Hyperbole: A Common Biblical Figure of Speech by Kyle Butt, M.A.


Hyperbole: A Common Biblical Figure of Speech

by  Kyle Butt, M.A.

The Bible is by far the most popular book ever printed. As such, it is also the most read. Those who read the Bible are reading the inspired message of God (see Butt, 2007). Yet, even though the Bible is God’s inspired message, it contains figures of speech that commonly occur in secular writings. E.W. Bullinger wrote more than a thousand pages of material describing these figures of speech in his excellent volume Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (1968). In order to properly understand the Bible, a basic knowledge of commonly used figures of speech is important. Furthermore, such knowledge is often helpful in refuting erroneous claims, made by skeptics, that the Bible contains errors or discrepancies.
A common figure of speech used in the Bible is that of hyperbole. Bullinger defines hyperbole as: “when more is said than is literally meant” (1968, p. 423). He also calls hyperbole “exaggeration.” We who use the English language are quite familiar with the use of hyperbole, even though we may not be as familiar with the term itself. When a teenager explains to her parent that “everybody” is going to be at the party, does she mean that literally the world’s population of 6.6 billion people will be there? Of course she does not. She is intentionally exaggerating to make a point. When a teacher explains to his class that “everybody” knows who the first president of the United States was, does the teacher believe all toddlers can correctly answer the question? No. Once again, the teacher is simply using a well-understood figure of speech to convey a point.
In a similar way, the Bible uses hyperbole on numerous occasions. Take John 4:39 as an example. In this passage, a Samaritan woman spoke of Jesus and said: “He told me all that I ever did” (emp. added). Had Jesus really told that woman everything that she had ever done in her life? No, she was using hyperbole to make her point.
To illustrate further, consider Mark 1:4-5: “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (emp. added). Taken literally, these verses would mean that John baptized every single person (man, woman, and child) in all of Judea and Jerusalem. But these verses are not to be taken literally. They are utilizing hyperbole, in which intentional “exaggeration” is employed to explain that John’s baptism was extremely popular.
The importance of understanding hyperbole can be seen when comparing another passage to Mark 1:4-5. In Luke 7:24-35, Jesus extolled the righteousness of John the Baptizer. Some of His listeners appreciated Jesus’ comments about John and some did not. Verses 29 and 30 explain: “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” Are we to conclude that the Pharisees and lawyers did not dwell in Judea and Jerusalem and that is why they had not been baptized—as Mark 1:4-5 would imply if taken literally? That would certainly be a stretch. The best answer in this case is to show that Mark’s use of hyperbole would allow some, such as the Pharisees and lawyers, to have rejected John and not to have received his baptism.
Another example of hyperbole is found in John 3:26. In that context, John’s disciples were telling John about the increasing popularity of Jesus’ ministry. They said to him: “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” (emp. added). Was it true that literally “all” the people in the world were coming to Jesus? No, it was simply the case that John’s disciples were intentionally exaggerating, using hyperbole, to describe Jesus’ spreading fame. [NOTE: For more examples see Bullinger, 1968, pp. 423-428.]
Honest-hearted Bible readers can benefit greatly from knowing when and how the Bible writers used hyperbole. Many of the challenges of skeptics can also be answered based on such information. After all, everybody knows that great literature always uses figures of speech such as hyperbole to convey its message.


Bullinger, E.W. (1968 reprint), Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Butt, Kyle (2007), Behold! The Word of God (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).



     Henry S. Coffin spoke of the difference between guides who are pathetic and those who are truly in touch with what they are guides in and to. I'd like to say something about that with regard to preaching and teaching. Hand on my heart, I don't profess to preach well but I know down into my bones when I hear it done well and for the reason God willed it into being.

There are guides who take visitors around the great Continental cathedrals or magnificent buildings, to look at a much-talked-about statue or famed art gallery or any great historic site or to some marvellous place from which you can see half the world.

