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Bible Lexicons

Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

Hyperbaton; or Transposition

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The placing of a Word out of its usual order in a Sentence

Hy-per´-ba-ton. Greek, ὑπέρβατον, from ὑπέρ (hyper), over, and βαίνειν (bainein), to step. Hence ὑπερβατός and Hyperbaton, a stepping over, transposition.

The figure is so called because the words of a sentence are put out of their natural and usual grammatical order.

All words are arranged in a sentence according to certain laws, which have been acquired by usage. These laws are not the same in all languages, but each language has its own peculiar laws, called Syntax, which merely means a putting together in order. Even in one language this order may vary in different stages of its history and development.

Hyperbaton is a putting together of words in a way contrary to or different from the usual order. Hence, what is Hyperbaton in one language may not be Hyperbaton in another.

In English, the arrangement of words in a sentence usually follows the order of thought. Hence, naturally, the subject (with all that pertains to it) comes first: i.e., the thing spoken of; then follows the copula: i.e., the verb, and all words connected with it; and then the predicate: i.e., something said about the subject, called the object, with its adjuncts.

In an inflected langnage (like the Greek, for example) it is not so necessary to keep to the formal arrangement of the words in a sentence, the grammatical dependence of words being sufficiently indicated by the inflections. Consequently there is great room for a variety of arrangements, when a particular word has to be emphasized.

It is hopeless to attempt to give an adequate idea of the nature and extent of the beautiful and subtle shades of meaning and thought produced by these unusual collocation of words called Hyperbaton. So delicate are they, at times, that it is scarcely possible to reproduce them in a translation.

In the Greek language, the object usually follows the governing verb; but it sometimes comes before it. The predicate usually comes after the object; but sometimes it stands first. The adjective usually follows the noun which it qualifies; but sometimes it stands before its noun: etc, etc.

The most emphatic position for these transposed words is at the beginning of a clause; but sometimes it is at the end; in which case the word is held back, and kept in suspense, while the attention is kept up, and the hearer or reader has nothing for it but to listen to the close for fear of losing the whole. When it is put out of its place, and stands out at the beginning, it thrusts itself upon our notice, and compels us to give all our attention, and see what it is that is going to be said about it.

In the old Hebrew Syntax, the subject usually precedes the predicate, the adjective the substantive, pronouns the nouns, the genitive the nominative, and the nominative the verb: e.g., Judges 1:7 : "seventy kings thumbs of their hands and feet cut off, were."

In more modern Hebrew Syntax, the adjective follows the substantive; pronouns follow nouns; while the genitive follows the nominative which has a special form called the "construct."

In Chaldee, the verb is placed after the subject, and the article after the noun.

It has been said that "proper words in proper places is the true definition of style." But an intentional deviation from the ordinary "style" for the purpose of attracting attention and expressing the emphasis is the definition of Hyperbaton.

We may illustrate its use in this way. A person has a particular chair in his room, which he wishes his friends to notice. They continue to call, but do not notice it. It is in the usual place where chairs ought to be, and so does not attract any special attention. But one day he places this chair upon the table. Who can then fail to observe it, the moment the room is entered?

This is exactly what takes place with words, in the figure Hyperbaton. Special attention is desired for some particular word. Placed in its ordinary and usual position, it may not be noticed. But, put out of its usual order and place at the beginning instead of at the end of a sentence, it is impossible for the reader not to be arrested by it.

If we say, for example, "The mystery of godliness is great," that is the natural order of the English words. But if we say, "Great is the mystery of godliness," we see at once that all the emphasis is to be placed on the word "great."

This figure has also been called SYNCHYSIS, Syn´-chy-sis: Greek, σύγχυσις, from συγχεῖν (synchein), to mix up, which is from σύν (sun), together, and χεῖν (chein), to pour. Hence, χύσις (chysis), a pouring, and Synchysis, a mixing up, as of words in a sentence.

