Recognize the Christocentric focus of the Bible
The New Testament writers primarily viewed the Old Testament as Christological documents. They understood the Hebrew Scriptures as ultimately pointing to the person of Christ and the redemptive-historical fulfillment that he would bring:
- And He took the twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished.” (Lk. 18:31)
- And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Lk. 24:27)
- Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (Jn. 1:45)
- See Jn. 5:46; Acts 2:30-31; 3:18; 10:43; 17:2-3; 1 Cor. 10:4; 15:3-4; 1 Pet. 1:10-11.
This does not mean that every text of Scripture in the Old Testament speaks directly or explicitly of Christ. But every text of Old Testament Scripture is part of the one story which has its ultimate focus in Jesus. As the late New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce, has written:
In Jesus the promise is confirmed, the covenant is renewed, the prophecies are fulfilled, the law is vindicated, salvation is brought near, sacred history has reached its climax, the perfect sacrifice has been offered and accepted, the great High Priest over the household of God has taken His seat at God’s right hand, the Prophet like Moses has been raised up, the Son of David reigns, the kingdom of God has been inaugurated, the Son of Man has received dominion from the Ancient of Days, the Servant of the Lord, having been smitten to death for His people’s transgression and borne the sin of many, has accomplished the divine purpose, has seen light after the travail of His soul and is now exalted and extolled and made very high.
The Sensus Plenior
The term Sensus Plenior (fuller sense) helps the Bible student understand that Old Testament history has a deeper and more far-reaching meaning. It adds additional insight to historical-grammatical exegesis. Sensus Plenior, by definition, means God’s intended meaning in Scripture. This may or may not have been discerned by the human author. But it is made clear by the subsequent revelation of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. As William LaSor points out, “…the author does not intentionally convey the Sensus Plenior to his hearers. But at a later date, in the light of further revelation, the fuller meaning becomes clear to readers under the influence of the Spirit, who inspired the original author.”
This should not be seen as a denial of the validity of the historical-grammatical method. Neither is it an endorsement of allegorical or mystical exegesis. When guided by proper controls, the principle of Sensus Plenior helps us to see the divine intention. It helps us see the deeper theological purpose behind certain events and persons of biblical history. These are not arbitrary meanings discovered by a creative interpreter. They are not just chosen or determined at random. They are not based solely on personal wishes, feelings, or perceptions. After all, we want objective facts, reasons, and principles to guide us. But the Sensus Plenior offers us insights of New Testament writers who were uniquely granted such insight by the Holy Spirit. As the theologian, Louis Berkhof, has stated:
The real meaning of Scripture does not always lie on the surface. There is no truth in the assertion that the intent of the secondary authors (God being the primary author), determined by the grammatical-historical method, always exhausts the sense of Scripture, and represents in all its fullness the meaning of the Holy Spirit.
For example, King David’s shocking betrayal by a close friend, as recorded in Psalm 41:9 was not a literal prediction or direct messianic prophecy. Nevertheless, Jesus applied this historic experience and lamentation to himself. (Jn. 13:18) Thus, Jesus elevated David’s unfortunate betrayal to a type, which was fulfilled in the betrayal of Christ by Judas. Just as David was betrayed by a close friend, so also the greater David, the true King of Israel, is likewise betrayed. So Jesus unfolded Psalm 41:9 in a deeper, Christological sense.
Hosea 11:1 says “Out of Egypt I called My Son,” which is understood as a reference to the future Messiah. The prophet was not looking forward to the distant future. Rather he was looking to the past when God brought the nation of Israel out of their Egyptian bondage. Yet Matthew 2:15, understands Hosea 11:1 as having its ultimate reference and fulfillment in Jesus. Thus, Matthew, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, sees the deeper significance and Christological sense of Hosea 11:1. He tries to teach us that the meaning of Israel’s history is fully revealed in the life and mission of Jesus Christ.
Take, as another example, the words of Jeremiah, “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children because they are no more.” (Jer. 31:15). In its historical context, this refers to the deportation of the Jews to Babylon where, symbolically, Rachel, as the mother of Israel, is pictured weeping. However, Matthew sees this weeping as “fulfilled” in the wailing of those mothers whose children were slaughtered in Bethlehem by Herod (Mt. 2:17-18). Thus, Matthew understands the words of Jeremiah 31:15 as having ultimate and fuller meaning in the events of Jesus’ early life. According to Hans K. La Rondelle:
Matthew interprets many crucial events in Israel’s history as a foreshadowing of Messianic fulfillments. In the life of Christ, the fuller meaning of Israel’s sacred history is brought to light. In this way, Matthew tries to confirm the Christian faith that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and that God has achieved His goal in His salvation-history with Israel…In summary, the New Testament reveals a multiplex, Christ-centered approach to the Old Testament, which is theologically richer and more comprehensive than the hermeneutic of literalism.
