God has declared that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, which is instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16,17). Since we are dealing with the inspired Word of God, we should be very careful to apply logically and accurately the rules of grammar and language. One major area that is so often overlooked or misunderstood is the field of figures of speech. Many sincere believers, when confronted with a statement in the Bible that is obviously not true to fact, declare, “Oh, that’s only figurative”, as if it were of little importance. The reverse is true — it is not “only figurative” but that part of the Word that the Father wishes to emphasize. Figures of speech are legitimate departures from accepted grammatical forms in order to give emphasis to what has been written or spoken.

Search out the list of specific figures to see the emphasis of each particular one. Once you as a student begin to explore this field, you will want to say with Paul, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”


Gradual Ascent

The figure of speech anabasis is so called when a writing ascends up step by step, with an increase of emphasis. Psalm 1 is a vivid example of this figure. “Blessed is the man -1) who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, 2) nor stands in the way of sinners, 3) nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” Each phrase is successive in emphasis. Bullinger describes this verse in his Figures of Speech Used in the Bible as “the first continue in that mind, taking evil counsel. The second carry it out, as the principle of their walk. The third settle down in their evil, as on a seat.”[1] Another example is Zechariah 7:11, “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets…” This succession is a good description of the process that Israel went through to reject Jehovah and the law and the reason they ended up in captivity.

The figure is not only used to describe a negative downfall. It can be positive as well. Ephesians 2:5,6 says, “Even when we were dead in sins, 1) hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) 2) And hath raised us up together, and 3) made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:”

What is then the emphasis of this figure? I believe that the phrases in succession point to the very next sentence or phrase following the ascent like an arrow that points upward. What is important is not the arrow, but what it is pointing toward. In Psalm 1 the next sentence is, “his delight is in the law of the Lord…and whatsoever he does shall prosper.” In Zechariah 7, the next sentence is: “therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts.” Ephesians 2:7 is “that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”


Normally, the definition of metaphor is similar to the following from “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu): “A sustained metaphor continued through whole sentences or even through a whole discourse.” I believe that in terms of study of the Aramaic New Testament, this definition is too narrow. Especially in the Gospels, Jesus used examples which were not a whole story where every element was compared to something else. They were pithy short illustrations, usually from everyday life, that communicated a spiritual principle. There are several examples in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19, 20:
You should not place for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and where thieves break in and steal.
But place for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt and where thieves do not break in and do not steal.
For where your treasure is, there is also your heart.

This is a comparison of having a “treasure room” in a house, which was a glorified closet and would be subject to be corrupted by insects, weather, such as rain leaking through the roof, or thieves breaking a hole in the mud walls. It was a common picture of a storage room in a home. The entire passage teaches the lesson that spiritual treasures are much more important than earthly wealth.

The emphasis in an allegory is on the comparative elements, but also on the moral of the illustration. In these verses, the concluding sentence has the emphasis: “for where your treasure is, there is also your heart.” In every allegory, the student should seek for this concluding remark or the lesson behind the illustration.

For further study, see the excerpt on allegory from Figures of Speech Used in the Bible by E.W. Bullinger.


Chiasmus, or introversion, is a figure of speech that has a very special emphasis and also pertains to the structure of a passage. There is a wonderful book that you can order from CBD or any bookstore that is called Chiasmus in the New Testament by Nils W. Lund. The entire book is full of examples of this figure of speech. When we see this figure, the point that is emphasized is in the middle phrase or phrases of the introversion, or as Lund puts it: “The centre is always the turning point.” If we used capital letters to describe a passage, the introversion would be ABCDDCBA. The phrases in “D” would be the ones that are emphasized.

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is full of this figure. Here are a few examples:

Matthew 3:5-11:
A Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
B Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
C Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
D Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
D Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
C Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
B Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
A Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The middle phrases of “D” are emphasized, and we see this is true because they are the main themes of the entire sermon–what is true righteousness and how to live it.

There is a chiasmus in Matthew 6:7-9 that emphasizes that living righteously is not to be like the hypocrites. Notice also how the center phrase is the turning point.

A But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do:
B for they think that they shall be heard
C for their much speaking.
D Be not ye therefore like unto them:
C for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of,
B before ye ask him.
A After this manner therefore pray ye:

Matthew 6:24 is a chiasmus in one verse:

A No man can serve two masters,
B For either he will hate the one,
C And love the other;
C Or else he will hold to the one,
B And despise the other.
A Ye cannot serve God and mammon. 

The conclusion of Matthew 6 is a summary of the first part of the sermon.

A Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:)
B for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
C But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
B and all these things shall be added unto you.
A Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The armor of God section in Ephesians 6 is a double chiasmus:

Eph 6:10-18
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand
against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood,
but against principalities,
against powers,
against the rulers of the darkness of this world
against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,
and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation,
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

Here’s a way to remember chiasmus:

ABC Intro- –D turns the point

CBA Version


Rhetorical Question

An erotesis is a question that is not immediately answered. Bullinger categorizes questions into 19 different categories. I believe these are interesting to note the variety of the types of questions, but as far as the emphasis in a particular verse is concerned, there should be only be three categories of erotesis.