One kind is filled with patter, he’s rarely silent and for the 1000th time reels of the information he has read in a book and tells us what this or that expert or art critic has said. He regurgitates the facts, the dates, the places, the measurements and you come away overwhelmed with bits and pieces of information—and a very temporary recollection of some of the jumble of things he has said.

The other is in tune with the grandeur and mystique of it all—he experiences it, has entered into the heart of it, or at least he has us convinced that he has because it is more than stuff he has rattled off. He says something, enough, but he does more than that; he brings us to that “place” and “draws back the curtain” and we’re confronted with the “thing” itself. He steps aside and leaves us there to be stunned by someone or something from the hand of a master instead of a stream of someone else’s experience or opinion or judgement. With this guide we’re not deafened to the “real thing” by the “noise” of a prepared spiel, well-prepared chatter, of bored and speedy lecturing.

There’s so much religious talk, a lot of verses are thrown in that give it a biblical coloration but in the end it’s all a substitute for biblical preaching. We’re rarely confronted with “the master”. We hear lots of opinions from this commentator or that, this exegete or that, this theologian or that but it’s so much hearsay. Christ’s words to Pilate come to mind and we might think he asks the preacher, “Sayest thou this of thyself or did another tell thee?”

Edward Thomas Taylor preached a lot and preached a lot to sailors. One of them said: “When a man is preachin’ at me I want him to take something hot out of his heart and shove it into mine. That’s what I call preachin’.”
A pox on “delightful,” “interesting” and “informative” preaching!

From Mark Copeland... The Way To Greatness (Mark 9:33-37)

                          "THE GOSPEL OF MARK"

                     The Way To Greatness (9:33-37)


1. Quietly passing through Galilee, Jesus and His disciples came to
   a. On the way, Jesus foretold His suffering a death a second time
      - Mk 9:30-32
   b. Also on the way, the disciples disputed who would be the greatest
      - Mk 9:33-34

2. Jesus took this opportunity to teach His disciples the way to true
   a. A way involving servitude
   b. A way involving humility

[Like many other paradoxes found in the Scripture (e.g., Mt 5:4-5), the
way to greatness in the kingdom of God is different than the way to
greatness in the kingdoms of men.  From Jesus we learn it involves...]


      1. "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and
         servant of all." - Mk 9:35
      2. Greatness in Christ's kingdom is different than kingdoms of men
         - cf. Mt 20:20-26
      3. To be first (great), we must serve, just as Jesus served - cf.
         Mt 20:27-28
      -- The way of servitude is the way to greatness!

      1. Serve others in evangelism
         a. Someone led you to Christ, can you not lead another to Him?
            - Jn 1:35-42
         b. Begin by being hospitable, offering acts of kindness and
         c. At the very least:  invite to services, offer a Bible
            correspondence course
         d. Open your home to host Bible studies
         e. Hone your skills in personal evangelism, seek to improve
            your ability to share the gospel
      2. Serve others in edification
         a. Many have contributed to your spiritual growth, can you help
            others? - Ep 4:16
         b. Begin by being present at every service, greeting every one
         c. Take special interest in those who are new, encourage them
         d. Offer to teach the children, even if only to assist another
         e. Volunteer whatever service you can render in the work and
            worship of the church
      3. Serve others in benevolence
         a. Has anyone ever showed you kindness?  "Be kind to one
            another" - Ep 4:32
         b. Visit the sick or elderly, at home and in the hospital
         c. Render service such as cleaning, transportation, errands,
         d. Minister to the poor, the hungry, or those otherwise in need
      -- These are just a few ideas of how we can serve others

[In order to offer the kind of service that really pleases God, and
thereby makes one great in the kingdom of God, the virtue of humility is
required.  And so Jesus taught His disciples...]


      1. Jesus used a little child to teach the importance of humility
         - Mk 9:36-37
      2. The humility of small children provides an example for us - cf.
         Mt 18:1-4
      3. Like servitude, humility is a cardinal virtue in the kingdom
         - cf. 1Pe 5:5
      4. When we humbly receive others in Jesus' name, we receive both
         Him and His Father in heaven - Mk 9:37
      -- The way of humility is the way to greatness!

