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Bible Lexicons

Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

Erotesis; or Interrogating

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The Asking of Questions without waiting for the Answer

Er´-ô-tee´-sis. Greek, ἐρώτησις, interrogation (from ἐρωτᾶν, to ask, to enquire, to question: also to request).

This figure is used when a speaker or writer asks animated questions, but not to obtain information. Instead of making a plain and direct statement, he suddenly changes his style, and puts what he was about to say or could otherwise have said, into the form of a question, without waiting for an answer. Instead of declaring a conviction, or expressing indignation, or vindicating authority, he puts it in the form of a question without expecting any reply

The figure is so important that not only is it of frequent occurrence, but it has several other names. It is called

PEUSIS (peu´-sis). Greek, πεῦσις, an asking, inquiry (from πεύθομαι (peuthomai): poetic present of πυνθάνομαι (punthanomai), to ask, inquire).

PYSMA (pys´-ma). Greek, πύσμα (pusma), what is learnt by the interrogation (from the same root).

The Latins called it PERCONTATIO, an asking, inquiring after; and INTERROGATIO, an interrogating.

While these names are all used of the act of interrogation, the question itself is called EROTEMA (er´-o-tee´-ma).

There are questions in the Hebrew which are not reproduced in the English; and some are given below, though the labour of making an exhaustive list would be too great.

But, counting the questions as they appear in the English Bible, the importance of this figure Erotesis, or Interrogating, will be seen when we state that, in the 1,189 chapters into which the Bible is divided, there are no less than 3,298 questions. It is clear, therefore, that it is impossible for us here to quote, or even to give, all the references. Out of the 1,189 chapters of the Bible there are only 453 which are without a question.

These are divided as follows:-The 929 chapters of the Old Testament contain 2,274 questions; while the 260 chapters of the New Testament contain no less than 1,024. The average of questions in the New Testament is much higher, per chapter, than that in the Old Testament. For, while the average of the whole Bible is 2.75 (i.e., 2¾ questions for every chapter), the Old Testament average Isaiah 2:3 (or 2⅓), and the New Testament nearly twice as much: viz., 3.9 (or nearly 4).

This is how the Bible is affected as a whole. When we come to the separate Books, we find that Job stands first with 329 questions; while Jeremiah comes next with 195.

In the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew stands first with 177 questions; then Johns Gospel with 167: etc.

When we come to separate chapters, Job 38:1-41 stands first with 40 questions; then 2 Samuel 19:1-43, with 22 questions. In the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 9:1-27 stands first, with 20 questions; followed closely by John 7:1-53, which has 19.

These facts are interesting, but are not important, as to the chapters; inasmuch as these are only human in their origin, and are often very incorrectly divided. As to the two Testaments and the separate books, however, they serve to show us the relative distribution of this beautiful figure Erotesis.

With regard to the questions themselves, their classification is another matter altogether. Some are searching, causing the mind to pause, wonder, and admire. Some are revelations of the attributes of God, and of the depravity of man. The very first Divine question of the Old Testament reveals the condition of man by nature: "WHERE ART THOU?" It comes from God to the sinner, now "far off" (Ephesians 2:13), from God. While the first question in the New Testament reveals the effect of this on the sinners heart, causing him to turn to that Saviour whom the New Testament reveals, and cry, "WHERE IS HE?"

The questions of the Bible, whether God addresses them to man; or whether man turns to God; or whether he questions himself; contain a mine of truth and teaching; while the heart is awakened, and the attention is aroused to seek out the answer, which is ever fraught with deep and blessed instruction.

We have only to reflect on the interesting fact that the figures used most frequently by the Lord Jesus are Interrogation and Implication (Erotesis and Hypocatastasis). The very first thing that is mentioned concerning Him as the first act of His life, is that He was found "in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions" (Luke 2:46).

Doubtless He could teach them much that would astound them, by the use of this Figure, in spite of the disparity of age. For a child of twelve years of age may question, when he may not teach; and yet, by this simple means, teach more effectively than the greatest of teachers. No wonder that "all that heard him were astonished."

All writers and speakers have always drawn largely on this Figure, and many interesting examples might be given from general literature.

Science lifts its head against the word of God as though all were uncertainty outside of its own proud boastings. And yet a few questions soon prick and burst the bubble.