1) The first category includes all the questions that can be answered with an affirmative yes or no. One could say: “Absolutely yes!” or “Absolutely no!” or “of course!” In Aramaic, these questions are introduced by a small particle called lema which is sometimes not able to be translated. In the Aramaic Peshitta New Testament Translation these questions are noted in the footnotes as lema questions and then it is determined whether there should be a yes or no answer. Here are a few examples:

Matt 14:31: And immediately our Lord reached out his hand and grasped him and said to him, “Little of faith, why did you doubt?” The last phrase could also be translated “are you doubting?” Because Peter had begun to sink, it was an obvious answer “yes!”

Matt 25:9: These wise [virgins] answered and said, ‘Will there be enough for us and for you? This question was rhetorical for the foolish virgins with an obvious answer “no.”

Mark 2:19: Jesus said to them, “Are the guests of the wedding feast able to fast as long as the bridegroom is with them? No! This is even answered in the verse.

2) The second category are “questions to ponder.” They are questions that are used with the introductory words, “what”, “why”, “how”, “where” or “if” and the response generates thoughtful thinking. These questions do not have direct answers, but are pointed to cause the reader to think carefully on the subject and realize that God has the answer. The questions may cause awe, wonder, shame, fear, contemplation of some kind. The student should consider his or her own answer to the question. The emphasis is designed to make the reader stop and think and consider the subject closely.

One of the most dramatic passages of this category is in Romans 8:31-35. There are at least 7 rhetorical questions in these 5 verses. They are all “questions to ponder”.

1. What shall we then say to these things…?

2. If God be for us, who can be against us…?

3. He that spared not His own son …?

4. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect…?

5. Who is he that condemns?

6. Who [or what] shall separate us…?

7. [Shall] tribulation, or distress…?

Another vivid example of “questions to ponder” is in Job 38-41. There are 128 verses full of questions (Bullinger counted 40 questions in chapter 38 alone). Some are from the first category, but the majority are searching questions. God’s first question to Job is: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” Oh dear! We must think about this. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?…Who marked off its dimensions?…Who stretched a measuring line across it?” The obvious answer is that God created the heavens and earth and Job was no where to be found in that process. But the reason for using the questions is that they lead to the conclusion that as God is an absolutely unparalleled master when it comes to creating the heavens and earth, so He also is unparalleled in terms of our lives and even has the answers to the “why” of suffering and what to do about it. The questioning leads Job to “repent in dust and ashes” in chapter 40, verse 6. And his conclusion is: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”

3) The third category I call kema questions. This is from the Aramaic word kema, which means “how much more,” or “how many.” The emphasis of this type of rhetorical question is an affirmative answer. The question must always be turned around to the positive.

Luke 11:13: And if you who are evil know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the Holy Spirit tothose who ask him?” The emphasis would be to say, “your heavenly Father will absolutely give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

John 13:14: If therefore I, your Lord and your Master, have washed your feet for you, how much more ought you to wash the feet of one another? We need to affirm in our hearts, “Yes, I will wash my friends’ feet because Jesus was my example!”

All three categories of erotesis are crucial when seeking to understand a passage of Scripture. The adventure is to seek for the proper answer and to find out what God’s answer would be!


There are a large number of different kinds of ellipsis. We use it in ordinary speech every day in greeting one another, saying “Evening!” instead of “Good evening”. An ellipsis can be an omission of any word or phrase in the sentence. The most important point to remember is that the omitted words are what are emphasized. This becomes important in specific passages, because it is often not totally clear what the words are that are to be supplied.

John 8:37: I know that you [are] the seed of Abraham, but you are seeking to kill me, because you do not empty yourselves e[to make room] for my word.

Note that the emphasis is not on “seeking to kill me” but on making room for Jesus’ word. The Pharisees were so full of their own doctrine and teaching, that they had no room for anything different.

The student should seek to find the appropriate words that are missing from the sentence.


 Paranomasia means simply, rhyming words. We would call it word-play. Many of the sayings of Jesus and the parables have this figure of speech. When you know what the rhyming words are in Aramaic, then you can see what is emphasized in the passage. The example used in this article in the parable of the Lost Sheep. The key words are “one” khad and “joy” khedwa. There is joy over the one sinner that repents.

Matt 18:12,13: If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray (wekhad minnehon taey)

And if so be that he find it … he rejoices (khadey) more over that sheep than of the ninety-nine that went not astray (dela taain)

Luke 15:7: Likewise joy (khedwa) shall be in heaven over one sinner (kheda khatya) that repents.

Khatya and tae also rhyme — gone astray and sinner.

The emphasis is that finding ONE sinner that repents causes great JOY!! Truly the Lord is a good shepherd and continues to search out the lost. There is great rejoicing in heaven when one comes back to the fold.

Another paranomasia is in Matthew 6:28,29: Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow (shabhekhin)… even Solomon in all his glory (teshbokhteh) was not arrayed like one of these… Consider the ravens (orebhin)… and God feeds (merabbe) them. And which of you with taking thought (yaseph) can add to (oseph) his stature one cubit.

Mark 11:17:
My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer (beth tzelutha yithqere) But ye have made it a den of thieve (mearta delestin). Prayer is contrasted with thieves.
Luke 12:33:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…where no thief approacheth (qarebh), neither moth (ruqba) corrupteth (marqebh)
Luke 22:36:
For I say unto you, that his that is written must yet be accomplished in me (limesaph bi) …For the things concerning me have an end (diledili supha)…It is enough (sepheq).
Luke 12:32:
Fear not, little flock (maritha)
For it is your Father’s good pleasure (derae abukhon) to give you the kingdom.