      1. In the area of evangelism
         a. Be open to opportunities to learn how to do personal work
         b. Ask others if you can accompany them as they teach others
         c. Reach out to those who are different than you
         d. Especially those less fortunate than you - cf. Jm 2:5
      2. In the area of edification
         a. Gladly accept subservient roles in teaching, preaching,
         b. Encourage and assist those who teach our children
         c. Warmly welcome those below or above your "social status"
            - Jm 2:1-4
         d. Help with mundane tasks (e.g., cleaning the building)
      3. In the area of benevolence
         a. Help those less fortunate than you - Lk 14:12-14
         b. Perform menial tasks where needed
         c. Offer to babysit, provide meals, help with expenses, etc.
      -- These are just a few ideas of how we show humility toward


1. It may not seem like much, but the way to greatness is not possible
   a. A servant heart and servant hand
   b. A humble heart and humble hand

2. Jesus proved the greatness of service and humility by His own
   a. Coming to this earth in the form of a servant - Php 2:5-7
   b. Humbling Himself to the point of death on the cross - Php 2:8
   c. Thereby being highly exalted by God - Php 2:9-11

If we desire to be great in the kingdoms of men, we are setting
ourselves up for a fall:

   "For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles
   himself will be exalted." - Lk 14:11

If we desire to be great in the kingdom of God, let us humbly serve one
another and those in the world...
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2011

