Figurative Language Of The Scriptures -- By: Edward Robie

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 013:50 (Apr 1856)
Article: Figurative Language Of The Scriptures
Author: Edward Robie


Figurative Language Of The Scriptures

Rev. Edward Robie

The number of primitive words in any language is exceedingly small; and each primitive word was, in the first instance, the name of some object or appearance in outward nature. A word is used literally when it is used in its primary sense and original application; a word is used figuratively when, though retaining its primary sense, it is used in an application different from its original one.1 E.g. when, in

a description of some stately edifice, mention is made of the pillars that support the structure, the word pillars is used in its ordinary literal sense; but when it is said that virtue and intelligence are the pillars of a republic, or when it is said of some distinguished statesmen, that they are the pillars of the State, the word is still used in its common signification, as denoting that which, firmly fixed, gives a solid support; but the word is applied to objects different from those to which it was originally applied, and is accordingly figurative in its use. When it is said of old-age that is the evening of life, the word evening is used in its ordinary sense, but not in its ordinary application; and the word calls up before the mind images of the setting sun and the approaching twilight, which betoken the close of the day; and, in the form of the expression, there is an implied comparison between the life of man and a natural day.

By far the great majority of words in any language are figurative; although many words have been so long and so exclusively applied to spiritual ideas, that their primary and original application has been lost sight of, or forgotten. A slight examination, however, into their history, will show that they are figurative; or if, with regard to some few words, this cannot be done, it is because their early history is lost in obscurity. Very few persons, in speaking of the moral ideas of right and of wrongs remember that these words are figurative. Yet right literally means straight; and wrong literally means wrung) twisted, crooked. Law denotes that which is laid.2 All words applied to mental exercises or states are figurative, being originally applied to outward and material things. Thus, to imagine, in its literal signification, implies the forming of some visible image; to impress, conveys the idea of leaving a stamp or mark, as a seal leaves its stamp on the wax or any other soft substance. To reflect

means to ...

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