Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matt 7:7–8)
  • Other types of parallelism include:

Synonymous parallelism is where the thought of the first line is repeated in different words in the next line(s).

  • Lord, how they have increased who trouble me!
  • Many are they who rise up against me. (Ps 3:1)

Antithetical parallelism is where the thought of the first line is sharply contrasted in the next line(s).

  • A soft answer turns away wrath,
  • But a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov 15:1)

Synthetic parallelism is where the first line is added to or developed in the next line(s).

  • Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
  • Nor stands in the path of sinners,
  • Nor sits in the seat of the scornful (Ps 1:1)

Inverted parallelism is an external parallelism that balances sets of lines. For example, the first and fourth lines and the second and third lines may be parallel as in Proverbs 23:15–16 (cf. Ps. 5:7). In Psalm 30:8–10, lines 1–2 are parallel to lines 7–8, and lines 3–4 are parallel to lines 5–6.

Climactic or stair-like parallelism uses parallelism to build to a climax by repeating part of the first line and adding to it in the next line(s).

  • Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,
  • Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
  • Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name. (Ps 29:1–2a)
  • Also see the rest of Psalm 29.

Emblematic parallelismis where a literal statement in one line is elevated by a figurative image in another.

  • As cold water to a weary soul,
  • So is good news from a far country. (Prov 25:25)

Personification: The representation of a thing or abstraction as a person or by the human form or something inanimate (or divine) is given human form. An example of this is:

  • In Proverbs 9:1–6, wisdom is personified as a woman.

Pleonasm: A figure of speech that uses an excessive number of words or redundancy for the sake of emphasis. Examples of this include:

  • Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. (Gen 40:23)
  • And it came to pass in those days. (Mark 1:9)
  • Knowing that Elohim had sworn with an oath. (Acts 2:30)

Repetition: Emphasis is gained by a number of techniques that repeat the same word, phrase, or sentence. Examples of this include:

  • Moses, Moses! (Exod 3:4)
  • The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You. (Ps 77:16)
  • “For His mercy endures forever…” is repeated in each verse of Psalm 136.
  • “Blessed” is repeated through the beatitudes. (Matt 5:3–11)
  • “Eloi, Eloi.” (Mark 15:34)
  • “Nor” is repeated several times in Romans 8:38–39.
  • “To another” is repeated in a list of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:8–10).

Simile: A comparison between two items using a connective words such as like or as. Examples of this include:

  • Destruction and Death say, “We have heard a report about it with our ears.” (Job 28:22)
  • Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? (Prov 8:2)
  • As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, So is the lazy man to those who send him. (Prov 10:26)
  • So the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard, as a hut in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. (Isa 1:8)
  • All we like sheep have gone astray. (Isa 53:6)
  • For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. (Mal 3:2)
  • For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt 24:27)
  • His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. (Matt 28:3)
  • Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. (Luke 10:3)
  • For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror. (Jas 1:23)

Riddles: A riddle is a concise and puzzling statement posed as a problem to be solved or explained. An example of this is:

  • Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet. (Judg 14:14; cf. 14:12–19)
  • Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666. (Rev 13:18)

Symbolism: The use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. Examples of this include:

  • …[G]olden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Rev 5:8)
  • And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea… (Rev 13:1; beast represents an end times world-ruling Antichrist system)
  • …[T]he great harlot who sits on many waters… (Rev 17:1; harlot and waters represent a false religious system and many peoples of the earth respectively)

Synecdoche: A figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (such as society for high society), the species for the genus (such as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (such as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as boards for stage). Examples of this include:

  • All flesh [i.e., every person] had corrupted their way on the earth. (Gen 6:12) 
  • So Hazael went to meet him and took a present with him, of every good thing of Damascus, forty camel-loads. (2 Kgs 8:9)
  • And I will say to my soul, “Soul [i.e., the whole person], you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” (Luke 12:19)
  • For Elohim so loved the world [i.e., everyone]. (John 3:16)
  • For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. (Eph 6:12)
  • All Scripture [i.e., the whole Bible] is given by inspiration of Elohim. (2 Tim 3:16)

Type: A literary prefiguring where one person or item serves as a metaphorical prefigure or type of another that is to come later. Examples of this include:

  • Melchizedek was a type of the Messiah (Heb 7:1–10).
  • David was a type of Messiah (Ps 22:1–21; 69:7, 9, 20; cf. Rom 15:3).
  • Adam was “a type of Him who was to come” (Rom 5:14), that is, the Messiah.
  • The earthly tabernacle was “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb 8:5).
  • Elijah was a type of John the baptist (Matt 17:12–13).
  • Moses was a type of Yeshua the Messiah (Deut 18:15).

Word play: Biblical writers and speakers, especially prophetic and poetic writers, make plays on word-meanings in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages. Examples of this include:

  • Yeshua makes a word play on the Greek name Peter (petros meaning “small rock”) comparing it to another Greek word meaning rock (petra meaning “boulder”)—a reference to Yeshua himself (Matt 16:18). 
  • I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.” [Onesimus means “profitable or useful.”] (Phil 1:10–11).