Scientia means real or intuitive knowledge, as does its Greek representative γνῶσις (gnôsis). (Hence our words "know" and "knowledge"). Neither of these words means acquired knowledge. But beyond a very few facts and the small circle of mathematical demonstrations: How little is really known! What is matter? What is mind? What is life? What is light? What is electricity? What is gravitation? or, Is there any such thing at all? What is the history of our own earth geologically? Who can tell us this? So long ago as 1806, the French Institute tabulated more than eighty geological theories, and how many have there been since then?

We merely give this as illustrating how we may ourselves, by a few questions, dispose of the giants who would demolish us and rob us of the Inspired Word of God, which comes to us in all its blessed and Divine certainty.

We turn, then, to its questions; and our best course will be to indicate certain divisions into which they may be classified; so that the Bible-searching student may have somewhere to place the questions, as he seeks them out and finds them.

Several classifications have been attempted by various writers from Glassius downwards, and probably none is either correct or complete. The subject is too large, and its divisions over-lap too much, to allow of too minute an arrangement.

We might classify them under their subject matter, or under the words with which they commence ("Who," "How," "Why," "Whether," etc.).

If we used both these divisions they would get mixed up, and many questions would appear in each. So that we present the following, as embracing practically all the divisions into which the questions of the Bible may be classified.

1. In positive affirmation.

2. In negative affirmation.

3. In affirmative negation.

4. In demonstration.

5. In wonder and admiration.

6. In rapture.

7. In wishes.

8. In refusals and denials.

9. In doubts.

10. In admonition.

11. In expostulation.

12. In prohibition or dissuasion.

13. In pity and commiseration.

14. In disparagement.

15. In reproaches.

16. In lamentation.

17. In indignation.

18. In absurdities and impossibilities.

19. Double questions.

1. In Positive Affirmation

Where the answer must be in the affirmative.

"Wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling?" (Psalms 56:13 (14)). [Yes, thou wilt]. Here the present comes in between the past ("thou hast delivered my soul from death") and the future ("that I may walk before God in the light of the living."

"These two things are come unto thee; who shall be sorry for thee? [Every one]. Desolation and destruction, and the famine, and the sword: by whom shall I comfort thee?" (Isaiah 51:19): i.e., by every one.

"Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?" (Luke 14:5). [No one].

2. In Negative Affirmation

Where the question is put in the negative form, and the answer must be in the affirmative, and very emphatically so; the truth being thus much more forcibly brought out by the question than by a mere cold and formal statement of the fact.

"Is not the whole land before thee?" (Genesis 13:9): i.e., yes, it is.

"Do not thy brethren feed in Shechem?" (Genesis 37:13). [Yes, they do.] Here, in A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] and R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] , the words "the flock" are inserted (in the latter not in italics). This is because of the words "their fathers flock," which occur in the previous verse. But this is one of the fifteen dotted words in the Hebrew Text, which means that they had got into the Text at a very early date; and the scribes, not liking actually to remove them from the Text, put a row of small dots along the top to show that the word or words ought not to be in the Text, though they had not been taken out. As the words "the flock" are dotted in the Hebrew, verse 12, means that they had gone to feed themselves in Shechem! (Compare Ezekiel 34:2; Ezekiel 34:8; Ezekiel 34:10, and Isaiah 56:11-12).

"Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother, whom I know to be eloquent?" (Exodus 4:14): i.e., I know that he is so.

"Are they not on the other side Jordan?" etc. (Deuteronomy 11:30).

"Shall I not seek rest for thee?" etc. (Ruth 3:1).

"Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered?" (1 Chronicles 21:17; compare 2 Samuel 24:17).

"Is there not a warfare to man upon the earth?" (Job 7:1, R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] ); marg. [Note: arg. Margin.] , a time of service. (See the A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] margin).

"Do not all go to one place?" (i.e., to Sheol, or the grave) (Ecclesiastes 6:6). The answer is: Yes, they do!

"Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver?" (Isaiah 50:2). Here, we have a combined affirmative and negative:-No; my hand is not shortened. I can redeem; and, I have power to deliver. Compare 59:1.

"Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24). Yes. The previous question is positive.

