Figures of Speech – Hendiadys (Two for One)

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 Hendiadys (pronounced hen-’dī-ə-dəs), or “two for one.” Webster’s defines this figure well: “the expression of an idea by the use of two usually independent words connected by ‘and’ (“nice and warm”) instead of the usual combination of an independent word and its modifier (“nicely warm”). [2] In Hendiadys the two words are the same part of speech (i.e., two nouns, two verbs, etc.), and if they are nouns, they are always in the same case. The figure Hendiadys places equal emphasis on both words conjoined by the “and,” whereas if the concept was rendered literally, such as “nicely warm,” the emphasis of the phrase is on the noun, not the modifier.

The difficulty with Hendiadys is that two nouns conjoined by “and” are not always a Hendiadys, and in fact sometimes it can be very difficult to tell whether the author meant the word to stand independently or be considered one thought. [3] In Hendiadys the two words have a relationship to one another that can be clearly seen, but the Hendiadys must logically fit the context and scope of Scripture as well. For example, when Peter saw the lame man on the Temple steps and said, “Silver and gold have I none…” (Acts 3:6 KJV), even though silver and gold were both metals used for currency, there is no Hendiadys. Peter did not say, in effect, “Silvery gold have I none.” The two nouns, though in close relation to each other and joined by “and,” are not the figure of speech Hendiadys.

Another aspect of Hendiadys occurs when both words are true when taken separately, but also there is a sense of one noun modifying the other as well. In other words, in that particular case, the phrase has both the emphasis and meaning of a Hendiadys and yet does not have the exclusive meaning of a Hendiadys because both words’ individual meanings seem to be clearly in the text.

Genesis 3:16b (ASV) [4]
“I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy conception…”

The Hendiadys is clear: Eve will experience a great increase in “conception pain,” which we know as the pain of childbirth. In fact, many modern versions read “pain in childbirth” or something very similar to that.

Genesis 19:24 (KJV)
Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

This is an example of a case where each noun within the verse seems to be correct as it stands on its own, but the Hendiadys is also true. This verse says that Yahweh, the God of Israel, rained “brimstone and fire” down upon the cities of Sodom and upon Gomorrah. “Brimstone” is an old word for sulfur, which is why it generally appears in the older versions such as the King James Version just quoted. But it was not just sulfur that God rained down upon those cities along with fire, as if the sulfur came down in little chunks like hail, but rather by the figure Hendiadys, God rained “burning sulfur” from heaven. Some English versions read “burning sulfur,” which, although it does away with the Hendiadys in the text, makes the Bible easier to understand for many people (NIV; HCSB). But it is also likely that there was fire that fell from heaven apart from the sulfur, so changing “sulfur and fire” to “burning sulfur” is not necessarily right either. The NLT [5] thus perhaps picks up the sense of the text very nicely by recognizing both the Hendiadys and the individual meanings of the words as well, by reading, “fire and burning sulfur.”

2 Samuel 20:19b (KJV)
thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?

When King David’s general Joab was attacking the city of Abel Beth Maacah, a wise woman spoke to him about stopping his siege. When she used the phrase, “… a city and a mother in Israel,” that is the figure, Hendiadys. Abel Beth Maacah was a “mother city” in Israel, which some translations render simply as an “important city.”

Isaiah 1:13 (NIV)
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

The Hendiadys in the last phrase of this verse has made it hard to translate, but the meaning is clear, and the NIV has done a superb job of bringing that meaning into English: The last phrase is rendered more literally in the ESV [6]: “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” God usually desires solemn assemblies, but in this case the people were so evil that the solemn assemblies they held were corrupted and evil. The figure Hendiadys recognizes and emphasizes that the people were holding assemblies, but also emphasizes that those assemblies were wicked.

Luke 21:15 (ESV)
“for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”

It is obvious that this verse is a figure of speech, because everyone has a mouth and therefore has no need for God to give them one. Actually, there are a couple figures of speech in this verse, and we will unpack them one at a time. “A mouth and wisdom” is the figure Hendiadys for “a wise mouth,” but the figure is better than the literal statement because saying someone has a “mouth” places emphasis on the fact that there will be much speaking. Someone may have a “wise mouth” but not say much, but someone who has a “mouth” says a lot. This is one of the instances where the literal expression “mouth and wisdom” and the figurative expression “wise mouth” are both true. God will inspire much speaking and give wisdom to the speaker as well. Perhaps, “I will give you a mouth, indeed, a wise mouth,” would be a good rendition. Also, “mouth” is not literal, but is put by the figure Metonymy for the words spoken by the mouth, so in teasing out the figures a little further, a good translation might be: “I will give you (many) words, indeed, wise words.”

Acts 3:14 (Bishop’s New Testament; 1595)
“But ye denyed the holy and iust, and desired a murtherer to be geuen you” [spelling from 1595].

The Bishop’s New Testament literally renders “holy” and “just” as the adjectives that they are in the Greek text (“just” can also be translated “righteous”). Technically, “holy” and “just” are substantives, adjectives with “substance” if you will, and thus they stand in the place of nouns. Therefore, the translation, “You denied the Holy One and the Just One…,” would perhaps be better, and certainly more easily understood than simply “holy” and “just.” The problem, of course, is that by saying “the Holy One” and “the Just One,” a beginning reader might think that the Jews denied two people. Anyone familiar with the Gospel story knows that only Jesus is being referred to, and he is the “righteous holy One.” Most translations leave both adjectives but add the word “One” only one time at the end of the phrase, such that the verse reads something like, “But you denied the Holy and Just One….”


[1] E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1968).
[2] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (Merriam-Webster, Inc., Springfield, MA, 2004), p. 581.
[3] This author freely admits he disagrees with many of the examples of Hendiadys in Bullinger’s book on figures of speech.
[4] Scripture quotations marked (ASV) are taken from The American Standard Version, 1901.
[5] Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Life Translation, copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
[6] Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

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1 comment

  1. Thanks for this great reference. I would suggest adding John 4:24, worship him in spirit and in truth–> worship him in a genuinely (truly) spiritual manner. and John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life–> I am the true and living way.

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