“This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.” – Jn. 10:6

“‘These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.’ … His disciples said, ‘Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech.’” – Jn. 16:25, 29


ALLEGORY – is a description of a subject under the guise of some other subject of aptly suggestive resemblance. A figurative sentence or narrative in which properties and circumstances attributed to the apparent subject really refer to the subject they are meant to suggest; an extended or continued metaphor.1 A narrative of which the true meaning is to be got by translating its persons and events into others that they are understood to symbolize.2 A literary, dramatic, or pictorial device in which characters and events stand for abstract ideas, principles, or forces, so that the literal sense has or suggests a parallel, deeper, symbolic sense. A symbolic representation (e.g., as in Pilgrim’s Progress and Moby Dick).3 A moral or spiritual truth is told in terms of a narrative or segment of history.5  (for example, Gal 4:22-26; Jn. 10:1-8, 12, 16)

ANTANACLASIS – is a figure of speech where a word is repeated in the same sentence or near sentence, but having a different meaning in the places it’s used.6  (for example, Rom. 5:15, 17-19)

ANTHROPOMORPHISM – is the attribution/giving of human form or character; ascription of a human form and attribution or giving it to the Deity; ascription of a human attribute or personality to anything impersonal or irrational.1 Attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.3  (for example, Matt. 5:34-35; 18:10)

ANTONOMASIA – is the substitution of an epithet (a characterizing word or phrase), appellative (title), or the name of an office or dignity for a person’s proper name (e.g., “the Iron Duke” for the Duke of Wellington; “his Grace” for an archbishop). Also conversely, the use of a proper name to express a general idea (e.g., calling an orator “a Cicero,” a wise judge “a Daniel”)1. The substitution of an epithet or descriptive phrase for a proper name (e.g., “the Iron Lady” for Mrs. Margaret Thatcher), or the use of a proper name to express a general idea (e.g., “a Solomon” for a wise man).2  (for example, Matt 24:15; Jn. 1:29)

APOSTROPHE – is an exclamatory passage in which a speaker pointedly addresses some person or thing, either present or absent.2 The direct address to an absent or imaginary person or to a personified abstraction.3 A direct address to an impersonal object.5  (for example, Jer. 47:6; Matt. 21:19)

BRACHYLOGY – is a condensed expression.1 A shortened or condensed and grammatically incomplete expression to reduce time and effect (e.g., “Morning!” for “Good Morning!”).2  (for example, Matt 7:14; Jn. 9:21)

DREAM – is to behold or imagine in sleep.1 A series of images, ideas, messages, emotions, and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during sleep.3  (for example, Job 33:15; Dan. 2:1)

ELLIPSIS – is the omission of one or more words in a sentence, which would be needed to complete the grammatical construction or fully express the sense.1 (e.g., “Told you so.” “Want some?”)2 The condensation of the meaning of a sentence by the omission of elements supplied by the reader usually gathered by the context.5  (for example, Matt. 14:4; Acts 3:19)

EUPHEMISM – is the substitution of a word or expression of comparatively favorable implication or less unpleasant associations, instead of the harsher or more offensive one that would more precisely designate what is intended.1 A mild, soft, or vague expression substituted for one judged to be harsh, direct, or shocking (e.g., “to pass away” for “to die”).5  (for example, Acts 9:23; Jn. 10:15)

HETEROSIS – is a figure of speech where an exchange is made, usually for the purpose of emphasis. The exchange may be in the form of verb forms (e.g., intransitive for transitive), verb voices (e.g., active for passive), mood (e.g., indicative for subjunctive), tense (e.g., past for future), person (e.g., first for third person), adjective degree (e.g., superlative for comparative), noun or pronoun number (e.g., singular for plural), or gender (e.g., masculine for feminine).6  (for example, Rom. 8:30, “glorified” – the past tense for the future; Matt 26:65, “robes” – plural for singular)

HYPERBOLE – is a figure of speech consisting in an exaggerated or extravagant statement, used to express strong feeling or produce a strong impression, and not intended to be understood literally.1 (e.g., “a thousand apologies”).2 Exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect5 (e.g., “I could sleep for a year” or “the book weighs a ton”).3  (for example, Matt. 5:29; Jn. 12:19)

IDIOM – is a form of speech peculiar or proper to a people or country, own language, or tongue. A peculiarity of phraseology approved by the usage of a language, and often having a signification other than its grammatical or logical one.1 (e.g., “once in a blue moon”).2 An expression of a given language that is peculiar itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements (e.g., “keep tabs on him”).3  (for example, Matt. 16:23; 26:25)