We now give a few examples:-

Isaiah 34:4.-"And the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll." Here, (in the Heb.) the word "heavens" is emphasized by being, by Hyperbaton, put last: "And they shall be rolled together as a scroll-the heavens."

Jeremiah 14:1.-"The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the dearth." Here, by Hyperbaton, it is That which was the Word of the Lord came, etc.

Jeremiah 17:3.-"I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoiler." Here, the verb is emphasized by being put last: "All thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoiler-will I give."

Matthew 5:3-11.-In these verses, called the "Beatitudes," the participle is put out of its usual place, and made to begin the sentences instead of ending them: thus calling attention to the emphasis placed upon it.

Matthew 7:13.-"Enter ye in at the strait gate."

Here the adjective is placed before the noun to call attention to its narrowness. So with the adjectives "wide" and "broad," which are both to be emphasized.

Luke 16:11.-"Who will commit to your trust the true riches."

The Hyperbaton (in the Greek) shows where the emphasis is to be placed: "The true riches-who will entrust them to you."

John 1:1.-Here the subject, "the Word," being defined by the article which is prefixed to it, can be placed at the end of two of the clauses: "In the beginning was the Word, and God the Word was": i.e., in plain cold English, "The Word was in the beginning and the Word was God."

The A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] preserves the Hyperbaton in the first clause, but not in the last, because the English idiom will not bear it. But in each case we are to put the stress on "the Word."

See under Climax.

John 4:19.-The order of the words is, "Saith to him, the woman, Sir, I perceive that a prophet art thou": thus emphasizing both the words "thou" and "prophet," which should be greatly emphasized in reading.

John 4:24.-"A Spirit is God."

The true emphasis is to be placed on the word "Spirit," through its being placed (in the Greek) at the beginning of the sentence. In the ordinary order, it would be placed after the subject. The two words are transposed to call our attention to this great fact; as being the basis of the Great Rubric which emphasizes the absolute necessity of our worship being truly spiritual.

See under Hendiadys.

John 6:60.-"Hard is this saying."

Here again the predicate is put first, and the object last, in order to emphasize both.

John 7:4.-"For no one in secret doeth anything and [at the same time] seeketh for it in public to be."

John 9:31.-"Now we know that sinners-God does not hear."

John 17:5.-"And now glorify me, Thou, Father, with Thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with Thee." Here, the mysterious depths of the words are forced upon our attention by the Hyperbaton.

The force of it is weakened by the literalness of the A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] and R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.]

Acts 17:23.-The true emphasis is here brought out by the Hyperbaton: "For passing through and beholding the objects of your worship, I found an altar also, on which stood inscribed, To an unknown God. What therefore, unknowing, ye reverence, this I-even I, announce to you."

Romans 1:3.-"Concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." Here, the A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] entirely loses the emphasis of the Hyperbaton, by which the words "Jesus Christ our Lord" in sense follow the words "His Son," but are held back in suspense to the very end of the clause.

The R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] restores it, but we give our own rendering of this difficult passage (verses 1-4):-

"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, by Divine calling an apostle (see Ellipsis), separated unto Gods Gospel which He promised in former times through His prophets in Holy Scriptures: viz., the Gospel concerning His Son, who was of Davids seed according to the flesh, but was powerfully (ἐν δυνάμει) demonstrated to be Gods Son with respect to His holy spiritual nature, by His resurrection from the dead* [Note: Or "by a resurrection of dead persons": viz., that referred to in . See under Hysteresis and Heterosis.] (Psalms 2:1-12 Acts 2:1-47), even Jesus Christ our Lord."

Romans 5:8.-Here the words are out of the natural order to excite our attention. The Greek is: "But commends His own love to us-God." The nominative is put last, and the verb first, to emphasize both.

Romans 8:18.-"Not worthy are the sufferings of the present time [compared with] the coming glory, to be revealed."

Here, the emphasis is placed on the non-worthiness of the sufferings, and the nearness of the revelation of the glory.

