RIDDLE (חִידָה, H2648; αἰνίγμα; meaning a hidden saying, a conundrum).

Throughout the Biblical world the use of riddles was common. One may somewhat arbitrarily distinguish a riddle from a fable or enigma, the primary point in a riddle being its intention to puzzle the hearer. Enigmas may be conceived of as mystical utterances which, though difficult to understand, are not difficult by design. It may be a lack of information on the part of the interpreter which makes it a puzzle. A fable is simply a fictitious story (often involving members of the plant and animal kingdoms), told to convey a certain spiritual idea. A fable is not necessarily difficult of understanding though it may be so.

A true riddle is found in Revelation 13:18, where the number 666 is apparently an obscure reference to some individual. The attempts to interpret it are legion and no consensus reigns. We know from the Sibylline Oracles that such numerical references were common. The Gr. word αἰνίγμα, appears in 1 Corinthians 13:12 in the phrase “now we see through a glass darkly” (KJV). It has been suggested that the tr. “by means of an enigmatic word,” might be better (Terry). Some of Jesus’ sayings qualify as enigmas (Luke 22:36; John 3:1-3; 4:10-15; 6:53-59). Great caution needs to be exercised in interpreting the “dark sayings” of the Scripture. Special care should be given to understand exactly what the words in the original language meant. Due regard to context, always important, is esp. so in such instances.


W. Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible, III (1863), 1042, 1043; M. S. Terry, Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics, 265-275; J. Orr (ed.) ISBE, II (1936), article “Games” by W. T. Smith, 1168-1173; A. B. Mickelsen, Interpreting the Bible (1963), 199-211.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(chidhah; ainigma).

See Games.