The Figure of Speech – Hyperbaton as used in the Bible

The ability to communicate by words is one thing that sets apart mankind 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. 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. Recognizing and properly interpreting the figures of speech in the Bible has many advantages. We can understand the true meaning of Scripture and be able to more fully enjoy the richness of the Word of God. It is important that we become at least somewhat familiar with the figures of speech in Scripture, of which there are more than 200 varieties. [1]

The figure we are going to cover in this article is Hyperbaton. Every language has rules that govern how the elements of a sentence are put together for proper understanding, and those rules are referred to as syntax. The syntax of languages differs. For example, in English we place the adjective before the noun it modifies (“red barn”) while in Greek the adjective usually comes after the noun. The figure of speech Hyperbaton occurs when, to attract attention and for emphasis, an element of the sentence is moved out of the order of the normal syntax. We English readers do not usually see the Hyperbaton because moving something out of its normal word order can make the Bible hard to read or hard to understand. Therefore, most English versions of the Bible “fix” the Hyperbatons that occur in the Hebrew and Greek text, so the English reader never sees them.

Luke 16:11 (NASB) [2]
“If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you?

The Greek reads more powerfully, bringing the object, “true,” to the front of the second phrase. “If, then, you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, the true riches—who will entrust them to you? The phrase is made even more powerful by omitting the word “riches,” which is the figure of speech Ellipsis, which places the emphasis on what is present in the sentence and de-emphasizes what is missing. Thus, a still more accurate reading would be: “If, then, you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, the true—who will entrust them to you?” As Christians, we should greatly desire to be entrusted with the true riches, so we should be diligent in handling money and material goods here on earth in a righteous manner.

Romans 12:19 (KJV)
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

In the Greek text of this verse, the word “yourselves” has been pulled in front of the word “avenge.” Thus, the Greek text would be literally translated: “Not yourselves avenging….” Placing the emphasis on “yourselves” lets us know definitively that we are not to take revenge, and that sentiment is further reinforced by the fact that the verb, “give place,” is in the imperative mood; it is a command. We can better get the sense by using some license with regard to capitalization and punctuation: “Stop avenging YOURSELVES, but give place!! to God’s wrath, for I will repay, says the Lord.”

Isaiah 34:4a (NASB)
And all the host of heaven will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll…

This verse is referring to unclear events that will occur during the Day of the Lord, which we sometimes refer to as the Great Tribulation. By Hyperbaton, God emphasizes what will happen, because the Hebrew text, if translated more literally, would read, “And they will be rolled up like a scroll—the heavens.”

Romans 1:3 and 4 (KJV)
(3) Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
(4) And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

Verse 3 reads well to our English minds just as it is translated in the King James Version. However, the figure of speech Hyperbaton alerts us to the emphasis God wants to place in the verse, because “Jesus Christ our Lord” is placed at the end of the verse. Many modern versions do correctly place the phrase at the end of the verse, and thus place the emphasis where it belongs, on Jesus our Lord.

It was the power of the resurrection that once and for all declared Jesus to be the Son of God. Many versions miss this, and read that Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection…” or “was declared to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection.” However, the resurrection did not declare him to be the Son of God “with power,” or the powerful Son of God, as if by the resurrection we would automatically know he was powerful. Rather, it was the power of the resurrection that declared Jesus to be the Son of God. Thus, Jesus was “declared by power to be the Son of God,” or, as Bullinger phrases it, Jesus was “powerfully demonstrated” to be the Son of God by the resurrection. The resurrection was the powerful demonstration that Jesus was the Son of God.


[1] E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1968).
[2] The (NASB) New American Standard Bible uses the same convention in its translation that the KJV and ASV use: when they add a word for clarity that is not in the Greek text, they italicize it. Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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