It should be noted that not all scholars accept the notion of Sensus Plenior as valid. Some see such New Testament uses of the Old Testament as merely analogies and parallels. They would argue that the gospel writers were not attempting to draw the fuller meaning from the verses they cited and applied to Jesus. Instead, they were merely showing analogies or similarities between Old and New Testament events. They say that this was a practice which would have been appreciated by Matthew’s Jewish readers. But the New Testament writers brought forth the fuller meaning of certain verses which were divinely intended to have a broader range of meaning.
For instance, the promise spoken to Abraham, “…in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18) This had a much broader significance than at first appears. Later revelation would eventually discover this broader significance, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.’”―Galatians 3:16.
In a passage, concerning the plot to kill Jesus the apostle John records the words of the High Priest Caiaphas:
Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
Here Caiaphas explains the messianic meaning of prophecy concerning Christ. John’s comments concerning the words of Caiaphas should be noted here. According to the apostle, the words of Caiaphas also had a much deeper meaning and significance than at first appeared. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he was able to see the divine intention in Caiaphas’ proposed solution to deal with Jesus.
It is not the modern exegete who employs the Sensus Plenior of Scripture. It is solely the New Testament authors who were divinely guided to see the Holy Spirit’s meaning in specific Old Testament passages. As Robertson McQuilkin states:
Whatever position a person takes on the question of a hidden, secondary meaning in prophetic utterances or a fuller meaning intended from the beginning, Jesus Christ or the inspired writers are the only ones who can designate that secondary or fuller meaning. When Christ spoke, He had every right to interpret the author. The same may be said of those apostles He authorized to reveal God’s will through the New Testament.
The biblical writers were not dispassionate authors who merely transcribed information. Their world was one in which people expressed their thoughts in vivid language. Their emotions were engaged. One of the more common forms of aesthetic expression in Scripture is poetic parallelism. There are different types of poetic parallelism ~ synonymous, antithetical, synthetic, climactic and chiasmic. Poetic parallelism is usually observed in a passage where the second line repeats or contrasts the thoughts of the first line. The purpose of parallelism is to give intensity and force to the subject under discussion. This repetition or contrast makes the reader more aware of the author’s argument or flow of thought, which creates a deeper impression.
Poetry appears in the Psalms, the prophets, and is the form of Proverbs. It should be noted that there can be prophetic elements in the psalms (e.g. Ps. 22 a cameo of the crucifixion and psalm 41:9, cited by Jesus concerning Judas). Poetic parallelism repeats and develops ideas. Poetry reaches the mind through the emotions. Within the structure of parallelism, often, the second line will relate to the first line in some way. The second line may contrast, reinforce, or develop the first line. Very often the King James Version of the Bible better represents poetic parallelism in its style of presentation. For this reason, the quotations used to illustrate poetic parallelism (below) are from the King James Version. Some basic examples are given below.
Synonymous means the same, or almost the same, as another word in the same language.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
2 if you are snared in the words of your mouth,
caught in the words of your mouth,
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
This form of parallelism expresses the complete opposite by contrasting.
7 The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot.
8 The wise of heart will receive commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.
10 Whoever winks the eye causes trouble,
and a babbling fool will come to ruin.
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
In synthetic parallelism, the second or third lines of the unit are not synonymous or antithetical to the first line but advance the thought in a variety of other ways. For example, one of the lines may give a comparison to illuminate the other:
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
Other lines of synthetic parallelism relate by reason or result:
9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints,
for those who fear him have no lack!
Many lines of synthetic parallelism simply advance or complete the thought, for example:
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Climactic parallelism in Hebrew poetry is a repetitive but advancing set of lines. Here is an example:
1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
These types of poetic parallelism (synonymous, antithetical, synthetic and climactic) are literary styles which are straightforward and easily identified.
Chiasmic parallelism is a little more complex than the types of parallelism identified above. Chiasmic means crossing over or intersection. In rhetoric, chiasmus (Greek: χιάζω, chiázō) means to shape like the letter X. It is a figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other. A chiasm (or chiasmus) is a writing style that uses a unique repetition pattern for clarification and emphasis. Often called the chiastic approach or the chiastic structure, this repetition form appears throughout the Bible. Chiasms are structured in a repeating A-B-C / C-B-A pattern. So a chiasm is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then repeated in reverse order. The result is a mirror effect as the ideas are reflected back in a passage.
