PARONOMASIA OR A PLAY ON WORDS
I. What Is Paronomasia?
THE BIBLE is the revelation of God put in human language. God not only gave the thought, but also chose the words by which the disclosure was to be conveyed to man. In giving His Word He used the language of the people to whom He spoke. In all languages there are literal terms and figurative expressions. There are all types of figures of speech and metaphorical language. Unless a person realizes this fact, he will run into difficulty in interpreting the Scriptures. Moreover, the student must be familiar with the various figures of speech. One of the least known and yet one of the most important figures occurring in the Scriptures is that of paronomasia or a play on words and ideas. Since it occurs so very, very frequently, and since in many instances the entire point in a passage is bound up in an understanding of this figure, it is of the utmost importance that the Bible student should familiarize himself with it in order that he might follow the thought of the Scriptures as they are making their revelation known to him.
As stated in the heading of this study, paronomasia is a play on words or ideas. This term is from the Greek and is a combination of a preposition and a noun, the former primarily meaning beside; the latter indicating to name or to give a name to. Laying aside the rigidity of the etymology of the term, we would say that paronomasia consists of our laying down beside one word or idea that has been useda similar one with a little variation or change. The point or force of the word or idea thus employed is contingent upon our understanding of the word or idea upon which it is a pun.
An illustration, however, is worth many definitions and words. Everyone of us is familiar with the fact that frequently a parent has spoken to a child, who has taken a serious matter lightly and laughingly, saying: "You will be laughing on the other side of your face (or mouth)." No explanation of what is meant is needed. The child is not considering the seriousness of the matter in hand; but, on the contrary he is laughing about it. The warning is given in terms of what is being done, namely, laughing. But the parent does not suggest that the child actually will be laughing; he simply means that he will be crying; but he speaks of what the child will be doing in terms of what he is doing at the time of the reprimand. In scores upon scores of passages throughout the Word we find this same usage of language. It must therefore be recognized in order to understand what is meant.
II. Examples Of Paronomasia
In this discussion we shall notice only a few examples of this usage, the first of which is Amos 8:1,2: "Thus the Lord Jehovah showed me: and behold, a basket of summer fruit. 2 And he said, Amos, what seest thou? And I said, A basket of summer fruit. Then said Jehovah unto me, The end is come upon my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more." The Lord showed the prophet, in vision, a basket of summer fruit. The word rendered "summer fruit" is the Hebrew word, kayits, when transliterated. To the prophet's answer the Lord said: "The end is come upon my people Israel." The word rendered "the end," when transliterated, is kets. The radicals of each word are the same, with the exception of the "y". But in Hebrew they appear very much alike. There is a play, not upon the idea, but upon the words, which were so very similar that the general impression made upon the prophet's mind was indelible. Thus when anyone who had listened to the oracle saw a basket of summer fruit, he would automatically think of the oracle that it indicated the end that would come upon the people of Israel.
ANOTHER example of paronomasia is found in Micah, which reads as follows: "Woe to them that devise iniquity and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their hand. 2 And they covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them away: and they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage. 3 Therefore thus saith Jehovah: Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks, neither shall ye walk haughtily; for it is an evil time." (Micah 2:1-3).
The prophet spoke, or rather pronounced, a woe against those who devised iniquity and worked evil upon their beds, when they were lying in the quietude of the night. But when the day arose, they would put into execution their diabolical plans. They were covetous people who would take advantage of others and oppress them in any and every way possible. To them, therefore, the Lord gave the following warning: "Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks, neither shall ye walk haughtily; for it is an evil time."
These people would plot against innocent helpless ones, scheming how they could rob people by every method and device possible. They planned what was indeed outright wickedness and sin. Against them, therefore, the Lord hurled the threat that He would likewise devise an evil against them. He would do some planning and plotting. He, by His omniscience, could out-plan and out-maneuver them. In doing so, He would bring calamity upon them. Since the Almighty is a holy God and is not tempted of evil, that is, moral wrong, we can see that the word "evil" is used in a different sense. The word rendered "evil" in the Old Testament very frequently indicates calamity. As an example of this meaning note the following passage: "I [Jehovah] form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil [calamity]; I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things." In this passage we see, then, when we view all the facts, that God is threatening punishment to the evildoers who were plotting iniquitous acts against their fellowmen. The Lord plans the evil, that is, the punishment, that He must as a holy and just God bring as retribution upon people for their sins. Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for that which a man sows, he shall also reap. Man should ever remember that his sin will find him out.
