Ward Farnsworth on the Rhetorical Tricks of the Bible

Monkey on Mic

Literature wonks. Writer hacks. Speaker geeks. Rejoice. 

So I bummed this book off a neighbor who is a fellow homeschooler. It’s a book on English rhetoric.

Or verbal style.

She originally pulled it off her shelf to show me because of the name: Ward Farnsworth. Not an exact rendering of my last name. It’s Farnworth, no “s.” And that’s not pretentious posturing on my part–it has been that way for generations. But close enough.

Each chapter is devoted to a rhetorical figure like Annaphora, Chiasmus and Litotes.

That may sound like non-sense, but those are really just fancy words for rhetorical tricks that you’ll easily recognize.

And each rhetorical figure is broken down in sub-species, complete with examples from notable speakers like Shakespeare, Churchill, Chesterton and the Bible.

I’m not sure if Farnsworth is a Christian and views Scripture as sacred, or if he holds the liberal belief that the Bible is great literature like Homer or Dickens is great literature.

Either way, he knows the Bible.

So, I think you’ll enjoy learning the actual verbal techniques the writers and speakers in the Bible used to communicate.

Epizeuxis–Simple Reputation of Words and Phrases

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 6:3

Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

Exekiel 33:11

Anaphora–Repetition at the Beginning

The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied up them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.

Exodus 15:9

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!

Matthew 23:13-16

Epistrophe–Repetition at the End

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your tresspasses.

Matthew 6:15

And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together.

Genesis 13:6

Symploce–Repetition at the Start and the End

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

Anadiplosis–Repeating the Ending at the Beginning

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

Romans 6:3-5

Polyptoton–Repetition of the Root

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Matthew 7:1

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

1 Corinthians 1:19

And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.

Revelation 6:2

Isocolon–Parallel Structure

At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.

Proverbs 23:32

Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

Matthew 22:21

Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8

Therefore I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not: and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

Matthew 13:13

Chiasmus–Reversal of Structure

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

Woe unto that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20

We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement.

Isaiah 28:15

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:13

Anastrophe–Inversion of Words

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:3-5

Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I give thee.

Acts 3:6

Polysyndeton–Using Extra Conjunctions

And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.

Genesis 7:3

And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. 24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

Genesis 1:23-24

They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

Luke 17:27

Asyndeton–Leaving Out Conjunctions

And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.

Ecclesiastes 2:10

Litotes–Rhetorical Uses of the Negative

And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small.

Jeremiah 30:19

Hypophora–Asking Questions and Answering Them

I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.

1 Corinthians 11:21-22


Farnsworth, who’s a lawyer by trade, provides an astounding amount of references.

Quotes from Churchill, Shakespeare, Emerson, Thoreau, Burke, Wilde, Shaw, Dickens, Melville, Twain, Trollope, James, Lincoln, Grattan, Douglas.

And like a hundred more.

The research alone is worth owning a copy. If you speak or write at all, and want to improve, this is a book you must own.

By the way, can you think of any biblical examples that use these rhetorical tricks? And what about that name…Ward? Positively rocks.


  1. Denita TwoDragons says

    The literary nerd in me was seriously geeking out about this. I am going to have to find that book!! :-D

    And…ahh, it’s so good to have you back in the blogosphere! :-)

    • DemianFarnworth says

      Yes, that totally lights up the geek-o-meter. And I don’t know what I like more about being back…the writing or having your fun self around. Thank you. ;)