The structure of a chiasm may be expressed through a series of letters; each letter represents a new idea. For example, the structure ABBA refers to two ideas (A and B) repeated in reverse order (B and A). Often, a chiasm includes another idea in the middle of the repetition: ABXBA. In this structure, the two ideas (A and B) are repeated in reverse order, but a third idea is inserted before the repetition (X). By virtue of its position, the insertion is emphasized.
Some chiasms are quite simple. The common saying “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is chiastic. The words “going” and “tough” are repeated, in reverse order, in the second half of the sentence. The structure is ABBA. Another example of a chiasm, also with the ABBA structure, is Benjamin Franklin’s axiom “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It is a form of rhetoric that has an impact.
Many passages in the Bible exhibit chiastic structure. For example, Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27 are in the form of a chiasm: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Using the ABBA form, the words Sabbath and man are repeated in reverse order. Matthew 23:12 is another example, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” A longer chiasm is found in Joel 3.
17 “So you shall know that I am the Lord your God,
who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain.
And Jerusalem shall be holy,
and strangers shall never again pass through it.
18 “And in that day
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the streambeds of Judah
shall flow with water;
and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord
and water the Valley of Shittim.
19 “Egypt shall become a desolation
and Edom a desolate wilderness,
for the violence done to the people of Judah,
because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
and Jerusalem to all generations.
21 I will avenge their blood,
blood I have not avenged,
for the Lord dwells in Zion.”
This one has seven parts, diagrammed this way: ABCXCBA. The ideas presented in this prophecy follow this arrangement:
A – God dwells in Zion (verse 17a)
B – Jerusalem is holy (verse 17b)
C – Foreign invaders are banished (verse 17c)
X – The blessings of the Kingdom (verse 18)
C – Foreign enemies are destroyed (verse 19)
B – Jerusalem and Judah are preserved (verses 20–21a)
A – God dwells in Zion (verse 21b).
The central emphasis is the blessings of the Kingdom (X)
Here is another example:
A – I will never leave you nor forsake you
B – Be strong and courageous … be strong and very courageous
C – Be careful to obey all the law … that you may be successful
D – Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth
D – Mediate on it day and night
C – Be careful to do everything written in it … you may be prosperous and successful
B – Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged
A – for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
The central emphasis here is
“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth.
Meditate on it day and night.”
Simply put, a chiasm is a repetition of similar ideas in the reverse sequence ~ as in ABC – CBA above. So the chiastic structure is often used to add emphasis. The writers who inscribed their portions of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures could not use the techniques that are available today on computers; such as emboldening, italicization, underlining, indenting, bulleting, or variations of font sizes, to draw the reader’s attention to something. They used literary devices to structure arrangements of thoughts and words to accomplish this emphasis.
Jesus said “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Mt. 6:24) This statement is chiastic and could be represented thus:
A – No one can serve two masters.
B – Either he will hate the one and
C – love the other, or
C – he will be devoted to the one and
B – despise the other.
A – You cannot serve both God and Money
Note how the ideas A and A have similar themes, as do B and B and C and C. Therefore, this chiasm uses three themes:
- serving one of two masters (God or money)
- hating one of the masters
- loving the other master
The theme in the middle portion of this text is called the center point ~ in this case, C and C is that center point. The portion in the center is usually the emphasis of the passage. The center point focuses on loving the right master. Serving God is good and proper. But love and devotion to him should be the emphasis or driving force. Some people serve the Lord but never love Him. The application is apparent ~ when we love God, serving him is a natural response. Therefore, this chiasm reveals that the emphasis is on loving God. The choice to serve him should be the outcome of that love. Seeing the chiasmic structure is the first step in understanding the intended emphasis.
The Bible is filled with figurative language. Its presence should cause the reader / interpreter to be even more careful in his treatment of the Bible. Care must be taken not to interpret literally that which was intended to be understood in a non-literal sense. Figurative language is also known as “trope.” Trope is a word, phrase, expression, or image that is used in a figurative way, usually for rhetorical effect. Rhetoric is an eloquent way of speaking, relating to the skill of using language effectively and persuasively. Figurative language, of course, is not merely limited to the biblical writers. It has been universally discovered in every language and culture throughout human history. Figurative language provides depth, richness, and imagery in conversations. It enhances communication. In 1937, W. MacNeile Dixon (distinguished professor of English literature at the University of Glasgow) wrote:
If I were asked what has been the most powerful force in the making of history…I should have answered…figurative expression. It is by imagination that men have lived; imagination rules all our lives. The human mind is not, as philosophers would have you think, a debating hall, but a picture gallery…Remove the metaphors [i.e., figurative expressions] from the Bible and its living spirit vanishes…The prophets, the poets, the leaders of men are all of them masters of imagery, and by imagery they capture the human soul.
