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Personification in the Bible

Instructor: Kelly Beaty

Kelly has taught fifth grade language arts and adult ESL. She has a master's degree in education and a graduate certificate in TESOL.

In this lesson you will learn about a form of figurative language called personification. Specifically, you will learn how personification is used in the Bible as a way of adding deeper meaning and description to the content.

Personification

Personification is a special kind of figurative language that writers use when they give inanimate objects and concepts the traits of a human being. The word personification has the word 'person' in it, making its meaning easy to remember.

Here are a few examples of personification:

  • Mother Earth (The earth is given a title usually reserved for a human.)
  • 'The mountains speak to my soul.' (Speaking is an action usually limited to human beings.)

In each of these examples, something that is not person acts as if, or is described as if, it is one. This form of figurative language is effective because readers have to think beyond the literal meanings of the words to form descriptive pictures in their minds. Literal alternatives to the above examples illustrate this point:

  • The earth we all live on
  • The mountains are meaningful to me.

Personification in the Bible

The collection of books known as the Bible provides multiple examples of personification. The 66 books in this collection were written in different genres, by different people, in different situations, and for different purposes. Poetry and allegory, in particular, utilize a lot of personification. This form of figurative language enabled Bible writers to give richer, clearer illustrations about their interpretations of God's involvement in the world.

Personification of Things in the World

Different aspects of nature are frequently personified in the Bible. This is especially true in the book of Psalms, a collection of songs and poems. The following examples show some ways that Bible authors use personification to create word pictures of the things we see in nature:

  • 'Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy' (Psalm 98:8).
  • 'When the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled' (Psalm 77:16).
  • 'Then the moon will be abashed, and the sun ashamed' (Isaiah 24:23).
  • 'What have you done? Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground' (Genesis 4:10).

A joyful hill might look like this.
hill

Behavior like clapping, singing, seeing, trembling, crying out, and being ashamed are usually done by humans!

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