From Gary... Bible Reading December 24

Bible Reading   

December 24

The World English Bible

Dec. 24
Habakkuk 1-3

Hab 1:1 The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.
Hab 1:2 Yahweh, how long will I cry, and you will not hear? I cry out to you "Violence!" and will you not save?
Hab 1:3 Why do you show me iniquity, and look at perversity? For destruction and violence are before me. There is strife, and contention rises up.
Hab 1:4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth; for the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice goes forth perverted.
Hab 1:5 "Look among the nations, watch, and wonder marvelously; for I am working a work in your days, which you will not believe though it is told you.
Hab 1:6 For, behold, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, that march through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs.
Hab 1:7 They are feared and dreaded. Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.
Hab 1:8 Their horses also are swifter than leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves. Their horsemen press proudly on. Yes, their horsemen come from afar. They fly as an eagle that hurries to devour.
Hab 1:9 All of them come for violence. Their hordes face the desert. He gathers prisoners like sand.
Hab 1:10 Yes, he scoffs at kings, and princes are a derision to him. He laughs at every stronghold, for he builds up an earthen ramp, and takes it.
Hab 1:11 Then he sweeps by like the wind, and goes on. He is indeed guilty, whose strength is his god."
Hab 1:12 Aren't you from everlasting, Yahweh my God, my Holy One? We will not die. Yahweh, you have appointed him for judgment. You, Rock, have established him to punish.
Hab 1:13 You who have purer eyes than to see evil, and who cannot look on perversity, why do you tolerate those who deal treacherously, and keep silent when the wicked swallows up the man who is more righteous than he,
Hab 1:14 and make men like the fish of the sea, like the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?
Hab 1:15 He takes up all of them with the hook. He catches them in his net, and gathers them in his dragnet. Therefore he rejoices and is glad.
Hab 1:16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net, and burns incense to his dragnet, because by them his life is luxurious, and his food is good.
Hab 1:17 Will he therefore continually empty his net, and kill the nations without mercy?
Hab 2:1 I will stand at my watch, and set myself on the ramparts, and will look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
Hab 2:2 Yahweh answered me, "Write the vision, and make it plain on tablets, that he who runs may read it.
Hab 2:3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hurries toward the end, and won't prove false. Though it takes time, wait for it; because it will surely come. It won't delay.
Hab 2:4 Behold, his soul is puffed up. It is not upright in him, but the righteous will live by his faith.
Hab 2:5 Yes, moreover, wine is treacherous. A haughty man who doesn't stay at home, who enlarges his desire as Sheol, and he is like death, and can't be satisfied, but gathers to himself all nations, and heaps to himself all peoples.
Hab 2:6 Won't all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, 'Woe to him who increases that which is not his, and who enriches himself by extortion! How long?'
Hab 2:7 Won't your debtors rise up suddenly, and wake up those who make you tremble, and you will be their victim?
Hab 2:8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples will plunder you, because of men's blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city and to all who dwell in it.
Hab 2:9 Woe to him who gets an evil gain for his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the hand of evil!
Hab 2:10 You have devised shame to your house, by cutting off many peoples, and have sinned against your soul.
Hab 2:11 For the stone will cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the woodwork will answer it.
Hab 2:12 Woe to him who builds a town with blood, and establishes a city by iniquity!
Hab 2:13 Behold, isn't it of Yahweh of Armies that the peoples labor for the fire, and the nations weary themselves for vanity?
Hab 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea.
Hab 2:15 "Woe to him who gives his neighbor drink, pouring your inflaming wine until they are drunk, so that you may gaze at their naked bodies!
Hab 2:16 You are filled with shame, and not glory. You will also drink, and be exposed! The cup of Yahweh's right hand will come around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.
Hab 2:17 For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and the destruction of the animals, which made them afraid; because of men's blood, and for the violence done to the land, to every city and to those who dwell in them.
Hab 2:18 "What value does the engraved image have, that its maker has engraved it; the molten image, even the teacher of lies, that he who fashions its form trusts in it, to make mute idols?
Hab 2:19 Woe to him who says to the wood, 'Awake!' or to the mute stone, 'Arise!' Shall this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in its midst.
Hab 2:20 But Yahweh is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him!"
Hab 3:1 A prayer of Habakkuk, the prophet, set to victorious music.
Hab 3:2 Yahweh, I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of your deeds, Yahweh. Renew your work in the midst of the years. In the midst of the years make it known. In wrath, you remember mercy.
Hab 3:3 God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and his praise filled the earth.
Hab 3:4 His splendor is like the sunrise. Rays shine from his hand, where his power is hidden.
Hab 3:5 Plague went before him, and pestilence followed his feet.
Hab 3:6 He stood, and shook the earth. He looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains were crumbled. The age-old hills collapsed. His ways are eternal.
Hab 3:7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction. The dwellings of the land of Midian trembled.
Hab 3:8 Was Yahweh displeased with the rivers? Was your anger against the rivers, or your wrath against the sea, that you rode on your horses, on your chariots of salvation?
Hab 3:9 You uncovered your bow. You called for your sworn arrows. Selah. You split the earth with rivers.
Hab 3:10 The mountains saw you, and were afraid. The storm of waters passed by. The deep roared and lifted up its hands on high.
Hab 3:11 The sun and moon stood still in the sky, at the light of your arrows as they went, at the shining of your glittering spear.
Hab 3:12 You marched through the land in wrath. You threshed the nations in anger.
Hab 3:13 You went forth for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the land of wickedness. You stripped them head to foot. Selah.
Hab 3:14 You pierced the heads of his warriors with their own spears. They came as a whirlwind to scatter me, gloating as if to devour the wretched in secret.
Hab 3:15 You trampled the sea with your horses, churning mighty waters.
Hab 3:16 I heard, and my body trembled. My lips quivered at the voice. Rottenness enters into my bones, and I tremble in my place, because I must wait quietly for the day of trouble, for the coming up of the people who invade us.
Hab 3:17 For though the fig tree doesn't flourish, nor fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive fails, the fields yield no food; the flocks are cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls:
Hab 3:18 yet I will rejoice in Yahweh. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
Hab 3:19 Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength. He makes my feet like deer's feet, and enables me to go in high places. For the music director, on my stringed instruments.