Figurative language is common. Note the following examples from both modern usage and ancient biblical usage:
- “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
- “That argument doesn’t hold any water.”
- “He was so angry that he started to boil.”
- “I was tickled to death.”
- “When I heard the joke, I started to crack up.”
- “Now, that’s a heavy thought!”
- “Behold, the Lamb of God…” (Jn. 1:29)
- “Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.” (Isa. 1:5-6)
- I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. (Ps. 6:6)
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (Jn. 6:53-55)
This has been interpreted in a literal way and distorts the truth. Jesus also said he was the door, but that is always understood as figurative language. When Jesus said, “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Mt. 23:24) he was, of course, speaking figuratively.
Figures of speech add color or vividness to language and make abstract or intellectual ideas more concrete. Figurative language aids retention inasmuch as it makes indelible impressions on memory. Figures of speech abbreviate or condense an idea, and they can also encourage deeper reflection upon what is said. There are some basic types of figurative language used in literature, including the Bible. I list below some more figures of speech. These are not irrelevant in the interpretation of Scripture ~ in fact they can make a critical difference between interpretation and misinterpretation.
A simile is a comparison in which one thing is compared with another, usually with the expression “like” or “as.” Terry defines it like this, “When a formal comparison is made between two different objects, so as to impress the mind with some resemblance or likeness, the figure is called a simile.” Here are some examples from Scripture:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”―Isaiah 55:9-11.
“Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”―Jeremiah 23:29
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”―Matthew 7:24-27.
And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.’―Mark 1:10.
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls.”―1 Peter 1:24.
A metaphor is a comparison in which one thing acts like or represents another, although the two are basically unalike.
“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold.”―Jeremiah 50:6.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”―Matthew 5:13-14.
“I am the bread of life.”―John 6:48.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”―John 10:7, 9.
Metonymy is the substituting of one word for another. For example, when we refer to a decision being made by the White House, we actually mean the president of the United States. We have simply substituted the residence of the president for the president himself.
“And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”―Mark 3:25.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.―Hebrews 13:4.
Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration for the sake of effect. In hyperbole more is said than is literally meant. The purpose is to add emphasis or force.
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him.―Matthew 3:5.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.”―Psalm 22:14.
Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”―Deuteronomy 1:28.
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions.―2 Samuel 1:23.
“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.”―Psalm 6:6.
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”―Matthew 5:29-30.
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”―Matthew 19:24.
“You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”―Matthew 23:24.
Irony is a kind of ridicule expressed indirectly in the form of a compliment. Irony is often conveyed by the speaker’s tone of voice (as in sarcasm) so that the hearers know immediately that irony is intended. Like sarcasm, it can be a remark that means the opposite of what it seems to say and is intended to mock or deride.
And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”―2 Samuel 6:20.
And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”―1 Kings 18:27.
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”―Mark 7:9.
According to Grant R. Osborne:
Irony is an important rhetorical device that consists of stating one thing while meaning the direct opposite. It is frequently employed in polemical contexts and is accompanied by sarcasm or ridicule, as in Michal’s retort to David, ‘How the King of Israel has distinguished himself today’ (2 Samuel 6:20), with open contempt for his dancing before the ark…In such cases irony becomes biting sarcasm.
This is the ascribing of human characteristics to inanimate objects. It could also be ascribing human actions or ideas to animals. For example, Proverbs 8 personifies wisdom.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus.―Isaiah 35:1.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.―Isaiah 55:12.
Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy…―Psalm 98:8.
It is giving human characteristics to something that is not human such as God or animals.
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.―Psalm 34:15-16.
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.―2 Chronicles 16:9.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.―Psalm 8:3.
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily!―Psalm 31:2.
This is the ascribing of human emotions to God.
And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.―Genesis 6:6.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrat.―Zechariah 8:2.
Both anthropomorphism and anthropopathism are critical in addressing the question, “does God change his mind.”
|See Appendix 1: Does God Change His Mind?|
Apostrophe is addressing something absent as if it were present.
- Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.―James 5:1.
- Death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?―1 Corinthians 15:55.
