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Hyperbole, Anabasis, and Catabasis

Victor M. Eskew




A.     Figures of speech enrich the Biblical text.  They excite our minds as we come in contact with them.


B.     In our lesson today, we will be looking at three more figures of speech in the Bible.


I.             HYPERBOLE


A.     Definition

1.       The word “hyperbole” is a combination of “hyper” and “bolee.”

a.       Hyper:  over, beyond

b.      Bolee:  a casting

2.       Thus, the literal definition means “going beyond, overshooting, excess.”

3.       “The Figure is so-called because the expression adds to the sense so much that it exaggerates it, and enlarges or diminishes it more than is really meant in fact” (Bullinger, 423).

4.       Dictionary.com:  obvious and intentional exaggeration


B.     A couple of notes:

1.       Hyperboles do not mention the exceptions to the statement because that would dull the point (Ex., Tit. 1:12).


One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.


a.       Were there some good Cretans?  Yes.

b.      The hyperbole emphasizes the fact that a great many of them were given to the qualities mentioned by the Cretan prophet.

2.       Sometimes an exaggeration is not intended to be as literal as it sounds (Ex., Luke 14:26).


If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.


C.     Examples of hyperbole:

1.       Exodus 8:17


…all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.


2.       Deuteronomy 1:28


…the cities are great and walled up to heaven…


3.       Matthew 5:29-30


And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee:  for it is profitable that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.  And if they right hand offend thee, cut if off, and cast if from thee:  for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.


4.       John 21:25


And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.  Amen.


5.       Acts 17:6


And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.


6.       Hebrews 12:22


But ye are come to mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and unto an innumerable company of angels.


II.           ANABASIS


A.     Definition:

1.       It comes from a Greek word:

a.       Ana:  up

b.      Basis:  to step

2.       Literally, it means “a step up.”

3.       “The Figure is so called when a writing, speech, or discourse ascends up step by step with an increase of emphasis or sense” (Bullinger, p. 429).


B.     Examples of anabasis:

1.       Psalm 1:1


Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.


This is a triple anabasis.


Walk                      Counsel                        Ungodly

Standeth                 Way                 Sinners

Sitteth                    Seat                  Scornful


2.       Psalm 7:5


Let the enemy persecute my soul, take it; yea, let him tread down my life upon the earth, and lay mine honour in the dust.  Selah.


3.       I Corinthians 4:8


Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us.




A.     Definition

1.       This term also comes from a Greek word.

a.       Cata:  down

b.      Basis:  to step

2.       Literally:  a stepping down

3.       Here, the figure of speech is downward instead of upward.


B.     Examples of catabasis:

1.       Isaiah 40:31


But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.


Note the descent:  wing (flying), run, walk

2.       Jeremiah 9:1


Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.


The descent:  head, eyes, weep

3.       Daniel 2:  “The Figure ‘Catabasis’ is seen in the four successive world powers, showing deterioration and growing inferiority.  Gold, silver, brass, iron and clay” (Bullinger, 433).

4.       Philippians 2:6-11


Catabasis (vs. 6-8)                                           Anabasis (vs. 9-11)


-          Thought it not robbery to be equal with God                      -  God hath highly exalted him

-          But made himself of no reputation                          -  Give him a name

-          And took upon him the form of a servant                -  Above every name

-          And was made in the likeness of men                      -  Every knee should bow

-          …he humbled himself                                             -  Every tongue should confess

-          And became obedient                                             -  Jesus Christ is Lord

-          Unto death, even the death of the cross                   -  To the glory of God the Father




A.     When we understand figures of speech, the Bible becomes more than just words.

1.       We see phrases.

2.       We see the patterns of words.

3.       We see pictures.

4.       We see relationships.

5.       We see definitions in the text.


B.     We also find that figures of speech make the Bible easier to memorize [Ex., the anabasis (ascent) and catabasis (descent)].


C.     Figures of speech help us to learn and maintain the Word of God deep in our hearts.