IRONY – is a figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used; usually taking the form of sarcasm or ridicule in which the laudatory/praising expressions are used to imply condemnation or contempt.1 An expression marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning, often opposite to its literal meaning.3 A method of criticizing or judging by seeming to praise or congratulate.5  (for example, Matt 23:32; Jn. 7:28)

LITOTES – is a figure of speech, in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary (e.g., “no small storm”, meaning “big storm”).(e.g., “that is not easy to escape from”, meaning “that’s impossible to escape from”)2 An understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite (e.g., “This is no small problem”, meaning “a big problem”).3  (e.g., “the loss was no laughing matter”, meaning “it was very sad”).4  (for example, Acts 20:29; Jn. 6:35)

MEIOSIS – is a figure of speech by which the impression is intentionally conveyed that a thing is less in size, importance, etc. than it really is.1 A rhetorical device used in which circumstances, a predicament, or any event is intentionally understated (e.g., “a mortal wound/hurt”, and calling it “a scratch”).2  (e.g., “you have a small problem; your employer is bankrupt”, meaning “a big problem”).4  (for example, Matt 18:22; Eph. 3:8)

MERISM – is a figure of speech which includes opposite extremes to include the whole spectrum (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, “Old Testament” by J. Walvoord and R. Zuck, p. 1054).  (for example, Matt 8:11; Psa. 139:8)

METAPHOR – is the figure of speech in which a name or descriptive term is transferred to some object different from, but analogous to or like, that to which it is properly applicable.1 (e.g., in this “neck” of the woods, meaning “this part”; the “mouth” of the river, meaning the “opening”).2 A word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison (e.g., a “sea” of troubles, meaning “a lot of”)3, without the use of the words “like” or “as.”5  (for example, Matt 3:7, 4:19)

METONYMY – is a figure of speech which consists in substituting for the name of a thing, the name of an attribute of it, or of something closely related.1 (e.g., “the White House” for the American presidency; “the stage” for the theatre; “the pen” for the written word; “the sword” for war).2 One word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated (e.g., “Washington” for the US. Government).3 The use of the name of one thing in place of the name of something that it symbolizes (e.g., “crown” for “king”).4  (for example, Matt 27:24; 28:14)

OXYMORON – is a rhetorical figure by which contradictory or incongruous terms are conjoined so as to give point/attention to the statement or expression.1 (e.g., a cheerful pessimist; harmonious discord).2  (e.g., a deafening silence; a mournful optimist).3 Apparently contradictory terms are combined to produce a witty, often paradoxical remark (e.g., cruel only to be kind).4  (for example, Prov. 12:10; 2 Cor. 12:10)

PARABLE – is a fictitious narrative or allegory (usually something that might naturally occur), by which moral or spiritual relations are typically figured or set forth.1 A narrative of imagined events used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.2 A single story illustrating a moral or religious lesson.3 A sort of metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life.5  (for example, Matt. 13:3-8; 15:26-27)

PARADOX – is a statement or proposition which on the face of it seems self-contradictory, absurd, or at variance with common sense, though, on investigation or when explained, it may prove to be well-founded (or true).1 A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true (e.g., “standing is more tiring than walking”).3 The assertion of two propositions as true which seem to be contradictory but may, in fact, not be.  (for example, Matt. 8:22; 19:30)

PARONOMASIA – is a play on words which sound alike; a pun.”1,3 (e.g., “Petros” and “petra” sound similar. In Greek, “petros” for Peter, and “petra” for rock in Matt. 16:18).2  (for example, Matt. 21:41)

PERSONIFICATION – is the representation of a thing or abstraction as a person, especially as a rhetorical figure.1 (e.g., “Great Britain is renowned for her stiff upper lip”; “that yacht, she rides the water beautifully”).2 A figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form (e.g., “hunger sat shivering” or “flowers danced”).3  (for example, Matt. 11:19; 6:3)

PLEONASM – is a figure of speech where more words are used than the grammar requires. It is used for the purpose of marking the emphasis; for intensifying the feeling; or for enhancing in some way what has already been said (e.g., “the man he said”).6  (for example, Psalm 113:1; Rom. 10:13)

PROVERB – is a short pithy (significant/important) saying in common and recognized use; a concise sentence, often metaphorical or alliterative in form, which is held to express some truth ascertained by experience or observation and familiar to all.1,3  (for example, Matt. 26:52; Jn. 4:44)

SIMILE – is a comparison of one thing with another.1 A figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another of a different kind, as an illustration, and are normally introduced by “as” or “like.”2 Two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by “like” or “as.”3,5  (for example, Matt. 3:16; 10:16)