Synecdoche (συνεκδοχή) is using part of something to represent the whole or the whole for the part. Synecdoche is a figure of speech used every day in English. For, example, describing a complete vehicle as “wheels” or referring to people by a particular body part, such as “head count” or “all hands on deck!” Many people say Holland, a region of the Netherlands, to refer to the entire country. There is a tendency to use a generic trademark, for example, “Coke” for any variety of cola or “Hoover” for vacuum cleaner. Some people would say “ivories” for a piano, as in, “The maestro sure knows how to tickle the ivories.” One might say “he drank the cup,” to refer to his drinking of the cup’s contents. It is important that we become familiar with the figures of speech in Scripture.
Synecdoche is similar to Metonymy. In Metonymy, the exchange is made between two related nouns ~ the name of a person, place or thing (such as “Whitehouse” for “president”). In Synecdoche, the exchange is made between two associated ideas.
There are many examples in the Bible, such as, “…And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.” (Jer. 26:9b). Not “everyone” did, as is clear from the context, but a large number did. Referring to John the Baptist Matthew says, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him.” (Mt. 3:5).
Not “all” the people were going, but a large number were. Synecdoche gives us a feel for the large numbers of people that responded to John the Baptist. Another example is, “So Hazael went to meet him [Elisha], and took a present with him, all kinds of goods of Damascus, forty camel loads…” (2 Kings 8:9a). The Hebrew text reads that Hazael took “every good thing of Damascus” to Elisha. This, of course, is impossible. This is a Synecdoche, the whole for a part. The phrase “Hazael took every kind of good thing” is interesting. It is an example of the English versions (such as the ESV) interpreting rather than translating. That does not give the English reader the chance to see the Synecdoche.
The King James Version (KJV) of James 2:15a says, “If a brother or sister be naked…” but the English Standard Version (ESV) says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed” ~ “naked” is Synecdoche for “poorly clothed.” This is a common Synecdoche in the Bible.
Again, the KJV says, “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.” (Jn. 21:7). But would he have worked that way? Unlikely, especially since fishing boats on the Sea of Tiberias could easily be seen from shore. The ESV says, “he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.” In the Greek this verse reads:
λέγει οὖν ὁ μαθητὴς ἐκεῖνος ὃν ἠγάπα ὁ Ἰησοῦς τῷ Πέτρῳ· Ὁ κύριός ἐστιν. Σίμων οὖν Πέτρος, ἀκούσας ὅτι ὁ κύριός ἐστιν, τὸν ἐπενδύτην διεζώσατο, ἦν γὰρ γυμνός, καὶ ἔβαλεν ἑαυτὸν εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν·
Putting on a coat is a peculiar way to prepare for a swim, especially in hasty preparation. Working in the nude also seems to defy Jewish sensibilities. Scholarship (BDAG ~ the common abbreviation Bauer and Danker) is clear that γυμνός does not necessarily mean completely naked (and this is variously reflected in more recent translations). It pertains to being inadequately clothed…without an outer garment, without which a decent person did not appear in public. It makes sense that Peter might be working in his undergarments and feel inadequately clothed to meet the Lord. However, swimming in a coat just seems like a bad idea. The New English Translation (NET) of the Bible has an interesting take on it, quoting the footnote 2 on v. 7:
The Greek verb used (διαζώννυμι, diazwnnumi) does not necessarily mean putting clothing on, but rather tying the clothing around oneself (the same verb is used in 13:4-5 of Jesus tying the towel around himself). The statement that Peter was “naked” could just as well mean that he was naked underneath the outer garment, and thus could not take it off before jumping into the water. But he did pause to tuck it up and tie it with the girdle before jumping in, to allow himself more freedom of movement. Thus the clause that states Peter was naked is explanatory (note the use of for), explaining why Peter girded up his outer garment rather than taking it off – he had nothing on underneath it and so could not remove it.
The psalmist says, “For I will not trust in my bow…” (Ps. 44:6a) – “bow” is Synecdoche for all weapons. The point is that David will not trust his weapons, he will trust his God. If the verse had said “I will not trust in my human resources” we are left with no clear picture in our minds. By saying “bow,” we can picture David holding a bow but not trusting it to deliver him. The language is vivid.
Genesis says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:19a) – “bread” speaks of all kinds of food. Bread is used as the general term for food many times in the Bible. The phrase “break bread” means to eat a meal. The Lord’s Prayer says “Give us this day our daily bread,” which refers to food in a general sense. The apostle Paul wrote, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” (Eph. 6:12a) In this case, “flesh and blood” means “people.” The verse could have been written in a simple literal way, using “people” instead of “flesh and blood” but the use of the synecdoche more powerfully contrasts people with demons, who are not flesh and blood.
