Figures of Speech: Allegory, Analogy, Parable

To reason well from the Bible, you need to know when you’re reading language which is not meant to be taken literally.  Most figures of speech are meant to create simple word-pictures by putting two dissimilar things together, using the power of the brain to make connections between things that aren’t naturally connected, letting the imagination make the bridge between them.

Here are some of the most common figures of speech:



Extensive use of a metaphor.  When many aspects of one thing are transferred to another in several sentences, we call it an allegory.

Example 1
In the Bible, Galatians 4 contains an allegory comparing {Ishmael and Isaac} to {Jews under the law of Moses and believers under the law of Christ}.



This is a broad term for most kinds of comparisons, but it also means a comparison where some things are similar and some things are different.  Usually, an analogy is an extensive comparison to guide someone’s attention from points which are alike to others which are not alike.  Analogies can be very hard to understand correctly, because no analogy is exact.


(from Greek, ‘para’ = ‘with or beside’ + ‘bole’ = ‘throwing’

A short story used to teach a specific truth or moral lesson.  Parables use images, scenarios, and characters taken from everyday life to illustrate a message.  They cast a familiar idea beside an unfamiliar idea in such a way that the comparison helps people to better understand and grasp the unfamiliar idea.

It’s important to understand that parables have certain features that carry the moral or point. Other details are there simply to make the story vivid, memorable, and complete in the mind’s eye of the hearer. Parables must be interpreted according to the simple principles (the “object lessons”) they are meant to teach.

Example 1
The prophet Nathan told David a story about a poor man who had been the victim of a rich man’s greed, and when David got angry and demanded the rich man be punished, Nathan told him, “You are the man.”  The lesson was meant to show David how he had sinned with Bathsheba.
(2 Samuel 12:1-15)

Example 2
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
(Matthew 13:45-46)

Example 3
The story of the rich man & Lazarus in Luke 16 is a parable, but many churches or theologians often misinterpret this or take it literally.  Like the parable of the penny in Matthew 20:1-16, there is some well-developed imagery, but not everything can be interpreted item-for-item as symbols.  Instead, the object lesson at the end is the point, and the rest is simply effective story-telling to add dimension.

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