Figures of Speech – Asterismos (Indicating)

The ability to communicate with words is one thing that sets mankind apart from all other creatures. God is the Author of language, and no one has ever used language as precisely as God does in the Bible, including His use of figures of speech, of which there are more than 200 varieties in Scripture. [1] When most people say, “a figure of speech,” they are speaking in general terms of something that is not true to fact. However, genuine “figures of speech” are legitimate grammatical and lexical forms that add emphasis and feeling to what we say and write. In the Bible, God uses figures of speech to emphasize things that He wants us to see as important. Many people who read the Bible never think to ask themselves, “How do we know what God wants emphasized in His Word?” God uses figures of speech to put emphasis where He wants emphasis, so it is important that we recognize and properly interpret the figures of speech in the Bible. Knowing the figures of speech God uses in the Bible helps us to understand the true meaning of Scripture and enables us to more fully enjoy its richness.

The figure of speech we are going to study in this article is referred to by E. W. Bullinger as Asterismos (Aster- is-mos), or “indicating.” The Greek word astēr means “star,” and in English today we put an “asterisk,” or “little star” beside something we want to mark in a way that catches the reader’s attention. When we are speaking, we might catch our audience’s attention by saying, “Pay attention,” or “Listen up,” particularly if we think the person is not giving us his full attention. When we write, it is a little more difficult to catch someone’s attention. Some authors use bold, italics, or ALL CAPITAL LETTERS to call the reader’s attention to a word or phrase. However, the original text of the Bible was written in all capital letters (Hebrew and Aramaic do not even have upper and lower case letters). So what does the Bible do to catch our attention?

The figure of speech asterismos is the use of words such as “behold,” “look,” “verily,” or “yes (yea),” in a way that does not add essential meaning to the sentence, but rather just catches the attention of the reader. If the words in the Bible are a direct quotation of what a biblical character said, the words still were originally spoken to catch the attention of the person listening and not to add essential meaning to what he or she said.

A good example of a Hebrew word used as an asterismos is hinneh (Strong’s #2009, pronounced, hin-nay’), which means, “behold, lo, look, see.” A person who takes the time to look up the Hebrew word hinneh in a concordance will see that it is used hundreds of times in the Old Testament, and thus will have many examples of the figure asterismos in the Hebrew text. Here is one example:

Genesis 17:4 (ESV)
“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.”

God said this to Abraham, and caught his attention with “Behold” (as if talking with God would not tend to catch one’s attention anyway!). By including the “Behold” in the Bible, God catches our attention just as He caught Abraham’s.

The only real way to experience the force of the “Behold,” is to read the Bible and note how many times God speaks without using “Behold” or any other asterismos. Once we have a feel for how seldom it is used, we can see that when God does use it, we should sit up and pay attention. In the example above, the Abrahamic covenant is one of the most important covenants and promises that God makes in the entire Bible, and deserves our full attention. Since the asterismos is not essential to the meaning of the sentence, some versions of the Bible almost always leave it out. The NIV is a good example of a version that usually ignores the asterismos, which is too bad, because then God’s emphasis on that verse is lost.

A good example of a Greek word used as an asterismos is idou (Strong’s #2400, pronounced id-oo’). It means “behold, see, look, lo.”

Luke 1:31 (ESV)
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

The angel Gabriel emphasized his point to young Mary concerning the birth of the Messiah with “behold.”

Matthew 10:16 (ESV)
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Jesus emphasized his point to the apostles with “Behold.”

Luke 24:4 (ESV)
And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

Here God draws our attention to the angels that appeared to the women at the tomb of Jesus by the use of asterismos, “behold.”

One last thing we need to know about asterismos is that the presence of “behold,” “look,” or “see,” in the sentence does not automatically mean it is the figure asterismos. Those words can be an essential part of the sentence. A good example is when Pilate displayed Jesus to the crowd and said, “Behold your King!” At that point Jesus had already been slapped around all night long by the Jews, who had arrested him the previous night in the Garden of Gethsemane; then he had been taken before Pilate; then mocked by Herod and his men; and now was back with Pilate. He would have been bloody and swollen by that time, and Pilate’s shout to the crowd, “Behold your King,” was equivalent to “Look at your King!” It was meant to elicit their pity, but instead it just incited them to shout for Jesus’ crucifixion. Thus, just because a sentence contains “behold,” for example, does not make it the figure of speech asterismos. We must pay careful attention to the sentence and the context to be sure a “behold,” “look,” “verily,” “truly,” or “yes” is an asterismos.


[1] E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1968).

Was this article a blessing to you? Comment below to let us know what you liked about it and what topics you'd be interested to see going forward! Also, please consider donating – even $1 helps! – to support the creation of more content like this in the future!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.