Literary/Rhetorical Devices in the Bible

As a promised in Core Seminars this morning at church, here are those literary/rhetorical devices–their definitions and contemporary and Biblical examples of them.

Definition – Specific conventions of communication.

Importance – Being aware of these devices helps one understand what the text is “doing” and thereby helps one understand the text in light of what it is doing. 

  • Idiom – A figure of speech or an expression unique to a particular language and culture; a group of words having a distinct meaning of its own, not deducible to the meaning of the individual words themselves.

Example: “Break a leg.”

Prov 24:20 –   For there will be no future for the evil man;
The lamp of the wicked will be put out [i.e., he will die].

  • Arguments: e.g., “lesser to greater” and “greater to lesser.” – Making an inference based on an already established (greater or lesson) reality.

Rom 11:12, 15 (“lesser to greater”) 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!
15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Mt 6:26 (“lesser to greater”) – Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Rom 5:8-10 (“greater to lesser”) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

  • Diatribe – A rhetorical conversation partner, often posing possible objections.

Rom 6:1-2 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase [the diatribe]? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it [Paul]?