Interpretation of Parables
What exactly is a parable? A parable uses comparisons, often in the form of a story. The stories help us remember the point that is being made. This is particularly so in an oral culture, but still relevant in a culture where the written word is more common. They also serve to hide the truths being taught from those who are not seriously seeking and who have hardened their hearts.―Matthew 13:10-15.
Parables convict those who know the truth but who are not living according to that truth ~ this is evident in Nathan’s confrontation of King David’s adultery. The function of parables is to bring forth a response from the hearer. In interpreting parables, identify the audience and you will gain insight into the point(s) being made. According to Zuck:
A parable is a form of figurative language involving comparisons. But rather than using a single word or phrase to make the comparison or analogy, as in a simile, metaphor, or hypocatastasis, a parable is an extended analogy in story form. A parable is a true-to-life story to illustrate or illumine a truth. It is true to life though it may not have actually occurred in all the details as the story is presented. Historic events may serve as illustrations; but parables are special stories, not necessarily historic events, that are told to teach a particular truth. Since parables are true to life, they differ from allegories and fables…The word ‘parable’ comes from the Greek para (‘beside or alongside’) and ballein (‘to throw’). Thus the story is thrown alongside the truth to illustrate the truth.”
Jesus spoke in parables in order to reveal spiritual truth to his disciples and to conceal it from those whose hearts were hardened to the message of the kingdom. Jesus explained the purpose of the parables thus:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them, it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.―Matthew 13:10-17.
Not all the parables were explained. But Jesus explained the Parable of the Sower:
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”―Matthew 13:18-23.
Parables helped to illustrate truth as well as spark interest. People relate to a good story. By using parables Jesus was able to capture and sustain the interest of the crowds. In an oral culture (primarily) stories are easy to listen to and easier to remember than a didactic monologue. Parables encouraged listeners to think deeply about what Jesus said. Terry notes:
The general design of parables, as of all other kinds of figurative language, is to embellish and set forth ideas and moral truths in attractive and impressive forms. Many a moral lesson, if spoken in naked, literal style, is soon forgotten; but, clothed in parabolic dress, it arouses attention, and fastens itself in the memory. Many rebukes and pungent warnings may be couched in a parable, and thereby give less offence, and yet work better effects than open plainness of speech could do. Nathan’s parable (in 2 Samuel 12:1-4) prepared the heart of David to receive with profit the keen reproof he was about to administer…It is easy, also, to see that a parable may enshrine a profound truth or mystery which the hearers may not at first apprehend, but which, because of its striking or memorable form, abides more firmly in the mind, and so abiding, yields at length its deep and precious meaning.
Parables use figurative language to make truths more attractive and memorable. Moral lessons in didactic style are soon forgotten. Parables can contain stern rebukes and dire warnings. In parable form, they are less offensive. Yet they are more effective than plain speech. Consider the following parable about Nathan rebuking David:
And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”―2 Samuel 12:1-7.
Nathan’s parable (vs.1-4) prepared the heart of David to receive the rebuke.
A parable may contain a profound truth which the hearers may not immediately understand. Parables linger in the mind. They eventually yield their deep and precious meaning.
Classification of Parables
Jesus told many parables, which may generally be classified as follows:
Seed parables ~ e.g., the Sower (Mt. 13:3-8); the Weeds (Mt. 13:24-30); the Mustard Seed (Mt. 13:31-32).
Nature parables ~ e.g. the Fishing Net (Mt. 13:47-50); the Barren Fig Tree (Lk. 13:6-9); the Lost Sheep (Lk. 15:4-7).
Servant parables ~ e.g., the Two Servants (Mt. 24:45-51); the Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18:23-35); the Shrewd Manager (Lk. 16:1-9); the Servant’s Reward (Lk. 17:7-10).
Father parables ~ e.g., the Two Sons (Mt. 21:28-32); the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32).
King parables ~ e.g., the Wedding Banquet (Mt. 22:1-14); the King’s Rash War (Lk. 14:31-33).
Money or treasure parables ~ e.g., the Hidden Treasure (Mt. 13:44); the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30); the Shrewd Manager (Lk. 16:1-9); the Lost Coin (Lk. 15:8-10).
Harvest parables ~ e.g., the Wicked Vinegrowers (Mt 21:33-46); the Seed Growing Secretly (Mk. 4:26-29).