"Is not the meat cut off before our eyes?" (Joel 1:16).

"Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the Lord" (Amos 2:11).

"Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light?" (Amos 5:20). See under Metonymy and Pleonasm.

"Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" (Matthew 7:22). See under Epizeuxis.

"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16). Yes, it is the fellowship of the members of the one Body in partaking of all the merits of Christs blood. "The bread which we break, is it not the communion (or fellowship) of the Body of Christ?"

"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14).

Sometimes the negative is omitted by Ellipsis (q.v. [Note: Which see.] ).

2 Samuel 15:27 -"The king said also unto Zadok the priest, Art not thou a seer?"

Here the negative is supplied in italics. But not in

Ezekiel 8:6.-"Son of man, seest thou what they do?": i.e., seest thou not?

So 1 Samuel 2:27, and especially Jeremiah 31:20, where it should be "Is not Ephraim my dear son? Is he not a pleasant child?" as is clear from what follows.

3. In Affirmative Negation

This is a very important division, because some of the weightiest truths are conveyed by this form of question: i.e., where the question is put in the affirmative, and the answer to be supplied by the mind is a very emphatic negative.

"Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" (Genesis 18:17).

"How can I dispossess them?" (Deuteronomy 7:17): i.e., I cannot do it.

"Who is like unto thee?" is the cry of all the "poor and needy" ones whom Jehovah has delivered. (Psalms 35:10). See Exodus 15:11. Deuteronomy 33:26-27. 1 Samuel 2:2. Psalms 71:19; Psalms 73:25; Psalms 89:6 (7); 113:5.

"Shall they escape by iniquity?" (Psalms 56:7 (8)). No, they shall not.

"Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?" (Psalms 94:16): i.e., there is no one to do this but God; as verse 17 clearly shows.

"Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? who can show forth all his praise?" (Psalms 106:2). The answer is that no one can.

Psalms 9:14 (15) does not conflict with this: for there it is a prayer for Jehovahs mercy, so that he "may show forth" all His praise. Compare Psalms 40:5 (6); 139:17, 18.

Ecclesiastes 3:21.-Here, we must take the question "who know whether," etc., as requiring a negative answer. See under Appendix E.

"Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24). No, none can so hide. The following question is negative.

"How shall then his kingdom stand?" (Matthew 12:26): i.e., it is impossible.

"Which of you convicteth me of sin?" (John 8:46). ἐλέγχω (elengcho) does not mean to convince, but to convict by bringing in guilty, lay bare, expose. No one could ever bring Christ in guilty of sin. This explains John 16:8. See Prosapodosis.

"What if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?" (Romans 3:3). See under Tapeinosis.

"If God be for us, who can be against us?"

"Who shall lay anything to the charge of Gods elect?"

"Who is he that condemneth?"

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:31-35). See under Epistrophe, Anaphora, Ellipsis, which are all employed in these verses.

"Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?" (Romans 11:34-35).

"Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?" etc. (1 Corinthians 9:7).

"Unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son?" (Hebrews 1:5): i.e., to none of them, but to the Son only. These words, "Thou art my Son," appear to be the Divine formula for the anointing of Christ: Matthew 3:17, for His office of prophet; Matthew 17:5, for His office of priest, * [Note: See Christs Prophetic Teaching, by the same author and publisher.] and Psalms 2:7 (cf. Hebrews 1:5), for His office of king.

"To which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?" (Hebrews 1:13), i.e., He never said this to any created angelic being.

See, for other instances, Genesis 50:19. 1 Samuel 2:25. Job 40:2, etc. Isaiah 40:13-14. Joel 1:2, etc., and many other places.

Sometimes the negative in the answer is not absolute, but only relative.

"Who knoweth the power of thine anger?" (Psalms 90:11). Not every one. See verses 13 and 16.

See also under Metonymy.

"Who can find a virtuous woman?" (Proverbs 31:10): i.e., not that there are absolutely none, but that they are relatively few. See the structure under Acrostichion.

"Who hath believed our report?" (Isaiah 53:1). Not, no one, but those to whom it is given-the Remnant. See under Hypotyposis and Metonymy.

"Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them?" (Hosea 14:9 (10)): i.e., not that no one is wise, but that such are relatively few.

