The Bible should be understood to communicate literal and historical fact whenever and wherever possible. If understanding something literally creates a contradiction with a known fact or another scripture, a figure of speech is likely being employed.
a. As used by God in the Bible, figures of speech are usages of words or sentences that emphasize a particular truth. They are used for the purpose of giving additional force to the truth conveyed, emphasis to the statement of it or depth to its meaning.
b. If a word or words are used in a figure of speech, then that figure can be named and described, and the purpose of its use determined. As workmen of the Word, we are bound to diligently examine the figure of speech for the purpose of discovering and learning the truth that is thus emphasized. The study of figures of speech in the Bible is highly technical and quite exact. Calling something “a figure of speech” is never to be the refuge of those who simply do not want to believe the literal truth of a passage of Scripture. Some theological systems employ an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. This is not the proper way to handle God’s Word, and leads to false interpretations.
Figures of speech are identified in three categories: 1) idioms, 2) grammar and 3) syntax. Idioms are words or phrases peculiar to a particular language, often closely related to customs and history of a people. Figures of syntax include illustrative figures, types of rhetoric and changes in meaning. The names are derived from the Greek and Latin systems.
Identification of the figures of speech used in a particular verse can be crucial to its correct interpretation, and the presence and force of figures ought always to be considered by the Bible student.