SYMBOLISM – is the practice of representing things by symbols, or of giving a symbolic character to objects or acts.1,3  A timeless figurative representation (e.g., a lion as a symbol of strength or of voracious hunger); it can represent a thing either past, present, or future; it has in itself no reference to time (which makes it different from TYPES, which always symbolize future things).  (Examples of symbols:  ferocious beasts in the book of Daniel or Revelation represent wicked political leaders or nations; the lamb is a symbol of sacrifice, Jn. 1:29). Symbols can represent different things in different contexts (e.g., water:  for the Holy Spirit in Jn. 7:38-39;  for God’s Word in Eph. 5:26;  for physical birth in Jn. 3:5).5  (for example, Jn. 7:38-39; Matt. 16:19)

SYNECDOCHE – is a figure of speech by which a more comprehensive or inclusive term is used for a less comprehensive or inclusive term or vice versa; as whole for part or part for whole, genus for species or species for genus, etc.1 (e.g., “England beat South Africa,” meaning that the team from England beat the team from S. Africa).2 A part is used for a whole (e.g., as “hand” for “sailor”), the whole for a part (e.g., as “the law” for “police officer”), the specific for the general (e.g., as “cut throat” for “assassin”), the general for the specific (e.g., as “thief” for “pickpocket”), or the material for the thing from which it is made (e.g., as “steel” for “sword”).3 A part for a whole (e.g., “per head” as “per person”).4  (for example, Matt. 7:12; Jn. 9:18)

SYNOPSIS – is a brief or condensed statement presenting a combined or general view of something.1 A summary.3  (for example, Matt 9:18 for Mk. 5:22-23, 35 or Lk. 8:41, 49); (another example, Jn. 20:1-2; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:4-10)

THEOPHANY – is a manifestation or appearance of God or a god to men.1,3  (for example, Judges 6:11-16; Gen. 18:1-2, 22, 33; 19:1)

TROPE – is a figure of speech which consists in the use of a word or phrase in a sense other than that which is proper to it; a figure of speech.1 The figurative use of a word or an expression.3

TYPE – is a person, thing, or event regarded as symbolic, especially (in the Bible) one prefiguring the antitype (the reality) that was to follow.4 Prophetic symbols; a prefiguring of something future from itself, the preordained representative relation which certain persons, events, and institutions of the Old Testament bear to corresponding persons, events, and institutions in the New Testament; persons and things in the New Testament are symbolized or prefigured by persons and things in the Old Testament. For example: persons (Adam is a type of Christ – the head of a race, Rom. 5:14; Abraham is a type of believer/Christian – justified by faith, Rom. 4); institutions: (the sacrifices are a type of the cross – for sin, Eph 5:2; creation and the Promised Land for salvation rest, Heb. 4); offices: (Moses, the prophet, is a type of Christ, the prophet, Acts 3:20-23; Melchizedek, a priest of God, is a type of Christ, a high priest, Heb. 5:6-10); events and actions: (lifting up of the bronze serpent is a type of Christ being lifted up on the crucifix, Jn. 3:14-15); things: (the Tabernacle is a type of Christ’s incarnation – God’s presence among His people, Jn. 1:1, 14; the rock Moses struck is a type of Christ – only to be struck/crucified once; Num. 20:8, 11; 1 Cor. 10:4).5  (for example, Jn. 3:14)

VISION – is something which is apparently seen otherwise than by ordinary sight; especially an appearance of a prophet or mystical character, or having the nature of a revelation, supernaturally presented to the mind. The act or fact of seeing or contemplating something not actually present to the eye.1 The mystical experience of seeing, as if with the eyes, the supernatural or a supernatural being.3 It occurs while awake.  (for example, Matt 17:1-9; Acts 10:10-17)

ZEUGMA – is a figure by which a single word is made to refer to two or more words in the sentence; especially when properly applying in sense to only one of them, or applying to them in different senses.1,2  (e.g., “he took my advice and my wallet”)3  (e.g., “he took his time and the floor”).4  (for example, Lk. 24:27; Acts 6:5; Lam. 3:41)


1  The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, by J. Simpson and E. Weimer, 1989.

2  The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, third edition, by R. Burchfield, 1996.

3  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, third edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992.

4  New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus of the English Language, Lexicon Pub., 1993.

5  Protestant Biblical Interpretation, by B. Ramm, 1956, pp. 142, 208-213, 254.

6  Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, by E.W. Bullinger, 1999.


Let us know what you think.