Romans 11:13.-"For to you I speak, to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am of Gentiles the apostle."

Here the shades of emphasis can be traced in the unusual order of the words in which fleshly wisdom can discern only "bad grammar"! The first and last words are seen to be very emphatic.

Romans 12:19.-How unusual to commence like this: "Not yourselves avenging (or, be no self-avengers), beloved, but give place to [Divine] wrath," thus emphasizing "yourselves."

Romans 14:1.-"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not for disputings of doubts": i.e., doubtful disputations, with emphasis on doubtful.

1 Corinthians 3:9.-"For Gods fellow-workers, Gods husbandry, Gods building ye."

The emphasis is on "Gods"; and it is to be noted that it is we who are fellow-workers with one another; not with God, as though He were one like ourselves. We are the fellow-workers with one another, and we belong to God and work for Him. We work, and He it is who giveth the increase.

1 Corinthians 13:1.-"If with the tongues of men I speak and of angels."

Ephesians 6:8.-"Whatsoever thing each may have done that is good."

Here the adjective is held over to the last in order to emphasize it.

1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Timothy 4:9. 2 Timothy 2:11. Titus 3:8.-"πιστὸς ὁ λόγος: Faithful the saying."

How much more emphatic than the ordinary coldness of the natural order: "The saying is faithful."

1 Timothy 3:16.-"Great is, of godliness, the mystery."

How wonderful is the emphasis thus placed on the word "great," put as it is before the subject, which is kept back and put as the very last word in the sentence (in the Greek).

See under Synecdoche, Hendiadys, and Synonymia.

1 Timothy 6:5.-"Supposing that gain is godliness."

Here the principal word is put out of its place, at the end, to call our attention to it. The emphasis is thus put on the word "godliness," "Supposing that godliness is gain."

1 Timothy 6:12.-"Keep on struggling the fine good struggle of the Faith, lay hold on the life eternal, unto which life thou wast called also, and didst confess the fine confession before many witnesses."

Here the adjective "fine" (or "good") is greatly emphasized in each case.

Hebrews 6:16.-"For with men it is the Greater by whom they swear, and of all dispute they have a decisive settlement the oath."

Hebrews 7:4.-"To whom, even a tenth, Abraham gave out of the spoils, the patriarch."

Notice how the subject of the verse is kept back to the last, in order to call attention to the fact that, if Abraham-the patriarch himself-gave the tithe, He to whom he gave them must of necessity be greater, even than Abraham.

Hebrews 10:30.-"To me vengeance belongeth, I (even I) will recompense, saith the Lord": emphasising the pronouns very strongly.

1 Peter 2:7.-"To you therefore is the preciousness-[unto you] who believe." The subject is put last in order to emphasize the fact that the Lord Jesus is precious only to believers and to none else.

1 Peter 3:21.-The order and emphasis of the Greek is:-

"Which [water]-in the antitype-now saves you also-namely, baptism: not a putting away of bodily defilement, but an appeal of a good conscience to God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ": i.e., that while it was water which was the instrumentality through which Noah was brought safely through, it is the Holy Ghost who is now the antitype of this, which we have through the resurrection of Christ.

It was often declared that He should thus baptize: "I baptize with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost."

1 John 2:24.-Here again the peculiarity of the Hyperbaton attracts our attraction, and causes us to reflect on the words. "Ye, then, what ye heard from the beginning (or primitively), in you let it abide: if in you shall have abode what from the beginning ye heard, ye also, in the Son, and in the Father, shall abide."

So verse 27: "And you, the anointing, which ye received from Him, in you abideth; and no need have ye that anyone should teach you: but, as the same anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and even as it [first] taught you, ye will abide in Him."

Revelation 13:8.-"Whose names are not written in the book of life, of the Lamb slain, from the foundation of the world."


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Bibliography Information
Bullinger, E. W., D.D. Entry for 'Hyperbaton; or Transposition'. Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/bullinger/114.

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