Interpreting Bible Passages – Hyperbole



I realize that we live in a world that produces a video tolerance of about 3 minutes so I’m going to go out on a limb and ask you to endure with me this 10 min video.

Today we are going to start a short series of Videos on Hermeneutics. No, it’s not some heinous type of disease that can be caught in the deepest parts of the Jungle although Its absence is a plague on humanity concerning the interpretation of many Bible passages. (some of you will see what I did there later)

Hermeneutics is very simply defined as the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.

Who cares, that stuff is for theologians and academic types, that’s what some of you might be thinking, but my goal is to change your mind during the course of this video that is going to change your entire world. What if I told you that hermeneutics can literally mean the difference between you living a content life and let’s say, you digging out your eyeball with a spoon! Yeah, I thought that might get your attention, but seriously I mean it.

So today we are going to talk about the literary device: Hyperbole.

A hyperbole is a literary exaggeration for emphasis or rhetorical effect.

it is important that when we read and interpret scripture that we know what genres of literature we are reading and what literary devices are being used if we are to understand the Bible as God means for it to be understood.  It is also imperative that we are consistent with how we interpret scripture; in other words, we don’t interpret hyperbole one way in Matthew and then a different way in Luke. Hyperbole is meant to be taken the same regardless of where it is found in scripture.

So, let’s look at a few verses as examples.


Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

Ok, so most people have no problem interpreting this one correctly. Obvious Jesus is not telling us to literally pluck out our eye, but the hyperbole makes the point well: we are not to tolerate sin in our lives, and we are meant to be aggressive in seeking to live a pure life.


Lk 14.26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life— he cannot be my disciple.”

This one has given some Christians a bit more trouble. Is Jesus telling us that until we actually hate our parents, our spouse and our children and even ourselves that we cannot be saved? Of course not, He is communicating that our love for God must be so strong, that our love for others would seem like hate in comparison. The level of love for Christ is meant to be beyond that of any other earthly relationship. We love our parents, but we love Christ more. We love our spouse, but we love Christ more. Our children are precious to us, but Christ even more precious. That is the point.

 Luke 9:25 – What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

No one could ever own so much that he became the sole owner of the world, so the suggestion is an exaggeration. So immediately we realize this is hyperbole, not meant to teach that it is possible for a man to gain the whole world but rather that even if he could, it would not matter if he lost his soul.

This is paramount when we read scripture because versus like this can only be understood to have its one intended meaning. So if you taught that it was possible to gain the whole world because the passage suggests it, you would be taken a hyperbole, an exaggerated illustration, and re-writing it into literal teaching. Our only conclusion to this passage is meant to be that whatever a man might gain, it would not be worth losing his self.

John 12:19- So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

The fact was that many people did not follow Jesus, and many others were confused about him. So with some simple reasoning through the passage, we see that hyperbole is used. The Pharisees themselves didn’t follow Christ so they knew that the whole world, literally, did not follow Jesus, but rather a multitude of people. More than they were happy with.

Our next verse has been a source of much trouble for many in the church but the same literary device is used, hyperbole, and so the passage has to be understood with that in view.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Paul is using hyperbole, exaggeration, it illustrates the importance of love. In the first sentence, he starts with asserting that if he speaks in tongues of men and angels but doesn’t have love that he is a gong or cymbal. Does Paul literally mean he is a piece of metal designed as a percussion instrument, no that would be absurd, so we can see he is clearly using hyperbole? The entire sentence is hyperbole, Paul is not teaching that tongues of angels exist no more than he is saying it is possible he is actually a percussion instrument. It’s in the same sentence and you have to interpret hyperbole here the same as anywhere else in the Bible. The point here is the importance of love above all things.

He uses the same literary device again in the very next sentence. If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to move mountains but have not love I am nothing.

Is teaching us that he has all understanding that he is all-knowing and that he has perfect faith? No, Clearly Paul is not espousing that he has or even could have all knowledge available or that he has or could have faith that would literally move a mountain, he is using exaggeration to illustrate the importance of love. To interpret these passages as though we as humans can speak an angelic language or that Paul or anyone else for that matter can know all the mysteries of the universe or that we can move mountains with faith would be just as absurd as saying we must literally pluck out our eyes if they cause us to sin.

I hope that helps and I hope you see why understanding genres and literary devices in scripture and understanding how to interpret them is important. Like I said at the beginning, interpreting it wrong could cost you an eye. Until next time, keep those spoons in the cupboard and away from them eyes.