Quest Bible - Saturday, September 5, 2015

Can the Bible exaggerate and still be true?

2 Chronicles 1:9–15

In a word, yes. When Solomon said the people were “as numerous as the dust of the earth” (v. 9), he didn’t have an exact figure in mind. Solomon was using a figure of speech called hyperbole—an exaggeration not meant to be interpreted literally. He simply meant that there were a lot of people!

The writers of the Bible’s 66 books used all the richness and variety of human language to communicate God’s message. To understand the Bible accurately, its various literary devices and figures of speech must be seen for what they are. Interpret them at face value and the intended meaning may be missed completely.

The writer of Chronicles reports in verse 15 that Solomon “made silver and gold as common … as stones, and cedar [a rare and costly wood] as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees [a commonplace tree]”. His point was not to be exact, but to indicate great wealth—numbers that would boggle the mind.

There are many passages—especially in 1 and 2 Chronicles—where the Bible offers precise information. But when God promises Abraham as many children as there are stars or grains of sand (see Ge 15:5; 22:17), or when Mark says that all the people of Jerusalem went out to see John the Baptist (see Mk 1:5), or even when Paul claims to be the worst of sinners (see 1Ti 1:15), the context and language indicate a meaning beneath the surface. Instead of being frustrated by the lack of precision in such statements, we should be thankful that God reveals himself in the richness of human language.

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