Zeugma: A word modifies two or more words but strictly refers to only one of them, or the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one (as in “opened the door and her heart to the homeless boy”). An examples of this is:

  • I have surely visited you and [seen] what is done to you in Egypt. (Exod 3:16) 
  • Forbidding to marry, [and commanding] to abstain from foods [“forbidding” only applies to marriage, and “commanding” must be supplied]. (1 Tim 4:3)

(This author is grateful to the following sources for much of the information listed in the material above some of which some has been directly quoted or slightly changed. These sources include http://www.kentlee7.com/biblia/docs/blitdevice.htm; https://kingdomgracemedia.com/literary-devices-in-the-bible-bible-study/; https://carm.org/about-the-bible/what-kinds-of-literary-techniques-are-used-in-the-bible/; https://bible.org/seriespage/iv-literary-forms-bible; https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/.)

Why did YHVH Elohim inspire the biblical writers to employ symbolic and figurative language along with numerous literary devices? Several reason for this are immediately apparent.

First, the Bible is a love story—the love between heaven and earth, between Elohim who created humans in his own image and humans who, it is hoped, will love their Creator in return. Literary language such as poetry, of which the Bible contains a vast amount, is the language of love. It is the language genre that best expresses the whole range of human feelings and emotions including hope, care, concern, anger, tenderness and much more. 

Moreover, literary language not only engages the emotional side of humans, but the intellectual side as well. It invites humans to interact with Elohim through linguistics—the science, means and art of communication. It is through the vehicle of all forms of communication be it verbal, non-verbal  written or whatever that human relationships are built and maintained. The Bible is all about communication in its many forms between Elohim and his people and vice versa.

Secondly, another reason the Bible uses literary languages and devices is that human language was designed to communicate physical ideas between physical beings. It is wholly inadequate to express or describe those things which are outside the time-space continuum of the physical existence in which humans live. We have neither the mental capacity nor the linguistic capabilities to adequately describe those things which exist in the spiritual dimension. Although this dimension where Elohim lives exist, we do no have the ability to describe it or him, for we cannot go there nor could we explain the things contained therein if we could. So since such a large gulf exists between the physical and spiritual dimension of existence, how does one explain the realm of Elohim in human linguistic terms? Though it is not possible to do so, we can employ poetry and literary prose along with various literary devices and figurative language to inspire the imaginative capabilities of the human mind in an attempt to bridge the gap between the lower and upper levels of reality. In this way, humans are drawn into the presence of Elohim and enduring relationships are hopefully formed and nourished as a result thereof.

Thirdly, poetic language is often easier to remember. How many poems, nursery rhymes and songs do you remember from your childhood? In the days before the printing press and books, ancient people had to remember what was told them. This was much more easily done when conveyed in poetic and song form.

Fourthly, descriptive poetic language helps us to understand abstract theological concepts such as salvation, redemption, faith as well as Elohim’s love, mercy, grace, judgment, righteousness, holiness, protection and what our response should be to these. The employment of literary devices convey ideas in a way that is not only better inspires our imagination, but does so more concisely as opposed to long, drawn out theological dissertations. For example, Yeshua’s sermons were usually statements and even his sermons were extremely brief. He said much in few words. He often employed brilliant analogies, symbols, metaphors, parables and other literary devices and figurative language to convey deep theological truths that often left his listeners scratching their heads, but also left them thirstily needing to dig deeper to get to the deeper meaning and higher spiritual truth of what was said. Such an approach engages us not only spiritually, but emotionally and intellectually as well. The Bible is full of this kind of writing.

Fifthly, and perhaps most importantly, to correctly understand the Bible, one must realize that it often employs descriptive language, rather than prose as straight propositional truth. Moreover, the Bible was written in the descriptive language and understanding of people and cultures of its day. Understanding the linguistic tools of the day is key to understanding the Bible.

For example, how could John in the book of Revelation explain the end time events that he was seeing in vision form? How does a person living two thousand years ago explain the implements of modern warfare, for example when he has no words for it? What’s more, how do farmers and shepherds living thousands of years ago explain the geology of the earth, as well physics, biology, meteorology, and astronomy in the scientific terms we understand today thanks to modern science and technology? The way, for example, the ancients described the shape of earth, may seem quaint and outdated, even unscientific, but from the perspective of people who never ventured much beyond their own towns, the earth may have seemed flat, and so they wrote in ways that best described what they observed from their perspective. Their writings were not scientific, but descriptive based on their limited perspective and scientific understanding. After all, they did not possess airplanes, rockets, satellites, telescopes or microscopes, for example. However, they were unusually capable of conveying deep spiritual Truth, and this is the main point of the Bible, that is, the transmission of divinely revealed spiritual Truth as opposed to scientific truth. 

The Bible is not a science manual. To treat it as such is to end up with all sorts of weird and bizarre notions like the earth being flat. Rather the Bible is the Creator’s owners manual given to man as a love gift on how to live his life, how to be blessed and not cursed, and how to come into relationship with YHVH Elohim through Yeshua the Messiah. To take the figurative, symbolic or culturally quaint language of the ancients as found in the Bible, and then to apply meanings thereto not originally intended is to twist Scripture. In so doing, one can make the Bible say just about anything. Yeshua becomes a barnyard door and a hen chicken with wings; Elohim is a chimeric cross between a rock, a lampstand and winged bird who shoots arrows; the saints are literal seven-branched menorahs perched on a hill whose bodies are composed of sodium chloride (i.e., table salt); Israel male and female as well as a virgin bride, a whore, a fig tree and an olive a tree all at the same time; and top it all, you and I inhabit a flat earth that is shaped like a pancake.


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