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Bible Lexicons

Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

Meiosis; or a be-Littleing

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(A be-littleing of one thing to magnify another)

Mei-ô´-sis. Greek μείωσις, a lessening, or diminution: from μειόω (mei-o-ô), to make smaller.

It is known also by the name LITOTES, li´-to-tees: Greek λιτότης, plainness, simplicity.

The Latins called it DIMINUTIO (Di-mi-nu´-ti-o) and EXTENUATIO (Ex-ten´-u-a´-ti-o).

By this figure one thing is diminished in order to increase another thing. It thus differs from Tapeinosis (q.v. [Note: Which see.] ), in which a thing is lessened in order to emphasize its own greatness or importance.

In Meiosis there is an omission therefore, not of words, but of sense. One thing is lowered in order to magnify and intensify something else by way of contrast.

It is used for the purpose of emphasis; to call our attention, not to the smallness of the thing thus lessened, but to the importance of that which is put in contrast with it.

Genesis 18:27.-"And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes."

Here Abraham humbles himself; and, alluding to the creation of man out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7), he implies much more than he expresses. In calling himself "dust and ashes," he contrasts himself with the high and holy God whom he is addressing, and takes the place of a man most vile and a creature most abject. So Jehovah uses the same figure in 1 Kings 16:2. Psalms 113:7, &c. See under Synecdoche.

Numbers 13:33.-"And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." This is the Meiosis of unbelief. To gain credence for their words they exaggerated the size of the Anakim by lessening their own stature. On the other hand, the language of faith used a very different figure. Compare 14:9, under the Figure of Ellipsis, page 37.

1 Samuel 24:14.-"After whom is the king of Israel come out? After whom dost thou pursue? After a dead dog, after a flea," i.e., you do that which is altogether unworthy of a king, in pursuing one who is as harmless as a dead dog (compare 17:43; 2 Samuel 3:8; 2 Samuel 9:8; 2 Samuel 16:9) and as worthless as a flea, which is poor game for a royal hunter (1 Samuel 26:20).

Ezra 9:8.-"And now for a little space (Heb. moment) grace hath been shewed from the Lord our God." To magnify the greatness of the grace the Holy Spirit, by Ezra, speaks of the "little space." The comparison is not to the greatness of their transgressions, which are stated in verses 6 and 7, etc., but to their length and the length of the previous chastisement, which had been begun by the kings of Assyria. See Nehemiah 9:32, and Ezra 6:22, where Cyrus, "the king of Babylon" (5:13), is called the king of Assyria, having absorbed the kingdoms of Media, Persia, and Assyria, and thus the oppressor, by Gods grace, had become the friend.

Psalms 22:6.-"I am a worm, and no man." Here, as elsewhere, this figure is used to denote a much greater depth of humility and affliction than words can express. So Job 25:6. Isaiah 41:14. The greater the humiliation, the greater the contrast with His glorification: for He who is "a worm and no man" in Psalms 22:1-31 is "Jehovah my shepherd" of Psalms 23:1-6, and "the King of glory" of Psalms 24:1-10 In these three Psalms we thus have in xxii. "the Good Shepherd" in death (John 10:11); "the Great Shepherd" in resurrection (Hebrews 13:20; and "the Chief Shepherd" in glory (1 Peter 5:4).

Isaiah 40:15.-"Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing."

And even this fails to convey to our minds the wondrous gulf between the finite and the infinite.

Verse 17: "All nations before him are as nothing: and they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity."

Matthew 15:26.-"It is not meet to take the childrens bread, and to cast it to dogs." It is not only not fair, but it is cruel to ones children thus to deprive them of their food.

See further under the figure of Hypocatastasis.

Matthew 18:14.-"Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."

No! It is contrary to His wish. His will embraces much more than this, it includes:-

Predestination (Ephesians 1:5).

Regeneration (John 1:13; James 1:18).

Deliverance from the world (Galatians 1:4).

Sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 10:10).

Final Preservation, Resurrection, and Eternal Life (John 6:39-40).

Matthew 22:3.-"And they would not come." The Greek is:-οὐκ ἤθελον ἐλθεῖν (ouk eethelon elthein), they did not wish to come, this is enhancing, by Meiosis, the fact that they not only absolutely refused, but in doing so they acted only on the wish of their heart.

Luke 17:9.-"Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not." i.e., I think not. More is to be understood than is expressed: i.e., I know very well he doth not thank him. So far from that, he scarcely notices the matter.

John 15:20.-"If they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also," i.e., as surely as they have NOT kept my saying, they will not keep yours. The whole context shows that this must be the figure of Meiosis.

Romans 10:19.-"I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people." οὐκ ἔθνος (ouk ethnos), a non-people. So 1 Peter 2:10 : "Which in time past were not a people," οὐ λαός* [Note: This is not the same as , where the pronoun "my" is used.] (ou laos). Owing to the reversive power of the negative our own word "nothing" is literally a non-thing, i.e., a thing which has no existence at all. [Note: In , "a thing of naught" is the same, a non-existent-thing]

Such were we Gentiles. But through grace, "a people" is now being taken out from among all nations (Acts 15:14. Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9), which shall have an existence for ever and ever.

1 Corinthians 9:17.-"For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward." He means gratuitously; but lessens the wording, so as to increase his meaning. See also under Oxymoron.

1 Corinthians 15:9.-"I am the least of the apostles." This is said to magnify the grace of God (verse 10). Whereas, when magnifying his claims, he could say to these same Corinthians, "I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 12:11-12).

Ephesians 3:8.-"Who am less than the least of all saints." This marks the apostles growth in grace, who a year after could say he was "the chief of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). See also under Oxymoron.

Philem. 11.-"Which in time past was to thee unprofitable." This is a Meiosis, for Onesimus was guilty of injury.

Hebrews 9:12.-"The blood of goats and calves," (13) "the blood of bulls and of goats." Here the figure lessens the importance of the sacrifices which were offered under the Law, in order to increase by contrast the great sacrifice to which they all pointed.

Hebrews 13:17.-"For that is unprofitable for you." It is really much more than that! It is disastrous and ruinous.

1 John 3:17.-"But whoso hath this worlds good," etc.

Here the Greek is τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμον (ton bion tou kosmou), the life of the world, i.e., the means of life or of living which the world gives. Whoso has this, and will not give it up for his brother, how dwelleth the Love of God in him? The force of the Meiosis is seen when we compare this with verse 16, "We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." But here is a man who will not only not lay down his life (ψυχή), psyche, but will not even part with the means of supporting it. What a contrast to true love! Hereby know we LOVE, because HE laid down His life for us.

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Bibliography Information
Bullinger, E. W., D.D. Entry for 'Meiosis; or a be-Littleing'. Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible.

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