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Paronomasia is a literary device, a deliberate "play on words", also called a "pun", for the purpose of commentary, exploiting sound similarity or meanings as a serious social or political critique or as a form of ridicule, for effect.

Possible examples:

"The numerous ill-conceived current policies of Democrats provide a liberal display of stupidity on Capitol Hill."
"The max-Senate debates in Washington are dead-locked. This is no comedy." (Mack Sennett)
"The need for more military intelligence is shockingly evident in the current international situation."
"The idea of spending money to put a colony on Mars is genuine science friction, given the needs of our veterans, our children, our bridges, roads, highways and the state of govern-mental spending as a hole." (whole—see Black hole)
"The ACLU has consistently proven itself to be an 'Anti-Christian Liberal Union'."
Paronomasia in the Bible

The Bible frequently uses paronomasia; for example:

"With the jawbone of an ass (hamor), heaps upon heaps (hamor hamortayim), with the jawbone of an ass have I smitten a thousand men" (Judges 15:16). In Hebrew, the word for both "ass" and "heap" is hamor. (See also Judges 14:12-14).
"And he had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts (ayarim), and they had thirty cities (ayarim), which are called Havvoth-jair unto this day, which are in the land of Gilead" (Judges 10:4). The Hebrew word ayarim can mean both "ass colts" and "cities." Another more "dynamic translation" might render in English the play on words in this verse as: "He had thirty sons who rode thirty burros who had thirty boroughs."
"And they were both naked (arummim), the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). The next verse says, "Now the serpent was more cunning (arum) than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made (Genesis 3:1). In one verse the term arum is used to mean "naked" and in the next verse the same basic root denotes "cunning" or "subtle." In both places the meaning includes "smooth". The serpent was "smooth-bodied" and "smooth-tongued".
"the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God, and also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Gerizim the temple of Zeus the Friend of Strangers, as did the people who dwell in that place" (2 Maccabees 6:1-2). The Jews equated Olympian Zeus with the Syrian Baal Shamen (“the lord of the heavens”), a term which the Jews mockingly rendered as shiqqus shomem, “desolating abomination” (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; 1 Maccabees 1:54; Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14).

There are many other examples in the OT:

Genesis 9:27; 25:26; 48:22
Exodus 2:10
Ruth 1:20
Ecclesiastes 7:1 a שֵׁם, שֶׁמֶן
Isaiah 63:1
Micah 1:10-15

In the New Testament, see for example:

Philemon 1:11, Ὀνήσιμον—ἄχρηστον—εὔχρηστον Onesimon—achreston—euchreston. Onesimus in Greek literally means "profitable". In the Greek New Testament, "useless" is ἄχρηστον achrēston, and "useful" is εὔχρηστον euchrēston. The prefix "a-" is a negative, meaning "not-". The prefix "eu-" is a positive, meaning "good-". The phrase in the Greek text of Philemon verse 11 is: τόν ποτέ σοι ἄχρηστον , νυνὶ δὲ καὶ σοὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ εὔχρηστον
Matthew 16:18 σὐ εἶ Πέτρος (a huge rock), καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ (huge boulder, rock) οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν.[1]

There are also possible examples of paronomasia in Matthew 2:23; Matthew 3:9.

In Matthew 2:23 the words Ναζωραῖος κληθήσεται Nazoraios klethesetai are not found in Hebrew or Aramaic in any of the books of the Old Testament prophets (Nazoraios= an inhabitant of Nazareth). They appear to many interpreters to be an allusion to Isaiah 11:1 where Messiah is called נֵצֶר (netzer = a branch), and possibly also to the word נָצַר (netzer = to preserve); see Isaiah 49:6.

In Matthew 3:9 (see Luke 3:8) John the Baptist says δύναται ὁ θεὸς ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων ἐγεῖραι τέκνα τῷ Ἀβραάμ dynatai o Theos ek ton lithos touton egeirai tekna to Abraham. The Hebrew words for the Greek λίθοι lithoi ("stones") and τέκνα tekna ("children") are similar in sound: "God can from these stones (אֲבָנִים ’ăbânîm) raise up children (בָּנִים bânîm) to Abraham."

In the paronomasia of John 2:19-21 Jesus refers to destruction of the temple and to raising it up again:

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.
John 19:30 has been understood as a paronomasia on the pouring fourth of the Holy Spirit at the moment Jesus expired on the cross, in the use of paredōken παρέδωκεν "[he] yielded up" the spirit, or "gave over" the spirit, "released" the spirit.
When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and [παρέδωκεν paredōken] gave up the spirit.
Scholars have pointed out the multiple examples of paronomasia in the profound double meanings used in John's Gospel.

See also

Historical-critical method (Higher criticism)


  1. See Strong's numbers 4073 and 4074. Curiously, Strong's definition of "small rock, pebble", is inaccurate: "properly, a stone (pebble), such as a small rock found along a pathway". Protestant Greek scholars like D.A. Carson and Joseph Thayer admit there is no distinction in meaning between petros and petra in the Koine Greek of the New Testament.
    • Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 507
    • D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), vol. 8, 368.
    According to Greek linguists, petra means a ‘rock’, usually a ‘large rock’ which is the same exact Greek meaning of petros — large rock. It does not mean ‘pebble’ or ‘small stone’. The Greek word for ‘pebble’ or ‘small stone’ is lithos, not petros.
    If, as seems probable, our Lord spoke in Aramaic, the word used would be Kepha (בֵּיפָא, compare Hebrew בֵּפִים in Jeremiah 4:29, Job 30:6 = ‘rocks’; see Strong's number 2786). Aramaic makes no grammatical difference in masculine and feminine forms for "rock" as does Greek. "You are Kepha, and on this kepha I will build my church". This is the reading in the ancient Syriac Peshitta translation of the New Testament.
    The Greek text of the paronomasia in Matthew 16:18 makes the reference to St. Peter grammatically certain, although some doubt whether Christ meant that St. Peter, as the leader of the Apostolic band, is the human foundation of the new Church (see Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14), or whether he meant that it is built on the foundation of the confession of Peter, Σὺ εἷ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος. The first view "on Peter" is the more reasonable from the literal standpoint of Greek grammatical structure, and would probably have been almost universally accepted had it not been for the insistently persistent triumphalist assertion of some Roman Catholic commentators, and the invincibly prejudiced antipathy of some Protestant apologists against Catholicism which prompts them to forcibly misrepresent the meaning of petros against its thoroughly attested Greek meaning. Orthodoxy also stoutly rejects the Catholic biblical exegesis of Matthew 16:18 as establishing Petrine Primacy.
    See discussion in Bam! Bam! The "Pebbles" Argument Goes Down - Patrick Madrid (

External links

General literary paronomasia
Biblical paronomasia