HYPERBOLE / EXAGGERATION
Bible uses hyperbole, which is an exaggerated expression for emphasis. The eastern people used hyperbole to add vividness and power to the matter. Semitic languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic use such expressions. So, hyperboles are not to be taken literally.
We also use hyperbolic expressions in the modern world. For example, when the pain is severe, a person might say, “This pain is killing me.” Or, if a bus or train took too much tome to arrive, one might say, “it took forever.” No one will take such expression in a literal sense.
EXAMPLES FROM THE BIBLE
When the twelve spies of Israel Moses sent to Canaan return after their secret investigation of the land said,
“The land that we went through and reconnoitered is a land that consumes its inhabitants. And all the people we saw there are huge. There we saw the Nephilim in our own eyes we seemed like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them” (Num 13:32-33).
The author of Chronicles gives an exaggerated presentation of the wealth of Solomon “The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars as numerous as the sycamores of the Shephelah” (2 Chr 1:15).
Nebuchadnezzar revealed his dream to Daniel saying, “These were the visions I saw while in bed: I saw a tree of great height at the center of the earth. It was large and strong, with its top touching the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of the earth” (Dan 4:7-8).
Jesus said, “if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Mt 18:9). He did not want us to blind ourselves. Instead, he clarifies that we should take aggressive action to stop committing sins.
When Jesus sent out his 72 disciples to preach, he instructed them, “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way” (Lk 10:4). Jesus was not prohibiting them from greeting the people on the way, but asking them to avoid spending time with prolonged greetings and conversations so they could focus on their mission.
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26). Jesus did not mean to have our family members, but wants us to give priority to him over the family.
“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24). If one is interested only in amassing wealth in this transitory life, ignoring God and the poor, he cannot inherit heaven. Jesus wanted his disciples to earn resources in heaven sharing the wealth of this world with those in need. The message is important than the literal meaning of the expression here.
After the triumphant entry of Jesus in the Temple with the Hosanna acclamation of the people, “the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him’” (Jn 12:19). This was not true in a literal sense.
John concluded his gospel stating, “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25). This is an exaggerated expression to emphasize the quantity of the virtuous deeds of Jesus during his public ministry.
The Sacred Scripture communicates divine message in the human language of the time when the human writers documented each book. It has also spiritual and symbolic meaning that we easily understand or with the help of Bible interpreters. Let us take an interest in understanding the divine message in the Bible that is centered on Jesus who is the way to the Father.