AS another example of paronomasia, let us notice the following passage: "But ye that forsake Jehovah, that forget my holy mountain, that prepare a table for Fortune, and that fill up mingled wine unto Destiny; 12 I will destine you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter; because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but ye did that which was evil in mine eyes, and chose that wherein I delighted not" (Isa. 65:11,12). In order to understand this passage, one must recognize the fact that, according to the prophetic word, after the church is goneremoved from the earth by the rapturepaganism will spread like a prairie fire all over the world. Men of every nation and tribe will resort to gross idolatry. That they will do this is evident from such a passage as Revelation 9:20,21: "And the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the work of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk: 21 and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts." There are a number of passages in the Old Testament that foretell the same thing. We see therefore that men will actually revert to gross idolatrous paganism in the Tribulation Period.
In Israel idolatry will spring forth at that future time. Isaiah, therefore, assumed, in the passage under consideration, this flood tide of paganism. There are two idols that are mentioned in Isaiah 65:11, Fortune and Destiny. The word rendered "Destiny" in the original is Meni. This is the name of the Babylonian goddess that corresponded to the Venus of the Roman pantheon. Having accused the people of filling up mingled wine unto Destiny, that is, Meni, the prophet then used the word which when transliterated into the English, is spelled Manithi and which means to appoint, to allot to, or to destine. Thus the prophet chose that verb the simple form of which is Manan, which corresponded most nearly to the name of this Babylonian goddess, which meant to appoint or to allot to, and which, in this case, indicates to destine to. He therefore said that God would "destine you to the sword," since they had engaged in the worship of this goddess.
ANOTHER most important case of paronomasia is found in Daniel, chapter 9. It appears in verse 24 in the statement, "Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy." What is the meaning of the expression "seventy weeks"? Literally it is "seventy sevens." To translate the second word by our English word, weeks, was a most unfortunate rendition. Our English word, week, has a specific, definite meaning of seven days. This is not true with reference to the original Hebrew term. It simply meant seven. If one, speaking in Hebrew and using the language as Daniel did, should be talking about trees and wanted to let us know that he had seen only seven trees, he would use the same word which the angel Gabriel employed in this verse. On the other hand, if he were speaking of men and wished to indicate that there were seven, he would use the same word. Moreover, if he were talking of chickens and wanted to tell us that there were seven of these fowls, he would use the same word. Thus the term indicates only the number seven in the Hebrew.
What, then, did the angel Gabriel mean by affirming to Daniel that there were seventy sevens decreed upon the people of Israel and upon the Holy City? This query can be answered only by looking at the entire context in chapter 9. The key to the proper understanding of this passage is to be found in the first two verses, which read as follows: 1 "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, 2 in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years whereof the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah the prophet, for the accomplishing of the desolations of Jerusalem, even seventy years." Daniel in these verses informs us that he understood by the books the number of the years whereof God spoke to Jeremiah regarding the accomplishment of the desolations of Jerusalem. From this statement it is clear that Daniel was studying the book of Jeremiah, who foretold the Babylonian siege and the consequent Exile, and other books that threw light upon this prediction. One naturally and immediately thinks of the Books of Kings and Chronicles, which record the causes of the downfall of the Hebrew monarchy and the actual collapse of Jewish resistance, together with the Babylonian captivity. Those books gave the historical account of the fall of the Jewish monarchy. In the light of the historical records and significance of the word, year, in those works, and also in the light of Jeremiah's prediction that the Babylonian captivity would continue for seventy years, Daniel naturally understood the years for the Exile to be seventy of the ordinary solar yearsthe years mentioned in those books.
In Daniel 9:1 we see that the prophet was studying Jeremiah's works in the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes. This year was the sixty-eighth of the seventy years of Babylonian captivity. Believing the word of Jeremiah to be the very Word of God and trusting God to say what He meant and to mean what He said, Daniel believed that the Exile would be completed within two years. In this he was correct.
The prediction that the captivity would last for seventy years is found in Jeremiah, chapters 25 and 29. I invite the reader to turn to these scriptures in his Bible and to study them carefully. I shall, however, quote only from the latter. "For thus saith Jehovah, After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end. 12 And ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. 13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. 14 And I will be found of you, saith Jehovah, and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith Jehovah; and I will bring you again unto the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive" (Jer. 29:10-14).