4. In Demonstration

Sometimes a question is used to make an affirmation as to a certain subject, demonstrating a fact or proving a truth.

"What man is he that feareth the Lord?" (Psalms 25:12). This is to call attention to the demonstration in the next verse.

"Son of man, seest thou [not] what they do?" (Ezekiel 8:6). We have already had this trader a negative affirmation, but its object was to say, Behold, thou art a witness of their abominable idolatry.

"What went ye out into the wilderness to see?" This question is three times repeated: to demonstrate to the People the greatness of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:7-9).

5. In Wonder and Admirationg

"Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?" (Genesis 17:17), in wonder at the Divine power. See Romans 4:17-21. Abraham laughed for joy, for he fell upon his face in reverence (John 8:56. Genesis 21:8). Sarah laughed from incredulity (18:12). Contrast Martha and Mary in John 11:21 and John 11:32. Mary "fell down at his feet."

"How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son?" (Genesis 27:20).

"What is this that God hath done unto us?" (Genesis 42:28).

"How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalms 133:1). See under Asterismos.

"Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?" (Isaiah 43:1-2). See under Prosopopœia.

This refers not to Christs work of redemption for His People, but to the day of His vengeance and judgment on His enemies; as the context clearly shows.

"How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God (Adonai Jehovah)?" (Ezekiel 16:30).

"How soon is the fig-tree withered away?" (Matthew 21:20). Or better-How can the fig-tree have withered by this time?

6. In Rapture or Exultation

"Oh how great is thy goodness!" (Psalms 31:19 (20)).

"How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God (El)! How great is the sum of them!" (Psalms 139:17). See Anthropopatheia.

"Who am I, O Lord God (Adoani Jehovah)?" (2 Samuel 7:18).

It was the revelation of the greatness of Gods grace that enabled David thus to take the place of a true worshipper. In verse 1, David "sat in his house," and before himself; then his thought was to build a house for God; but, when he learnt that God was going to build him a house, then he went in, and "sat before the Lord."

"Is this the manner of man, O Lord God (Adonai Jehovah)?" (2 Samuel 7:19). The margin of the R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] reads "Is this the law of man, O Lord God," and the A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] margin says, "Heb. law." But idiomatically it means, "Is this the law for humanity?": i.e., the promise to David embraced blessing for the whole of humanity, and David by faith saw it, and exulted in it.

7. In Wishes

"Who will give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate?" (2 Samuel 23:15, Heb.). See under Œonismos.

"Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isaiah 6:8).

"Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24 (marg. [Note: arg. Margin.] )). See under Ecphonesis, Metonymy, Hypallage, and Ellipsis. By these figures is this height of Christian experience emphasised: i.e., the knowledge of the fact as to what God had done with "sins" (Romans 1:16-32; Romans 2:1-29; Romans 3:1-31; Romans 4:1-25; Romans 5:1-11), and also as to what He had done with "sin" (5:12-8:39); so that, although the fruits of the old tree are still seen and mourned over, there is the blessed knowledge that God reckons it as dead-as having died with Christ, and that we are to reckon the same.

8. In Refusals and Denials

"How shall I curse, whom God (EL) hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord (Jehovah) hath not defied?" (Numbers 23:8): i.e., I neither can nor dare do so.

9. In Doubts

"Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxen old shall I have pleasure?" (Genesis 18:12). See above.

"Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?" (Micah 7:6).

"But the righteousness which is of faith, speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven?" (Romans 10:6-7). See under Epitrechon. These doubts, raised by self-righteousness, are seen to be removed only by the imputation of a Divine righteousness.

10. In Admonition

"Hearest thou not, my daughter?" (Ruth 2:8): i.e., diligently hearken. "Go not to glean in another field."

"Who hath warned you (with the emphasis on the "you") to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:7).

11. In Expostulation

"Where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9). To show Adam where he really was, and the condition into which he had fallen, having lost fellowship and communion with God.

"What is this that thou hast done unto me?" etc. (Genesis 12:18-19).

"What is that betwixt me and thee?" (Genesis 23:15).

"Who am I that I should go into Pharaoh?" (Exodus 3:11).

"What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" (Isaiah 5:4).

"Wherefore, have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?" (Isaiah 58:3).

