Hyperbole in the Bible (Part 1)


In the previous Q & A we discussed the question “Doesn’t Psalm 139:8 show that we either go to heaven or hell at death?” and showed that this was hyperbole.   Wordnik defines this as “A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in I could sleep for a year or This book weighs a ton.  In rhetoric, an obvious exaggeration; an extravagant statement or assertion not intended to be understood literally.”

We read on the pediaa.com website the following:

“Main Difference – Exaggeration vs Hyperbole

“Both exaggeration and hyperbole are representations of something in an excessive manner. Exaggeration is presenting something as better or worse than it really is whereas hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a literary or rhetorical device. This is the main difference between exaggeration and hyperbole.

“What is Exaggeration?

“Exaggeration makes something worse, or better than it really is. It is the representation of something in an excessive manner. We all use exaggerations in our daily life. For example, if someone says, “I’ve heard it [a]million times”, he means that he has heard it many times. Therefore, he is using exaggeration. In such situations, we take the figurative meaning of the phrase, not the literal meaning. Given below are some common examples of exaggeration that are used in daily life.

“I’ve told you [a]million times to clean your rooms.

“He is slower than a snail.

“She is [a] thousand years old.

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.

“What is Hyperbole?

“Hyperbole is a literary device that deliberately uses exaggeration for the sake of emphasis.  Statements that contain hyperbole are often extravagant and are not meant to be taken literally.  Hyperbole, as mentioned above, is mainly used to add emphasis and create strong impressions. “

Your Dictionary online has this to say on the matter:

“Hyperbole from a Greek word meaning “excess,” is a figure of speech that uses extreme exaggeration to make a point or show emphasis. It is the opposite of understatement.

“You can find examples of hyperbole in literature and everyday speech. You wouldn’t want to use it in nonfiction works, like reports or research papers, but it’s perfect for creative writing and communication, especially when you want to add color to a character or humor to a story.

“Hyperboles are not comparisons, like similes and metaphors, but extravagant and even ridiculous overstatements, not meant to be taken literally. In literature, hyperbole will often be used to show contrast or catch the reader’s attention.”

Further interesting comments are made on the website: https://literarydevices.net/hyperbole/:

“Function of Hyperbole

“…In our daily conversation, we use hyperbole to create an amusing effect, or to emphasize our meaning. However, in literature it has very serious implications. By using hyperbole, a writer or a poet makes common human feelings remarkable and intense to such an extent that they do not remain ordinary. In literature, usage of hyperbole develops contrasts. When one thing is described with an over-statement, and the other thing is presented normally, a striking contrast is developed. This technique is employed to catch the reader’s attention.”

The addeigloriam.org website adds these helpful observations:

“The use of hyperbole is a perfectly acceptable form of language when shared by both writer and reader (otherwise, it would be deceitful).  For example, if the writer is using hyperbole and the reader is interpreting the text literally, miscommunication will inevitably result.   Obviously, we would not employ hyperbole when speaking scientifically or mathematically, but it is actually very difficult to describe certain things without using hyperbole, particularly the concepts of the heart (expressions of love, for instance).  For this reason, we find poetry, proverbs and prophecy containing hyperbole by their very nature.  Hyperbole is also a great tool for emphasizing an important point, and for use as a memory enhancer, helping the hearers or readers to remember the saying.

“Most folks are able to intuitively determine when hyperbole is being used in a passage.  There are two basic types of exaggeration, that which is literally impossible and that which is exaggerated but still literally possible.  The first type is obviously very easy to detect.  Mark quotes Jesus as saying “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mk 10:25).”  This is a proverb, expressing the general truth of the difficulty of someone preoccupied with money entering the kingdom.  We easily detect this as an exaggeration since its impossible for the camel to go through the needle eye, and there are monetarily rich persons who are dedicated Christians.  The second type is usually obvious, but there have been cases throughout history that a certain group or individual has taken a hyperbolic passage literally with drastic results.  Every now and then, we hear of someone mutilating themselves due to a misinterpretation of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:29-30, which speaks of gouging out one’s eye or cutting off one’s limb to avoid hell.  Jesus was not teaching self-mutilation, but that we should take whatever measures are necessary to avoid the sin of lust.”

Additional observations can be found at www.tentmaker.org:

“For example, “It is raining cats and dogs” is a figure of speech that would probably make no sense in another language if translated literally word for word. Even though the very words do not imply so, Americans know from past usage that this term means, “it is raining heavily.”

“Hyperbole, one of over 200 different types of figures of speech found in the Bible, is exaggeration for effect. If these figures of speech are taken literally, one will misinterpret what the scriptures say. Word-for-word literal translations are FULL of phrases and sentences which have NOT been faithfully translated. Even though they may have translated each WORD faithfully and correctly, they have not conveyed the true meaning behind the phrase or sentence.

“For example, this verse is a hyperbole, an exaggeration for effect:

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24, NIV)” (to be discussed more fully later in the next Update).

“It is not too difficult to determine that this is a hyperbole, an exaggeration. Because the English language is full of Bible terms and phraseology, this Hebrew idiom has become part of the English language. Therefore most English speaking people know the real meaning of that phrase: “You pay close attention to little things but neglect the important things.”

“However, here is a hyperbole that the average Bible reader may miss and formulate doctrine from which may end up being harmful to themselves and others.

“Everything is possible for him who believes.” (Mark 9:23, NIV)

“The Bible is full of exaggerations like the one above which are NOT to be taken literally. Careful attention, comparing scripture with scripture, knowing the Bible and its author thoroughly, making certain not to necessarily apply things to ourselves which weren’t meant for us individually and some basics about the original languages are needed to prevent us from misinterpreting various scripture verses like this one. In this case, obviously, if something is against the will of God or if one asks with the wrong motive, no matter how much one believes for something, it won’t happen.”

We must remember that Jesus often taught through parables.   We read the following description of parables on the website: www.learnreligions.com.

“A parable is a comparison of two things, often done through a story that has two meanings. Another name for a parable is an allegory.

“Jesus Christ did much of his teaching in parables. Telling tales of familiar characters and activities was a favorite way for ancient rabbis to hold an audience’s attention while illustrating an important moral point.

“Parables appear in both the Old and New Testaments but are more easily recognizable in the ministry of Jesus.”

There are many instances of hyperbole in the Bible which we will review in the next Q & A.

(To be continued)

Lead Writer: Brian Gale

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