Volume 1 No. 5 

Keys to Research 

The Word of God interprets itself. 

To understand God's Word certain keys to research must be understood and applied when working the Word to avoid private interpretation and maintain the integrity of the original text.

 These studies are provided to outline some of the simple keys to understanding God's Word. 

Michael Cortright

Keys to the Word's Interpretation

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Figures of Speech 

God is prefect. Therefore God's Word as it was originally given is also perfect. God's Word is to be taken literally whenever and wherever possible. However, when a word or words used in God's Word fail to be true to fact God is employing a figure of speech

Figures of speech are used in God's Word with a God given design to emphasize that which He wants emphasized. 

If you were to say: "It is raining"; that would be a plain statement of fact. However, if you say: "The rain is coming down in buckets"; you would be using a figure of speech. Figures of speech are always more vivid and alive. They paint a picture for the reader and thus call attention to themselves and the point being made.

 People use figures of speech randomly and often without thinking; but "the words of the Lord are pure words." When God uses a figure of speech in His word, the figure has a God given emphasis. We must study the words of God to understand the accurate, perfection and precision with which God beautifully expresses that which He would have emphasized in His wonderful, matchless Word.

Translators of God's Word have not always paid attention to the figures of speech in the original languages from which they were translating and consequently have made serious errors in translation.

 Sometimes the translators have translated a figure literally: totally ignoring its existence in the original language:

 II Timothy 3:16a All scripture is given by inspiration of God,. . . 

The five words "given by inspiration of God" are a literal translation of a one-word figure of speech in the Greek text. The Greek text reads "All scripture God-breathed." The Greek word theopneustos means God-breathed. This figure puts emphasis on the source of scripture. God is spirit and does not breathe as men do; and even men do not breathe scripture. The figure of speech is used to provide a picture in the mind that emphasizes the fact that the scripture came from God. When the translators failed to translate the figure of speech from the original text they lost the rich use of words and the God given emphasis.

 At other times the translators did translate the figure of speech and the beautiful emphasis of God's Word was retained:

 Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

 God is spirit and does not have a mouth as men do. Again, the emphasis is on God as the author and source of His Word. The figure of speech provides the God given emphasis.


 In his book Figures of Speech used in the Bible (1898), published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, E.W. Bullinger, D.D. catalogues over 200 distinct figures with several of them having up to 30 or 40 varieties.

 The figure of speech used in the two records noted at the beginning of this study is called in Latin condescensio from which we get our English word condescension. Whenever the Word of God attributes human characteristics to God, thus bringing God down to the level of man, the figure of speech used is condescensio. In the Hebrew this figure is derech benai adam which means "ways of the sons of men." In the Greek it is anthropopatheia which means "the pathos of men."

 God's Word uses this figure to put emphasis on God. Sometimes God is brought down to the level of men and given human characteristics. Sometimes He is likened to an animal such as an eagle with wings. Sometimes He is likened to a plant or tree. And sometimes God is likened to an inanimate object - (God is a rock or fortress). In each of these cases the Word of God is bringing God down to the level of man's experience to put emphasis on God.

 Following are a few uses of the figure of speech condescensio adapted from a list provided by Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille in the Power For Abundant Living class:  

  1. Human Beings 
    1. Bodily member of Man 
      • Leviticus 26:11 - soul 
      • I Samuel 13:14 - heart 
      • Job 4:9 - nostrils 
      • Job 11:5 - lips 
      • Psalm 55:1 - ear 
      • Isaiah 30:27 - tongue 
      • Isaiah 30:30 - voice 
      • Isaiah 5511 - mouth 
      • Isaiah 63:15 - bowels 
      • Zechariah 2:8 - eye 
      • Matthew 18:10 - face 
      • Luke 1:51 - arm 
      • John 1:18 - bosom 
      • John 10:28 - hand 
      • I Corinthians 11:3 - head 
    2. Feelings of Man 
      • Genesis 6:6 - grieved 
      • Exodus 20:5 - jealous 
      • Psalm 104:31 - rejoice 
    3. Actions of Man 
      • Genesis 3:9 - called 
      • Genesis 18:21 - go down and see 
    4. Circumstances 
      1. Negative - God can't swallow it - Isaiah 1:13 - away with 
      2. Positive - Psalm 23:1 - shepherd. Matthew 6:1,6,8,9 - father 
      3. Place - Psalm 2:4 - sitting. Matthew 5:35 - earth. Acts 2:25 - right hand 
      4. Time - Job 36:26. Psalm 102:24,27. Romans 8:29. Colossians 1:15, 18 
  2. Irrational Creatures 
    1. Animals 
      • Deuteronomy 32:11 - eagle 
      • Hosea 11:10 - lion 
    2. Bodily Members of Animals 
      • Psalm 91-4 - wings 
    3. Plants 
      • Hosea 14:8 - a green fir tree that produces fruit 
  3. Inanimate Things 
    1. Light - Psalm 27:1 James 1:17. I John 1:5 
    2. The Elements 
      • Deuteronomy 4:24 - fire 
      • Job 4:9 - breath, air 
      • Hosea 14:5 - dew 
    3. The Earth 
      • Psalm 121:5 - shade 
      • Psalm 18:2 - rock 

The study of figures of speech in the Bible is a monumental one. To study the figures men use would be a waste of time as they are not employed consistently or with much thought. God's use of figures is another story. God uses figures with precision and purpose. If we are to know that which God would have emphasized in His Word, then we must learn to recognize and understand the figures of speech He has placed so lovingly in His Word.  

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Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. II Peter 1:20
Keys to the Word's Interpretation
Volume 1 No. 5

URL http://www.cortright.org/key5.htm
© Copyright February 1998 Michael Cortright