So Genesis 31:26-27; Genesis 44:4; Genesis 44:15. Psalms 11:1; Psalms 50:16 (see Apodioxis). Ezekiel 12:22; Ezekiel 18:1 (2). Daniel 3:14; and many examples in the prophecy of Malachi.

12. In Prohibitions

"Why should I be deprived also of you both in one day?" (Genesis 27:45).

"Why should I kill thee?" (1 Samuel 19:17): i.e., let me not have to kill thee.

"Wherefore should the heathen say," etc.? (Psalms 79:10): i.e., let not the heathen say.

"Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?" (Ecclesiastes 5:6).

"Why shouldest thou die before thy time?" (Ecclesiastes 7:17).

"Why will ye die, thou and thy people, by the sword?" (Jeremiah 27:13). So verse 17, "Wherefore should this city be laid waste?" i.e., Do not die. Do not let this city be laid waste.

"Why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11): i.e., Turn from your ways, so that ye die not. See under Epizeuxis and Obtestatio.

So 2 Samuel 2:22. 2 Chronicles 25:16. Daniel 1:10, etc.

13. In Pity and Commiseration

"How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people?" (Lamentations 1:1; see 2:1, etc.). See under Antithesis and Ellipsis.

"How often would I have gathered thy children, etc.?" (Matthew 23:37).

There are many examples in the Book of Lamentations.

14. In Disparagements

"Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isaiah 2:22).

"What cities are these which thou hast given me, my brother?" (1 Kings 9:13).

15. In Reproaches

"When this people, or the prophet, or a priest, shall ask thee, saying, What is the burden of the Lord? thou shalt then say unto them, What burden? I will even forsake you, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:33. So Jeremiah 23:35-36).

"What is truth?" (John 18:38). See Irony.

16. In Lamentation

"Lord, how are they increased that trouble me!" (Psalms 3:1 (2)): i.e., how come mine enemies to be so many?

"Why hast thou forsaken me?" (Psalms 22:1 (2)).

"Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? Doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" (Psalms 77:7-9 (8-10)). These lamentations arise from self-occupation (see verses 1-6). It is our natural "infirmity" (verse 10), that leads us into it. The only remedy is to cease from self-occupation, and look away from ourselves to God (verses 10-20): then happiness and praise take the place of lamentation.

Compare Psalms 73:1-28; where the same experience is gone through, only then the trouble arises from looking around instead of looking within. But the remedy for this "foolishness" (verse 22) is the same as for the "infirmity": viz., looking up (verses 17 and 23-28).

The lesson from questions in these two Psalms (lxxvii. and lxxiii.) is this. If we want to be miserable, all we have to do is to look within. If we want to be distracted, all we have to do is to look around. But if we would be happy, we must look up, away from ourselves and others, to God.* [Note: See Things to Come for Oct., 1899.]

"How is the faithful city become an harlot!" (Isaiah 1:21). Or, "How is it that the loyal city has turned harlot?" See under Synecdoche and Antithesis.

"Shall the women eat their fruit, and children of a span long? Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?" (Lamentations 2:20).

17. In Indignation

"Why do the heathen rage? and [why do] the people imagine a vain thing?" (Psalms 2:1).

"How long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?" (Matthew 17:17). See Ecphonesis.

18. In Absurdities and Impossibilities

"Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" (Job 14:4).

"Shall mortal man be more just than God? or shall a man be more pure than His Maker?" (Job 4:17).

"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jeremiah 13:23). See Parœmia.

"How can a man be born when he is old?" etc. (John 3:4).

"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (John 6:52). It was "a hard saying" (verse 60), and hence they thought it absurd.

"Have any of the elders or of the Pharisees believed on him?" (John 7:48). This question forms, from that day to this, the excuse for not acknowledging the claims of God or His Truth, unless the great and the influential of the Church receive them. It is the putting of man before God, instead of studying to show ourselves approved only to God.

"Who is this Son of man?" (John 12:34). This was the expression of the absurdity on the part of Christs enemies.

19. Double Questions

Sometimes double questions are employed, repeating the same question in different words so as to express the fact more emphatically.


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Bibliography Information
Bullinger, E. W., D.D. Entry for 'Erotesis; or Interrogating'. Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/bullinger/98.

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the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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