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Last updated Thu Oct 29 9:38 AM EDT 2020

OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew




A.     We use figures of speech in our conversations every day, but we do not realize it.


B.     Examples:

1.       He hit the bottle a little too much last night.  We mean that he drank too much liquor last night.

2.       I bought a new set of wheels.  I bought a new car.

3.       A bought a new ride.  I bought a new car, truck, or motorcycle.

4.       All of this week, we have been hearing from the White House.  We have been hearing words from the President and his staff.


C.     Every one of the above examples use the figure of speech called “Metonymy.”


D.    This figure is used a lot in the pages of the Bible.  Bullinger covers some 70 pages of material on this one figure in his book, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, pp. 538-608.


E.      Let’s look at the figure of speech called “metonymy” in this lesson.


I.             DEFINITION


A.     “A figure of speech that consists of the use of the name of one object for that of another to which it is related” (


B.     It comes from a Greek word that means “to change label” or “substitute names.”


C.     It is the exchange of one noun for another noun when the two nouns have a relationship with each other.

1.       The bottle is what contains the liquor that a person drinks.

2.       A car drives on a set of wheels.

3.       A person rides in a car.

4.       The White House is the place where the President lives and represents him.




A.     Genesis 3:19


In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread…


1.       Sweat of thy face is closely related to hard work.  When a person works hard, he sweats.

2.       Thus, is it put in the place of hard work, but hard work is what is meant.


B.     Luke 16:29


Abraham saith unto him, they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.


1.       Moses and the prophets were dead.

2.       Moses and the prophets had revealed the Old Testament to the people.  Thus, they bear a close connection with the Law.

3.       The metonymy puts “Moses and the prophets” for the Law of Moses.




C.     Matthew 10:34


Think not that I am come to send peace on earth:  I came not to send peace, but a sword.


1.       Jesus never has sent a literal sword upon the earth (II Cor. 3-4).

2.       The sword represents conflict and warfare.

3.       Jesus knew that the truth of His word would bring conflict on earth.  Thus, the sword here represents that conflict (See I Tim. 1:18; 6:15).


D.    Amos 4:6


And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities…


1.       If a person does not eat, his/her teeth stay clean.

2.       God was going to bring a famine on the land and the people would not eat.  Therefore, their teeth would remain clean.

3.       The cleanness of teeth represents the famine.  (NOTE:  see the rest of the verse:  “…and want of bread in all your places…”).


E.      Lamentations 3:7


He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out:  he hath made my chain heavy.


1.       This metonymy has been translated for us by the translators.

2.       In the original, the text reads:  “…he hath made my brass heavy.

a.       Chains in that time were made of brass.

b.      The translators knew that this is what the word “brass” referred to, so they put chains instead of brass.




A.     In the secular use of metonymies, there are many types.

1.       Part can be put for the whole.  (Ex., He lives under a nice roof).

2.       Place is put for the event. (Ex., I would like to have seen Australia the past two weeks).

3.       Producer is put for the product. (Ex., I drive a Dodge).


B.     There are at least four types of metonymies in the Bible.

1.       Metonymy of the Cause.  The cause is put for the effect.

a.       Deuteronomy 17:6


At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.


1)       It is the testimony of two individuals that will cause one to be put to death.

2)       The mouth is the instrument that produces the testimony that is given.

3)       Thus, the mouth (the cause) is put for the effect (the testimony).

b.      Acts 8:15, 17


Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost…then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.


1)       What these new coverts received was not the Holy Ghost Himself.  They received the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.

2)       Since the Holy Spirit is the cause of the gifts, He is put in the place of the gifts.




c.       I John 4:1


Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God:  because many false prophets are gone out into the world.


1)       The spirit is put for the doctrine that it proclaims.

2)       The spirit (the cause) is put for the doctrine (the effect).

2.       Metonymy of the Effect.  The effect is put for the cause.

a.       Genesis 25:23


And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.


1)       Rebekah did not have two nations in her womb.  She had a set of twins there.

2)       The two sons (the cause) would bring two nations into existence (the effect).

3)       Thus, the effect (two nations) is put for the cause (the two sons).

b.      Psalm 30:12


To the end that my glory shall sing praise to thee, and not be silent…


1)       What part of the body is called “my glory” and can sing?

2)       The end result of the tongue singing is to bring glory to God.

3)       Thus, the effect (glory) is put for the cause (the tongue).

c.       Ecclesiastes 11:1


Cast thy bread upon the waters:  for thou shalt find it after many days.


1)       The bread is the effect of seed that brings forth wheat for the bread.

2)       He is really saying to “cast thy seed upon the waters.”

3)       The bread (the effect of the seed) is put for the seed (the cause).

d.      Luke 2:30


For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.


1)       Simeon says that he saw the Lord’s salvation.

2)       What he saw was the infant Jesus (Luke 2:27-28).

3)       Salvation is the effect of Jesus who is the cause of that salvation.

3.       Metonymy of the Subject.  The subject is put for something pertaining to it.

a.       Genesis 7:1


And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark…


1)       The Lord did not mean for Noah to pick up his literal house and bring it into the ark.

2)       His family lived in the house. 

3)       Thus, the house that was connected to the family members who lived inside was put in the place of the family members.

b.      Psalm 23:5


Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies…


1)       The table stands for all of the good things that were prepared and put on the table.

2)       Since the table held those items, it is put in place of the items themselves.






c.       Philippians 1:21


For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.


1)       Christ is substituted for living like Christ, serving Him, working for Him, and honoring Him.

2)       Duplicating the life of Christ is the responsibility of the Christian.  Christ can be substituted for us.

4.       Metonymy of the Adjunct.  That which pertains to anything is put for the thing iself.

a.       Genesis 49:10


The scepter shall not depart out of Judah…


1)       The scepter is what the king held and was a symbol of his sovereignty.

2)       The person who would hold the scepter and who would wield authority would come from the tribe of Judah.

b.      Job 32:7


I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom.


1)       Older individuals have lived for many days and have lived a multitude of years.  

2)       “Days” and “multitude of years,” stand for elderly men who should speak and teach wisdom since they are associated with the elderly.

c.       Acts 6:7; Gal. 1:23; Eph. 4;5; I Tim. 4:1; Jude 3


And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.


1)       “The faith” is a metonymy for the Word of God. 

2)       The Word of God produces faith in mankind (Rom. 10:17).  Thus, the faith is put for the Word of God.

3)       NOTE:  There is another metonymy in this verse, a metonymy of the cause. 

a)       The verse says:  “The word of God increased.”

b)      The word of God was the cause of the increase of the number of disciples.  Thus, the cause is put for the effect.




A.     The metonymy is one of the most used figures of speech in the Bible, but very few have ever heard of it. 


B.     Once it is understood, the Bible makes much more sense in so many passages.


C.     One of the most important areas to which it can be applied is in a study of the Holy Spirit. 

1.       The Holy Spirit as the cause of the written Word is often substituted for the Word of God.

2.       Romans 8:14


For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.


a.       Many take a very mystical approach to this verse.  They believe that the Holy Spirit guides them in some subjective way.  He hear of his nudgings and promptings.

b.      We are led by the Spirit through the teachings of the Word of God (Ps. 119:105).  If a person is led by the Word of God, he is led by the Spirit because the Spirit revealed the Word of God.


D.    There are three metonymies in Matthew 23:2.  Can you find them?


Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.