A Word or Phrase susceptible of two Interpretations.

Am-phih-o-log’-i-a, from the Greek ἀμφί (amphi), on both sides, βόλος (bolos), a throw, and λόγος (logos), a word; hence ἀμφιβολογία is a word or phrase susceptible of two interpretations. It is not synonymous with what we speak of as ambiguous; which means that which is uncertain or equivocal.


A statement which is amphibological has two meanings, both of which are absolutely true.
(An equivocation has two meanings also, but only one of them is true.) There are several such statements in Scripture, and indeed all prophecies are more or less of this character. They are the words of Jehovah, who was, and is, and is to come; hence His words have a fulness of reference and meaning which one interpretation often fails to exhaust. A prophecy may have a reference to something at the time of its utterance. It may wait for its final fulfillment in the remote future. And there may be an application to the time between these two limits. Hence the Futurist and Preterist interpretations are both true, in so far as they are each a part of the truth. But they are each wrong when the one is put for
the other, and a part is put for the whole.

A beautiful example of Amphibologia is furnished in 2 Kings 5:18 —“Go in peace.” This was Elisha’s answer to Naaman, who wished to know whether the Lord would pardon if, when he went with his master, the king of Syria into the temple of Rimmon, he bowed himself there.

Elisha’s answer was an Amphibologia: “Go in peace.” If he had said, “Yes; you may bow,” that would have been to sanction idolatry. And if he had said, “No; you must not bow,” that would have been to put Naaman’s conscience under a yoke of bondage to Elisha.

Ezek. 12:13 —The term Amphibologia, however, refers more especially to a prophecy like that concerning Zedekiah, king of Judah, in Ezek. 12:13: “I will bring him to Babylon to the land of the Chaldeans; yet shall he not see it, though he shall die there.” This prophecy, by itself, is almost in the form of an Ænigma (q.v. ): for it is capable of two interpretations, both of which are true. The other is in Jer. 34:3 —“Thine eyes shall behold the eyes of the king of Babylon, and he shall speak with thee mouth to mouth, and thou shalt go to Babylon.”

Zedekiah, in his unbelief and perverseness, determined not to believe either of these prophecies, because he could not understand them. So Josephus tells us. Yet both were perfectly true, as the fulfilment proved.

Zedekiah had his eyes put out by the king of Babylon at Riblah
(2 Kings 25:7; Jer. 39:7; 52:11). He spoke to the king of Babylon, and saw him; and he was afterwards taken to Babylon, but did not see it, though he died there (Ezek. 17:16).

John 19:22 —“What I have written I have written.” Pilate said this to convey two meanings. First, to state a matter of fact; and second, to dismiss an inconvenient subject; implying that he did not wish to alter what he had written, and yet did not declare that he would not. The history seems to imply that he did afterwards either alter it or permit it to be altered.


(1) The inscription in John 19:19 was written (probably in Latin) and put on the cross before it left Pilate’s presence.

(2) The inscription in Matt. 27:37 was written probably in Hebrew, and placed over his head, not by the soldiers who nailed him to the cross, but by the persons, “they,” who crucified him. This was not so placed until after the garments had been divided, and the soldiers had “sat down to watch him there.”

(3) The inscription in Luke 23:38 appears to have been of Hebrew origin (the Hebrew being put last, whereas in Pilate’s (John) the Latin was last). It was not seen till near the sixth hour, and was apparently the cause of the reviling which followed, “Jesus” being omitted from Matthew’s, which seems to have been intermediate between John’s and Luke’s, while Mark’s was probably the same as
that to which Luke refers and gives merely another translation of the Hebrew.

It is impossible for us, now, to know what discussion went on during the day. All that we know is, from John 19, that the Jews earnestly desired to have it altered, and that Pilate did not decidedly refuse at the time. So that it is probable that the discussions continued, and these different inscriptions are the evidence of it, put up in different terms, and at different times: or it may be that it was the various translations that were so put up.

From these considerations we would suggest that the difficulty felt as to the variations in the wording of the inscriptions may be removed more easily and satisfactorily by believing that there were at least three inscriptions put up at different times during the day, and that these, being changed, differed from each other. If this be not the explanation then another series of difficulties is created—as to the sequence of the events recorded in the different gospels.

Our present suggestion meets both sets of difficulties at once.

Acts 17:22 is another example. “Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are very religious.” (See R.V. margin, somewhat religious).

This has two interpretations: for they were truly very “religious,” and yet knew nothing of true Christianity. We thus learn that Christianity is religion; but religion is not necessarily Christianity. To say that a person is religious tells us nothing: for he may be a Buddhist, a Mahommedan, a Roman Catholic, or a votary of any other religious system; but it does not follow that such an one is “in 
Christ,” and therefore a Christian.


.From “Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible” by E. W. Bullinger,
(Public Domain) pages 804-806. Adapted for website compatibility.
.See original at link.      Stream           Download.

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