Note the fact that, in verse 10 of this quotation God says that, at the end of the seventy years, He would bring back the people to the land of the fathers. In verse 11 the prophet shows that this is necessary in order for God to carry out His plans and purposes regarding Israel which reach out into the distant future"to give you hope in your latter end." Thus verse 11 drops the subject of the Babylonian captivity and the restoration from the same and darts out into the future to the latter end. Still having his attention focused on the end of this age, the prophet continued the prediction. "And ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. 13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. 14 And I will be found of you, saith Jehovah, and I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith Jehovah ..." Observe the fact that in verse 10, in speaking of the restoration from Babylon, he simply said that God would cause them "to return to this place"Palestine. But with reference to the other regathering of Israel and her being restored to her land, in the latter end, the Lord declared, "I will turn again your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations ..." Here the word "again" is inserted, indicating that this is another restoration, a second one. This is in perfect accord with Isaiah 11:11 where God promised to put forth His hand again the second time to regather Israel from her world-wide dispersion. Thus it becomes evident to every close student of the Word that there is a blending of the predictions concerning the two restorations of Israel to her own landthe first from Babylonian captivity; the second from her world-wide dispersion. Only the very close Bible student will catch this most important point.
Since Daniel was studying the Book of Jeremiah, and since the seventy years of desolations of Jerusalem are mentioned in these two chapters, we know that he was studying Jeremiah, chapter 29. In his perusal of this passage it is quite evident from what the angel Gabriel said that Daniel did not see the fine point of there being two restorations of Israel to her own land but expected the final and complete restoration after the Babylonian captivity. That Daniel did arrive at this conclusion is reflected in Gabriel's statement to him, as he (Daniel) had informed us: "And he instructed me, and talked with me, and said, 0 Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee wisdom and understanding. 23 At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment went forth, and I am come to tell thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision" (Dan. 9:22,23). Daniel needed instruction. For that reason the Lord sent Gabriel to the prophet, who declared that he had been sent to him "to give thee [Daniel] wisdom and understanding." Gabriel felt the necessity of warning the prophet not to dismiss the issue, but to open his heart and to receive the instruction which Gabriel was giving him. From these facts it is very evident that Daniel did not understand thoroughly the message of Jeremiah.
The prophets, when the Spirit of God was upon them, were infallibly inspired and could not and did not make any mistakes. But the Spirit of God was not upon the prophets all the time. The Spirit came on various occasions. Usually the prophets date the time of their reception of a message from God. When the Spirit was not thus upon them and inspiring them, they could make mistakes, as Nathan the prophet did in his advising David to build a temple to the Lord. After he had thus encouraged the king, Nathan was forced by the Lord to go and correct his mistake (II Sam., chap. 7).
We can gather from the prediction in Daniel 9:24 the mistake that Daniel made. He concluded that the six things mentioned in Daniel 9:24 would be fulfilled at the end of the Babylonian captivitywithin two years of the time. That the reader might see the mistake that Daniel made, I quote this verse again: "Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy." Instead of these six things being fulfilled at the end of that first period of seventy years of the Babylonian captivity, as the prophet had thought, Gabriel said that there were seventy sevens decreed upon the Jewish people and upon Jerusalem for the bringing in of millennial conditions.
Gabriel said that there were seventy sevens (not seventy weeks of days) decreed upon Israel and Jerusalem. Seventy sevens of what? Of the thing about which Daniel had been reading and studying. As we have already seen, he had been reading about and thinking of literal years, regular solar years, consisting of the four seasonsyears such as are recorded in the historical portions of the Scriptures. The angel Gabriel therefore said to Daniel that, instead of the Millennium's coming at the end of that first period of seventy years, there would be seventy times seven years before that vision would become reality.
Thus we see that the Exile lasted for seventy times one year, or seventy years. But there must pass seventy times seven years before the establishment of this reign of righteousness upon the earth.
In view of all the facts we see that the expression, seventy times seven, is an illustration of the principle of paronomasia. The recognition of this fact gives us the keynote to the proper understanding of the passage. A failure to recognize that this is a case of paronomasia throws the entire passage into confusion. As a result, many wild and weird guesses and interpretations have been imposed upon Daniel, chapter 9. In fact, a certain system of a chronological prophetic outline is based upon the conclusion, drawn from this passage, by many who fail to see that this is a plain and evident case of a play upon words.
For a full and complete discussion of the prophecy of Daniel, chapter 9, see either my volume, Messiah: His First Coming Scheduled, or The Seventy Weeks of Daniel.
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