The Science of Interpreting the Scriptures

Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing (Strong's: dissecting correctly) the Word of Truth.

~ 2 Timothy 2:15 ~


In many places in the Scriptures, the believer is encouraged to study the written Word as the foundation for a holy, godly and fruitful life before God and man. But how are we to study this unified, but daunting, compilation of sixty-six books written by over forty authors between nineteen hundred and thirty-five hundred years ago in languages and cultures that may be totally foreign to us? Enter the science of hermeneutics.

To understand hermeneutical principles is to be equipped for an intelligent study of the Word of God, tending greatly to our approval before God as workmen that do not need to be ashamed.

Interpreting Scripture properly is a critical skill to master, particularly in an age in which the Babel of interpretations is legion. We have been treated to much sound instruction in this regard by Dr. David L. Cooper, founder of the Biblical Research Society, with "Rules of Interpretation" and "Messages Concerning the Laws of Interpretation." Let us continue to hone our skills with "An Analysis of Figures of Speech" that we might be clear and accurate voices for the Lord. To read or review prior studies, please see links in our Library. Let us now apply ourselves. - ed.

Dr. David L. Cooper



Message 4: THE SIMILE


"Often the prophets piled up simile upon simile and metaphor upon metaphor
in their efforts to enforce the message which they had for the people."


IN ALL languages there are various figures of speech which are characteristic of all developed peoples. We are told by the ancient Chinese proverb that one picture is worth ten thousand words. In other words, a person can get a clearer idea of an object if a picture is shown than he can from a lengthy verbal description of it. Both the ancient and the modern peoples have introduced figures of speech in their languages in order to make the thought more vivid and to make their narration more intelligible and accurate. Naturally, then, the simile was doubtless one of the first figures used. As its name implies, a simile is that figure by which a comparison in its simplest form is presented. We shall in this short study notice a few instances of this figure of speech, taking an example here and there - though the Bible is full of them.

There appears a most beautiful, vivid, and graphic simile in Isaiah 55:10,11:

For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

There is hardly a place upon the face of the globe where the people are not acquainted with the falling of the rain and the coming of the snow. Of course, around the equator, people do not see snow except in the high mountains. Even in the desert the rains fall at times. Hence Isaiah's comparison was indeed quite apt and vigorous. As the rain and snow fall to the earth and put moisture in the soil, that makes possible the growing of crops, so God's Word which comes down from heaven to man is the spiritual moisture that is necessary for the production of a spiritual crop in the life of those who receive it. All the moisture that comes serves a definite, specific purpose. So it is with the Word of God which comes from heaven to as, falling upon the human heart. For instance, the Apostle Paul, in speaking of the gospel, said that it is the power of God unto salvation to him that believeth (Rom. 1:16). It is a savor of life unto life and death unto death (II Cor. 2:16,17). Thus we are given assurance that every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God accomplishes a definite, specific purpose—that for which it is sent.

In Jeremiah 23:29 we have another beautiful simile:
Is not my word like fire? saith Jehovah; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? This verse is taken from a long discourse which Jeremiah delivered concerning the prophets that were in Israel at that time (see Jer. 23:9-40). The false prophets and profane priests were dominating the entire situation. The prophets were giving forth their visions and their own words and were leading the people astray. Because of this fact Jeremiah foretold the coming of the tempest of Jehovah, even His wrath, that would burst forth upon the wicked nation. But Jeremiah let his auditors know that he was speaking of the end time, In the latter days ye shall understand it perfectly. In order to impress upon the minds of the people the power of his oracle, Jeremiah declared that the Word of God was like fire … and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces .... This language is an echo of the methods that were used for breaking rock. Sometimes fire was placed upon a rock in order to soften it; then the hammer was used to complete the job of breaking it. In a manner analogous to this, declared the prophet, God's Word will break, crush, and crumble all opposition eventually. There is no word of God that is devoid of power. In fact, all the power of Almighty God backs up every utterance that He has ever spoken.