Dec. 24
Revelation 9, 10

Rev 9:1 The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from the sky which had fallen to the earth. The key to the pit of the abyss was given to him.
Rev 9:2 He opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke from a burning furnace. The sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke from the pit.
Rev 9:3 Then out of the smoke came forth locusts on the earth, and power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
Rev 9:4 They were told that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree, but only those people who don't have God's seal on their foreheads.
Rev 9:5 They were given power not to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion, when it strikes a person.
Rev 9:6 In those days people will seek death, and will in no way find it. They will desire to die, and death will flee from them.
Rev 9:7 The shapes of the locusts were like horses prepared for war. On their heads were something like golden crowns, and their faces were like people's faces.
Rev 9:8 They had hair like women's hair, and their teeth were like those of lions.
Rev 9:9 They had breastplates, like breastplates of iron. The sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, or of many horses rushing to war.
Rev 9:10 They have tails like those of scorpions, and stings. In their tails they have power to harm men for five months.
Rev 9:11 They have over them as king the angel of the abyss. His name in Hebrew is "Abaddon," but in Greek, he has the name "Apollyon."
Rev 9:12 The first woe is past. Behold, there are still two woes coming after this.
Rev 9:13 The sixth angel sounded. I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God,
Rev 9:14 saying to the sixth angel who had one trumpet, "Free the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates!"
Rev 9:15 The four angels were freed who had been prepared for that hour and day and month and year, so that they might kill one third of mankind.
Rev 9:16 The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million. I heard the number of them.
Rev 9:17 Thus I saw the horses in the vision, and those who sat on them, having breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of lions. Out of their mouths proceed fire, smoke, and sulfur.
Rev 9:18 By these three plagues were one third of mankind killed: by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur, which proceeded out of their mouths.
Rev 9:19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths, and in their tails. For their tails are like serpents, and have heads, and with them they harm.
Rev 9:20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, didn't repent of the works of their hands, that they wouldn't worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk.
Rev 9:21 They didn't repent of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their sexual immorality, nor of their thefts.

Rev 10:1 I saw a mighty angel coming down out of the sky, clothed with a cloud. A rainbow was on his head. His face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.
Rev 10:2 He had in his hand a little open book. He set his right foot on the sea, and his left on the land.
Rev 10:3 He cried with a loud voice, as a lion roars. When he cried, the seven thunders uttered their voices.
Rev 10:4 When the seven thunders sounded, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from the sky saying, "Seal up the things which the seven thunders said, and don't write them."
Rev 10:5 The angel who I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to the sky,
Rev 10:6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there will no longer be delay,
Rev 10:7 but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as he declared to his servants, the prophets.
Rev 10:8 The voice which I heard from heaven, again speaking with me, said, "Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land."
Rev 10:9 I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. He said to me, "Take it, and eat it up. It will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey."
Rev 10:10 I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth. When I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.
Rev 10:11 They told me, "You must prophesy again over many peoples, nations, languages, and kings."

From Gary... Please stand by.

Today, everyone wants instant gratification.  Patience has almost become a thing of the past and very often we are willing to sacrifice quality for speed. How do these things apply to a follower of Jesus? Lets begin with something JESUS said.

John, Chapter 10 (WEB)
 7  Jesus therefore said to them again, “Most certainly, I tell you, I am the sheep’s door.   8  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them.   9  I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture.   10 The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.

A real life could be defined as a life really worth having. And that takes time. But, how do these statements relate to the quoted passage. Well, you can merely exist or you may fully live- your choice.  Christians realize that knowing God and living on HIS TERMS is what's life is all about. We don't invent how we are to live, but follow the creator of all life. His way, his terms- no but's. Sometimes, fulfilling God's will for our lives takes time. Consider, that Moses spent forty years in Egypt, then forty years as an exile and then forty years leading God's chosen people.  

I can only tell you that upon reflection I can see God working throughout the various decades of my life, preparing me for what I am right now. And with this, I also realize that somehow I am being molded for something better in the future. At the very least (or most, depending on your perspective) this will be heaven. And when I get there, it will be because of Jesus and his example of following God's will. Humm, maybe the sign should read: Please be patient-Loading, a new, exciting realm of existence- HEAVEN!!!