Hyperbole: Pick and Choose

This post is a continuation, listing various hyperbole found in the Bible. Clicky here, for all my posts detailing what I’ve found.

Its curiously gigantesque.

No one can interpret every word of the Bible literally. To do so is preposterous! The Bible speakers and authors employ many figures of speech: metaphor, idioms, euphemisms, parables and hyperbole; all of which are not meant to be literal.

“Christ had even a literary style of his own..The diction used by Christ is quite curiously gigantesque; it is full of camels leaping through needles and mountains hurled into the sea.” G. K. Chesterton.

Hyperbole and the End

In my last post, Jesus and the “End”, I discuss how my understanding of Jesus’ hyperbole changes my beliefs about the future.

In Matthew 24, Jesus details the signs of the end for his friends. He uses exaggerated language to explain that the end will be marked in a horrific time of tribulation. In fact, it was the worst time ever! Because we have not seen a time that is literally unparalleled in terror to any other time, many are still looking for this time yet to come. What I find fascinating, is that when I also held this belief, I had to apply hyperbole to another statement of Jesus’ in this exact passage!

“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:34

Is a generation exaggerated?

If you take Jesus’ words about this time literally (“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.”), hence they have not happened yet, then how can you literally say these things happened within 70 years of Jesus’ life? Within a generation? You can’t. You have to interpret generation non-literally. In fact, premillennialists would say that generation is a metaphor for the church age  or something else except a 70-year time span.

You see? It is impossible to take every word literally. You must apply hyperbole or metaphoric devices to solve a few conflicts.

How to Recognize Biblical Exaggeration

Hyperbole can be recognized by asking the following questions. If a statement falls into two or three of these categories, you are probably looking at hyperbole in action!

  1. Is it literally impossible? Yes? Then it might be hyperbole.
  2. Does it conflict with teaching elsewhere in the Bible? Yes? Then its probably sarcastic hyperbole.
  3. Does it mirror hyperbole elsewhere in the Bible? Yes? Then its probably quoted hyperbole.
  4. Does it employ universal language? All, everyone, no one, the whole world? Yes? Then it might be hyperbole if  you can apply one of the other questions affirmatively to it.
  5. Is it poetry, prophecy or a proverb? Yes? Then there is a good chance its not meant to be literal if you can answer yes to another of the above questions.
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