Often the prophets piled up simile upon simile and metaphor upon metaphor in their efforts to enforce the message which they had for the people. As an illustration of this practice let us notice the following quotation:
And the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city (Isa. 1:8). Isaiah, in chapter 1, denounced the people for their wickedness, sins and their formal, hypocritical worship. The people had not acted with the intelligence of the dumb brutes that know where to go to get their food and to be protected, but Israel was not that wise. Therefore, declared the prophet, Mount Zion, the city of Jerusalem, will become as a booth in a vineyard. At that time there were many robbers and marauders in the land of Israel. When the grapes became ripe, watchmen had to be placed on guard to prevent theft. After the harvest of the grapes was over, little food would be left. The situation would look desolate. The leaves would fall from the vines. There would be little or no signs of life in the vineyard. In a manner analogous to this, declared Isaiah, would Zion become in the midst of the country. In other words, he was foretelling an invasion of the country and the depredations that would be committed together with the wreckage and waste of the country. Zion, however, would be left alone in the midst of such appalling waste. This is indeed a dismal picture. Following the simile, the prophet compared Zion to a lodge in a garden of cucumbers. This lodge was similar to the booth in the vineyard and served the same purpose during the time the vines were yielding their vegetables. This figure is followed by a literal statement that Jerusalem would be as a besieged city. It is not difficult for anyone to gain a clear picture of the significance of this prophecy.

We see another very striking illustration in the following passage:
And it shall be when a hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty; or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold; he drinketh, but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite; so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion (Isa. 29:8). In the first seven verses of this chapter the prophet foretold the time when the armies of the world besiege Jerusalem and the city, together with the Jewish nation, and Palestine will be crushed into the dust, figuratively speaking. Israel will be brought to her greatest extremity. From the natural standpoint it will appear to the enemies of Israel that they are just on the very verge of complete victory over God's Chosen People. At the critical moment before the Jewish resistance collapses and the nation is to be blotted from the face of the globe, Jehovah appears on the scene suddenly. This one who appears and who delivers her is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Hebrew Messiah, when He comes again in glory and power to deliver His people from their enemies. Concerning those nations that will be so very confident of complete victory, the prophet declared that they would be like the hungry man who slept and dreamed of eating. When he awoke, however, he discovered that he had taken nothing—no food whatsoever, nor any drink. So it will be with those nations that besiege the Jews in Jerusalem in the very end of the age. They, figuratively speaking, will be drugged with their overconfidence in their own strength and power. No thought occurs to them except complete victory and the taking of the spoil. But when the Lord Jesus appears and His feet stand upon the Mount of Olives, these enemies of Israel will be rudely awakened out of their abnormal sleep of confidence and will be as hungry as ever, not having taken any of the spoil. This simile does indeed enforce the lesson.

Turning to the New Testament, we see many forceful similes. For instance, our Lord, in concluding His Sermon on the Mount, gave us the simile in which He compared those who hear His words and do them to the man who built his house upon the rock. When the rains fell and the floods came and beat upon that house, they were not able to destroy it because it had a firm foundation. On the other hand, those who hear His words but do not heed are compared to the man who built his house upon the sand. When, therefore, the rains came and the floods rolled around it, it fell because it had no foundation. Thus our Lord in a most fitting and forceful manner concluded the Sermon on the Mount, one of the fullest and most wonderful passages that ever fell from His lips:

24. Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: 25. and the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. 26. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; 27. and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof.

~ Matt. 7:24-27 ~


Reprinted by permission of the Biblical Research Society, where other outstanding studies by
 Dr. Cooper may be found. Links to the "Rules of Interpretation," "Messages Concerning
the Laws of Interpretation" and "An Analysis of Figures of Speech" series
may be found at
A brief biography of Dr. Cooper may also be found
on the Biblical Research Society home page.

Return to Home Page