Women parables ~ e.g., the Ten Virgins (Mt. 25:1-13); The Persistent Widow (Lk. 18:1-8).
Social or domestic parables ~ e.g., the Great Banquet (Lk. 14:15-24); the Doorkeeper (Mt. 13:34-37); the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37).
Compassion parables ~ e.g., the Lost Sheep (Lk. 15:4-7); the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32); the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37).
Kingdom parables ~ e.g., the Mustard Seed (Mt. 13:31-32); the Pearl of Great Price (Mt. 13:45-46); the Net (Mt. 13:47-52); the Wedding Banquet (Mt. 22:1-14).
Judgment parables ~ e.g., the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31); the Wicked Vinegrowers or Farmers (Mt. 21:33-41).
How Should We Approach Parables and their Interpretation?
First, recognize the Christological nature of Jesus’ parables. When Jesus employed parables, he was not merely attempting to illustrate a moral truth. Many rabbis did this during the first century. Jesus was illustrating some spiritual truth about himself. We must ask ourselves: how does this parable relate to Christ? This is what makes Jesus unique from others. His parables portrayed spiritual and heavenly realities. However, many of them also pointed directly to his person.
Second, another important principle is the kingdom principle. One of the major themes that Jesus frequently addressed was the kingdom of God. He talked about its nature, inhabitants, nearness, and its consummation. By “consummation” we mean bringing the kingdom to a final and satisfying completion. We must also ask ourselves, what does it say about the kingdom of God? What is the central lesson in the kingdom narrative?
Third, determine the one central truth which the parable is attempting to teach. According to C. H. Dodd, “The typical parable presents one single point of comparison. The details are not intended to have independent significance.” Do not try to hunt for distinct meanings in every detail within a parable. To do so would turn the story into an allegory ~ in an allegory the characters and events are understood as representing other things. As such they are symbolic and express a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning. So a parable is not an allegory! One well-known example of violating this principle is Augustine’s allegorizing of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Here is the parable from the Gospel of Luke:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”―Luke. 10:25-37).
Here is Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of that parable:
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho; Adam himself is meant; Jerusalem is the heavenly city of peace, from whose blessedness Adam fell; Jericho means the moon, and signifies our mortality, because it is born, waxes, wanes, and dies. Thieves are the devil and his angels. Who stripped him, namely; of his immortality; and beat him, by persuading him to sin; and left him half-dead, because in so far as man can understand and know God, he lives, but in so far as he is wasted and oppressed by sin, he is dead; he is therefore called half-dead. The priest and the Levite, who saw him and passed by, signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament which could profit nothing for salvation. Samaritan means Guardian, and therefore the Lord Himself is signified by this name. The binding of the wounds is the restraint of sin. Oil is the comfort of good hope; wine the exhortation to work with fervent spirit. The beast is the flesh in which He deigned to come to us. The being set upon the beast is belief in the incarnation of Christ. The inn is the Church, where travelers returning to their heavenly country are refreshed after pilgrimage. The morrow is after the resurrection of the Lord. The two pence are either the two precepts of love, or the promise of this life and of that which is to come. The innkeeper is the Apostle (Paul). The supererogatory payment is either his counsel of celibacy, or the fact that he worked with his own hands lest he should be a burden to any of the weaker brethren when the Gospel was new, though it was lawful for him “to live by the gospel.”
This kind of absurd interpretation is to be avoided. There has been, historically, a tendency for preachers to spiritualize what was intended to radicalize social structures, thus avoiding the true spiritual implications of the text.
Fourth, determine how much of the parable is actually interpreted by Jesus himself. For instance, the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3-8 is interpreted in verses 18-23.
Fifth, concerning the parable’s meaning, we should look for clues within the immediate and surrounding context. In some instances, the meaning will become obvious by simply examining the context. There we might find what prompted the parable in the first place.
Sixth, compare the parable with any possible Old Testament association. Both Jesus and his listeners were familiar with much of the Old Testament. So, be alert to any possible Old Testament references in the parables ~ that is, references to such things as vineyards, fig trees, harvests, and feasts.
Seventh, it is wise not to build entire doctrinal systems from parables. Certainly, parables contain doctrine, but careful interpretation is necessary. Any doctrine which is gleaned from a parable ought to accord with the rest of the New Testament. If proper cautions are followed, parables may be used to illustrate doctrine and to teach practical lessons.
