Language Structures in the Bible

Part of the “How to Study the Bible” Series

One way to begin to study the Bible is to notice language structures in the text. Identifying these language structures, will help you READ TO SEE how phrases and ideas in the text are related to each other.

Types of Language StructuresDefinitions & Examples from the ESV  
AnthropomorphismGiving human traits to God to communicate a truth about God.  

Incline your ear to me; … Into your hand I commit my spirit; …, Ps 31:2, 5.  
AppositiveA word or phrase that renames a preceding word or phrase.  

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, … Eph 1:1.  
AssociationUsing words, phrases, or motifs to create an association.  

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, 1 Jn 2:7.  
Cause/EffectAn action followed by a consequence or result usually signaled by conjunctions like so that, that, with the result that.  

For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you with the result that you will be removed far from your land, …, Jer 27:11.  
Comparison/ ContrastSetting one word or idea beside another in order to explain.

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,” Gal 5:17.  
ConclusionThe wrap-up or summary of an essay, logical argument, or story that orients the reader to the preceding text.  

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes, Mt 7:28-29.  
Conditional ClausesUsing conjunctions (if/then, provided that, except, unless) to state the consequences of an action.  

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and [then] the truth is not in us, 1 Jn 1:8.  
ConjunctionsJoining words or concepts in a sentence with words like and, but, furthermore, likewise, moreover, neither, nor, on the other hand, or, then, while to create a series, show progress, or give an option.  

… “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them,” Mt 11:3-5.  
DoxologyA short hymn or expression of praise to God.  

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen, Eph 3:20-21.  
EscalationUsing successive words or phrases to intensify a statement or idea.  

The great day of the LORD is near … A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, Zep 1:14-15.  
EuphemismSubstituting an inoffensive word or phrase for an offensive one.  

… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, … Jn 11:11.  
HyperboleExtreme exaggeration of a quality or feature to create an effect or make a point.  

“… the rock poured out for me streams of  oil!” Job 29:6.  
HypocatastasisRenaming an object to show a resemblance.  

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; …, Ps 22:17.  
IllustrationUsing an example to clarify a point.   Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 

No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him, 2 Tim 2:3-4.  
Indicative/ ImperativeIndicative phrases tell what God has done, while imperative phrases command; indicatives and imperatives may be separated by large chunks of text.  

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump [imperative], as you really are unleavened [indicative]. For Christ, …, has been sacrificed. 1 Cor 5:7.  
IntroductionA unit of text that orients the reader to the text that will follow.  

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way, Mt 1:18.  
IronyUsing words or outcomes to express the opposite of what is expected or intended.  

So the last will be first, and the first last, Mt 20:16.  
MetaphorUsing a form of the verb, “to be” (am, are, is, was, were, have been, am being) to compare two unlike objects that share some common qualities.  

You are the salt of the earth, … You are the light of the world. …, Mt 5:13-14.  
MetonymySubstituting what is meant with related or associated words.  

You prepare a table before me …, Ps 23:5.  
ParallelismUsing associated thoughts to balance lines of poetry and communicate one unified idea.  

A false witness will not go unpunished and he who breathes out lies will not escape, Prv 19:5.  

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Prv 15:1.  
PersonificationGiving human traits to non-human objects to create imagery.  

… the ground mourns, … the oil languishes, Jl 1:10.  
PrepositionA word that links a noun, pronoun, or phrase to other words in order to show a location in space or time.  

… Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, … Gn 1:9.  
QuotationRepeating words taken from another author’s text or speech.  

… He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. …” Lk 4:17-18.  
Question/AnswerUsing a question to frame a logical argument.  

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, …, Gal 3:19.  
RepetitionUsing words, phrases, sentence structure, or concepts more than once.  

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all, Rom 11:30-32.   I am writing to you, little children, … because I am writing to you, fathers, … because I am writing to you, young men, … because … 1 Jn 2:12-13.  
Rhetorical
Question
Asking a question, in which no answer from the audience is expected, in order to make a point.  

If God is for us, who can be against us? Rom 8:31.  
SarcasmSaying the opposite of what is meant in order to ridicule, mock, or express contempt.  

Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress,” Jgs 10:14.  
SimileUsing as or like to compare unlike objects with shared qualities.  

He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush, Ps 17:12.  
SynecdocheUsing a part of a whole to refer to the whole or vice versa.  

… a land flowing with milk and honey, … Ex 3:8   “… the world has gone after him,” Jn 12:19.  
ToneUsing words and style to create a mood or atmosphere, e.g., emotional, scolding, angry, instructive, serious, reflective, personal impatient, urgent, patient, etc.  

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … Gal 3:1.  
Word ListList of words.  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; …, Gal 4:22.  
Word PairingsWords that often appear together.  

… Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell, Mt 10:28.  
ZoomorphismAscribing animal characteristics to God, humans, or non-human objects.  

… hide me in the shadow of your wings, Ps 17:8.