Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Introduction to Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke

Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke

  • I.    What are Figures of Speech? (Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, 8.6-9.3; Pseudo Cicero, Rhetorica ad Herennium, 4.10-4.55). 
    • A.    Any artful, uncommon use of language.
      • 1.    Tropes: “the artistic alteration of a word or phrase from its proper meaning to another” (Quintilian, Inst. 8.6.1).
        • a.    Metaphor: “Go tell that fox,” (Luke 13:32). 
        • b.    Synechdoche: Whole from the part, or part from the whole, singular from plural, plural from singular: “into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44)
      • 2.    Figures of Speech: figures of speech are the uncommon ordering of words for rhetorical ornament.
        • a.    Antithesis: “Watch therefore lest the light in you be darkness” (Luke 11:35)
        • b.    epanalepsis: repetition of a word twice in a row, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of the prophets…” (Luke 13:34)
  • 3.    Figures of Thought: the uncommon or artful ordering of thoughts.
        • a.    Brevitas: using the minimum number of words to convey a thought, “I desire, be cleansed” (Luke 5:13).
        • b.    Simile: comparison using like or as, “as sheep among wolves” (Luke 10:3).
  • II.    Examples of Figures of Speech from the Gospel of Luke
    • A.    Figures recognizable in translation
      • 1.    Epanaphora, antistrophe, interlacement: repetition of first word in two clauses, repetition of last word in two clauses, combination of epanaphora and antistrophe.
        • a.    Luke 6:21: Blessed are those who hunger now, Because you will be filled. Blessed are those who weep now, Because you will laugh.
      • 2.    Rhetorical Question
        • a.    Do you not know that it is necessary for me to be in my father’s house? (Luke 2:49)
        • b.    Why do you call me: Lord Lord, and you do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)
        • c.    And if you love those who love you, what good is it for you? (Luke 6:32)
      • 3.    Antithesis
        • a.    Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. (Luke 5:31)
        • b.    But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. (Luke 6:27)
        • c.    Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:23)
      • 4.    Hyperbole
        • a.    Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? (Luke 6:41) (Also Rhetorical Question)
        • b.    Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. (Luke 1:65)
        • c.    Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. (Luke 8:37)
      • 5.    Chiasm (Called reciprocal change in Rhet. Her.)
        • a.    For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24)
        • b.    Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last. (Luke 13:30).
        • c.    For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)
    • B.    Figures only recognizable in original Greek
  • 1.    Homoteleuton/Homoeoptoton: similar endings without case endings, similar endings with case endings.
        • a.    Οὐ γάρ ἐστιν δένδρον καλὸν ποιοῦν καρπὸν σαπρόν, οὐδὲ πάλιν δένδρον σαπρὸν ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλόν. (Luke 6:43)
        • b.    τυφλοὶ ἀναβλέπουσιν, χωλοὶ περιπατοῦσιν, λεπροὶ καθαρίζονται καὶ κωφοὶ ἀκούουσιν, νεκροὶ ἐγείρονται, πτωχοὶ εὐαγγελίζονται· (Luke 7:22)
        • c.    κἂν ἐν τῇ δευτέρᾳ κἂν ἐν τῇ τρίτῃ φυλακῇ ἔλθῃ καὶ εὕρῃ οὕτως, μακάριοί εἰσιν ἐκεῖνοι. (Luke 12:38)
      • 2.    Alliteration/Assonance
        • a.    ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε. (Luke 7:50, 8:48, 17:19, 18:42)
        • b.    ὁ σπείρων τοῦ σπεῖραι τὸν σπόρον αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἐν τῷ σπείρειν αὐτὸν ὃ μὲν ἔπεσεν παρὰ τὴν ὁδὸν. (Luke 8:5)
        • c.    καλέσας δὲ δέκα δούλους ἑαυτοῦ ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς δέκα… (Luke 19:13)
      • 3.    Polytptoton (under paronomasia in Rhet. Her.): inflecting the main subject in different cases.
        • a.    παλαιόν, παλαιῷ, παλαιούς, παλαιὸν, παλαιὸς (Luke 5:36-39)
        • b.    σου, σοι, σε, σε, σε, σου, σοί, σοί, σου (Luke 19:43-44)
        • c.    Inflection of πατήρ twelve times in all five cases (Luke 15:11-32).
      • 4.    Polysyndeton/Asyndeton: use of multiple conjunctions, lack of conjunctions
        • a.    καὶ ἥξουσιν ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν καὶ δυσμῶν καὶ ἀπὸ βορρᾶ καὶ νότου καὶ ἀνακλιθήσονται ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ. (Luke 13:29)
        • b.    καὶ οὐ μισεῖ τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ τὰ τέκνα καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς καὶ τὰς ἀδελφὰς ἔτι τε καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἑαυτοῦ, (Luke 14:26)
        • c.    ἤσθιον, ἔπινον, ἐγάμουν, ἐγαμίζοντο, ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας εἰσῆλθεν Νῶε (Luke 17:27)
  • III.    Significance of Figures of Speech
    • A.    Figures of speech are like verbal caution signs; they are designed to catch the attention of the audience.
    • B.    Figures highlight what the author deems is important.
    • C.    Repeated figures, forming a certain pattern, might tell us important things about how an author wrote, what he wanted to emphasize.
    • D.    In certain cases, like the parable of the prodigal son, a figure of speech (polyptoton) might tell us what the main subject of a section is.
    • E.    Figures of speech can convey emotion: e.g., asyndeton with a quick delivery displays vigor or force.  Apostrophe, in which the speaker turns from a general audience to a specific audience might display pleasure, or anger.
    • F.    Figures of speech can simply be pleasant to listen to, making the audience more likely to be attentive.
    • G.    What other functions can you think of for figures of speech?
  • IV.    Tips on finding figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke.
    • A.    Familiarize yourself with the figures by reading the sections in Institutio Oratoria and Rhetorica ad Herennium. See also rhetoricandthent.blogspot.com.
    • B.    Select a manageable passage.
    • C.    Read it in Greek first for understanding (you don’t want to get tripped up over grammar or vocabulary)
    • D.    Read the passage in Greek aloud, both looking for and listening for patterns.  Is there repetition of a specific word or thought? Is there rhyme? Is there a repetition of certain consonantal or vowel sounds?  
    • E.    If you think you might have a figure, then check it with the handbooks.
    • F.    Good hunting!


  1. You are a goldmine!! Thanks for the very helpful resources.

  2. Glad you are enjoying it. I have slowed down on my posts recently. Anything specific you would like to see more of?