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What are angels & demons? Can angels help us? What does the Bible say about angels? What is the truth about angels? Can Angels affect your life? Who were the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:2? Who were the Nephilim in Genesis 6:2? Who is Michael the archangel? Can Satan the Devil control …
What is the Bible’s viewpoint? Without delving into an endless stream of what man has said, Andrews looks at what the Bible says about death and the like. Why do we grow old and die? What happens at death? Is there life after death, or is this all there is? Do we have an immortal soul? …
Herein Andrews will give the reader exactly what the Bible offers on exposing who the Antichrist and the Man of Lawlessness are. If we look at the texts that refer to the antichrist and the man of lawlessness, we will have lines of evidence that will enable us to identify them. Why is it …
Throughout the Scriptures, God is identified as the Creator. He is the One “who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it.” [Isa 45:18] He is the One “who forms mountains and creates the wind” (Am 4:13) and is the One “who made the heaven and …
The information herein is based on the disciples coming to Jesus privately, saying, “Tell us, (1) when will these things be, and (2) what will be the sign of your coming, and (3) of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) What will end? When will the end come? What comes after the end? Who …
What Really Is Hell? What Kind of Place is Hell? What Really Happens at Death? What Did Jesus Teach About Hell? How Does Learning the Truth About Hell Affect You? Who Goes to Hell? What Is Hell? Is It a Place of Eternal Torment? Does God Punish People in Hellfire? Do the Wicked Suffer in …
Miracles were certainly a part of certain periods in Bible times. What about today? Are miracles still taking place. There are some very important subjects that surround this area of discussion that are often misunderstood. Andrews will answer such questions as does God step in and solve …
Today there are many questions about homosexuality as it relates to the Bible and Christians. What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Does genetics, environment, or traumatic life experiences justify homosexuality? What is God’s will for people with same-sex attractions? Does the …
…desert but none of such significance as a handful of scrolls retrieved from a buried Roman satchel (presumed stolen) at this site. The discovery has since come to be known as ‘The Diary of Judas Iscariot.’ In The Diary of JudasIscariot Owen Batstone relates the observations and feelings …
Kevin Trill struggles with the notion that he may have missed the Rapture. With nothing but the clothes on his back and a solid gold pocket watch, he sets off towards Garbor, a safe haven for those who haven’t yet taken the mark of thebeast. While on his way to Garbor, he meets up …
There grew an element in the valley that did not want to be ruled by the Light of the Word. Over time, they convinced the people to reject it. As they started to reject this Light, the valley grew dim and the fog rolled in. The people craved the darkness rather than the Light because they were evil. They did not want to …
When an ancestor saddles them with the responsibility to purge Australia of a demon threatening to wipe our humanity with black flames, fraternal siblings Amber and Michael Hauksby lay their lives on the line. As the world crumbles around them into chaos, and ancient marsupials wreak havoc in their hometown, they must journey into …
“Write Place, Right Time” follows the pre-apocalyptic misadventures of freelance journalist Don Lamplighter. While on what he expects to be a routine Monday night trip to a village board meeting, Lamplighter’s good nature compels him to help a stranded vehicle. Little does he know that by saving one of the car’s occupants, he sets forth a chain of what to him seem to be unrelated events where he must use his physical and social skills to save himself and others from precarious situations.
 F. F. Bruce, New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes, (Wipf & Stock, 2004), 21.
 William LaSor, “Interpretation of Prophecy,” Hermeneutics, Bernard Ramm, (Baker, 1971), 108.
 Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1950), 59-60.
 Hans K. La Rondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy: Principles of Prophetic Interpretation (Andrews University Press, 1983), 74, 77.
 Robertson McQuilkin, Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, Rev. edition 1992), 46.
 Not all chiasms have a center point of emphasis; for example, many of the A-B-B-A chiasms in Proverbs do not reveal their importance in this manner.
 Cited in Roy Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation (David C. Cook, 1991), 143.
 Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: a Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1974), 254.
 Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (IVP Academic; Revised and Expanded edition, 2007), 107.
 Notice the gospel formula where the author does not mention himself directly. The same is true of Mark concerning the disciple that fled naked. That is why we assume it was Mark himself.
 Walter Bauer (Author), Frederick William Danker (Editor) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (3rd edition, University of Chicago Press, 2001).
 Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, (David C. Cook, 1991), 194.
 Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: a Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1974), 277-8.
 There may be some overlap with categories.
 C. H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom, (Charles Scribner’s Sons; Revised edition, 1961), 18.
 The difference between a priest and a Levite in this parable is that all priests were Levites but not all Levites were priests.
 Augustine, Quaestiones Evangeliorum, II, 19 –slightly abridged as cited in C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (New York: Scribners, 1961), 1-2.