In the New Testament, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ are depicted in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In these gospels, Jesus is recorded as speaking in all kinds of metaphorical and figurative statements in order to illustrate his meaning, which are figures of speech.
The disciples claim this bluntly in John 16:29, "Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech!"
Jesus speaks in figures of speech, including: parables, allegories, similes, idioms, irony, repetition, exaggeration, and even sarcasm.
The Parables of Jesus Christ are a well-known form of figures of speech used by Jesus. Parables are allegories in most cases, which are metaphorical stories used to communicate a point.
As an example, in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Jesus compares the righteous to the unrighteous by calling them sheep and goats. The separation of the sheep and goats is determined by their actions, as revealed in the parable.
Some of the parables that Jesus teaches are similes, where something such as God's kingdom is compared to something else using the word "like."
For example, Jesus says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." (Matthew 13:44)
In this short Parable of the Hidden Treasure, Jesus explains that the kingdom of God is something so valuable that the character in the story "sells all that he has" in order to obtain it.
Jesus speaks in figures of speech called idioms, which is when the meaning of a statement is different than the literal meaning of the words used.
Idioms change from culture to culture, so a modern example might include: "Let the cat out of the bag" or "spill the beans," which both mean telling a secret; or "feeling under the weather" meaning not feeling well; etc.
In Luke 14:26, Jesus says, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple."
We can find the meaning of this verse by looking at a similar statement in Matthew 10:37, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me..." While Jesus is recorded as using the word hate in Luke 14:26, we can see that his actual meaning differs from the literal meaning of the words.
As another modern example, the phrases "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less" are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing, even though they technically are opposites of each other.
Jesus speaks in the figure of speech of repetition, such as when Jesus repeatedly says, "but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." (Luke 13:1-5)
Repetition is often used in various ways to emphasize a point.
Jesus speaks in figures of speech called hyperbole, which is an ironic statement that uses exaggeration in order to emphasize a point. Some examples of Jesus using exaggeration include:
"You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!" (Matthew 23:24)
Jesus is explaining that the pharisees focus on the outward appearance of righteousness, but inside they are evil. They are concerned with worldly things, but they "have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith." (Matthew 23:23)
"Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:25)
Jesus point in making this statement is found when his disciples then ask him, "Then who can be saved?" (Luke 18:26) and Jesus responds by explaining that it is "impossible" for any person to save themselves (which is why it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle), but that God is making a way for salvation.
"Then Peter came and said to him, 'Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.'" (Matthew 18:21-22)
Jesus is not making the point that if they sin beyond 77 times, we should stop forgiving. On the contrary, Peter is proposing what he things is a large number of times to forgive someone "As many as seven times?" and Jesus responds by proposing a significantly larger number. Jesus is essentially using exaggeration to say, 'Forgive as many times as necessary.'
"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (Matthew 5:29)
Jesus is certainly not advocating mutilation of the body, and Paul opposes that idea in Colossians 2:23 saying that "severe treatment of the body" has "no value in checking self-indulgence." Like much of what Jesus teaches, he speaks often about the spiritual when he discusses the physical.
Jesus' point in making this statement is that sin should be avoided at all costs, because our salvation depends on it. See the Meaning of Repentance and Salvation for more on this subject.
Jesus speaks in figures of speech called sarcasm, such as when he mocks the pharisees saying, "For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth." (Matthew 23:27) This statement is also a simile, because Jesus compares the pharisees to whitewashed tombs using the word 'like.'
Jesus also calls the pharisees, "You snakes, you brood of vipers!" multiple times. (Examples include Matthew 12:34 and Matthew 23:33)
And Jesus calls Herod a fox in Luke 13:31-32.
In Matthew 15:26, Jesus basically calls the Canaanite woman a dog.
There are many types of figures of speech, and Jesus Christ can be seen using many forms in his teachings and conversations with people.
However, why does Jesus speak in figures of speech? Jesus actually explains his reason for speaking this way when he explains Why He Speaks in Parables in Matthew 13 and Mark 4.
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