OceanSide church of Christ

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Synecdoche, Oxymoron, Symbols

Victor M. Eskew




A.   In everyday language, we use figures of speech all of the time.


“Honey I’m home. I sure hope you don’t want to paint the town tonight because I am one whipped pup. I just want to stay around the crib this evening. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse and my feet are killing me. I want to down some groceries and hit the hay. No sheep counting for me tonight. I bet I’ll be asleep before my head hits the pillow. I’m going to sleep like a baby. Before I ‘catch some Z’s’ though, I’m going to see what’s on the tube, do a little web surfing and catch up on some email.”


B.   The Bible contains over 200 different figures of speech in its pages. 

1.    Some figures of speech are subgroups of a broader group.

2.    We saw what a metaphor is, a comparison that does not use “like” or “as.”

a.    A metonymy, which we studied last week, is a subgroup of metaphor.

b.    Today, we are going to study a subgroup of metonymy, that is, synecdoche.


C.   We are also going to be looking at oxymorons and symbols.


I.             SYNECDOCHE


A.   Definition:  a figure of speech wherein a part is substituted for the whole or a whole for the part.


B.   It is a common figure.

1.    Boots on the ground

a.    Meaning: soldiers or troops

b.    The boots of the soldier touches the ground.  Thus, the boots are put for the soldier.

2.    Tickling the ivories

a.    Meaning:  playing the piano

b.    Most of the keys of a piano are white.  Ivory is white.

3.    18 wheeler

a.    Meaning:  a tractor trailer rig

b.    The rig rolls on 18 wheels

4.    ABCs

a.    Meaning:  the alphabet

b.    The first three letters are put for all of the alphabet


C.   Bible examples:

1.    A whole day is put for part of the day.

a.    Matthew 12:40


For as Jesus was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.


b.    Let’s look at the time Jesus was in the tomb.

1)    Jesus died at the ninth hour of the day (Matt. 27:46).  According to Roman time, this was at 3:00 p.m.  If it took an hour to get Jesus into the tomb, He would have been in the grave from 4 till 12.  This is 8 hours.

2)    He would have been in the grave all day on Saturday, 24 hours.

3)    He rose very early on the first day of the week (Mark 16:9).  Let’s assume this was at 6 a.m.  This means He was in the grave on Sunday for 6 hours (from 12 midnight till 6).

4)    8 + 24 + 6 = 38.  Three full days would have been 72 hours.

5)    When a synecdoche is used, “the whole,” a 24 hour day, stands for the part, 8 hours on Friday and 6 hours on Sunday.

2.    Genesis 3:19


In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread…


a.    “Sweat of thy face” is a metonymy.  The effect of work (sweat of thy face) is put for work.

b.    “Bread” is the synecdoche.  Bread is a part that stands for all food.

3.    Numbers 14:8


If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into the land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.


a.    Milk and honey were a portion of the blessings found in the Promised Land.

b.    They are put for all the delightful and satisfying things found there, sweet and good.

4.    Acts 20:7


And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread…


a.    This is really a double synecdoche.

b.    Break bread refers to the Lord’s Supper.  Notice that part (breaking bread) is put for the whole (breaking bread and drinking the fruit of the vine).

c.    Here, break bread (the Lord’s Supper) is put the entirety of the worship service.

5.    Romans 10:15


And how shall they preach except they be sent?  As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.


a.    The feet of the evangelist gets him from place to place as he spreads the gospel of Christ.

b.    The feet (part) were put for the entire evangelist.

6.    Fatherless and widows (James 1:27)


Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.


a.    Some take this verse to mean that all the church is to help are the fatherless, true orphans, and widows, and no one else.  (NOTE:  Children’s Homes have been criticized for helping troubled children and mothers having children out of wedlock).

b.    Question:  Does this verse authorize the church to help widowers who are in affliction?

c.    This is a synecdoche where part, the fatherless and widows, are put for all kinds of poor and afflicted people.  These were the two most common groups who needed assistance in the first century.

7.    The word “all” is usually inclusive of everything.

a.    Sometimes, it is a synecdoche where it stands for “almost everything” or “a large part of the group.”




b.    Examples:

1)    Matthew 3:5-6


There went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.


a)    Does “all” mean every man, woman, and child went to see Jesus and were baptized of Him?

b)    NO.  The Jewish leaders were not baptized with John’s baptism (Luke 7:30; Matt. 21:25).

2)    II Kings 8:9


So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels burden…


a)    The text says he took “of every good thing” of Damascus.

b)    Damascus was an extremely large territory.

c)     Did Damascus only have forty camels worth of good things? 

d)    He took a great deal of the good things with him.


II.           OXYMORON


A.   Definition

1.    The word comes from two words in the Greek language.

a.    Oxos:  sharp, pointed

b.    Moros:  dull, foolish

2.    This is a figure of speech in which what is said at first sight appears to be foolish, yet when we examine what is said, we find it exceeding wise (Ex., We say:  “That meal was awful good).

3.    Examples:

a.    Jeremiah 22:19


He shall be buried with the burial of an ass…


1)    When donkeys died, they were not buried.

2)    Jeremiah says:  “He shall have an unburied burial.”

b.    Matthew 6:23b


If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness?


1)    How can light be darkness?

2)    Light, here, stands for human wisdom.  This light did not allow individuals to accept the true light of divine wisdom.  This, it was really darkness.

3)    See Ephesians 4:18


Having their understanding darkened, bring alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.


c.    I Corinthians 1:25


Because the foolishness of God is wiser than man; and the weakness of God is stronger than man.


III.         SYMBOLS


A.   The Greek word for symbols is a combination of two words:  “syn” meaning “to-gether,” and “ballein” meaning “to cast.”  Thus the meaning is:  “to cast together.”

B.   When a symbol is mentioned, it is cast together with that which is represents (Ex., a wedding ring is a symbol for marriage).

C.   Examples

1.    Keys (Matt. 16:19)


And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven…


a.    Keys:  power and authority

b.    Peter was given the authority and power to open the doors of the kingdom of heaven which he did.

1)    Jews (Acts 2:37-38)

2)    Gentiles (Acts 10:47-48)

2.    Leaven (I Cor. 5:6b)


…Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?


a.    Leaven stands for the sin (fornication) that was in the church at Corinth.

b.    If it were not cast out, it would leaven, have an influence, on the rest of the church.  The sin would spread to others.

3.    Leprosy:  sin (Lev. 13:2)

4.    The cross:  redemption (I Cor. 1:18)

5.    The blood of Christ:  forgiveness (Eph. 1:7)

6.    The serpent:  Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2)

7.    The scepter:  a king and his power (Gen. 49;10; Isa. 14:5)

8.    Pale horse:  death (Rev. 6:8)

9.    White horse:  victory (Rev. 6:2; 19:11)




A.   It is important for a person to know and understand figures of speech.  “The importance of learning and using them is thus very obvious for an individual to be able to fit in the world where English is the language of communication” (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/importance-teaching-figures-speech-esl-learners-english-language-lab).


B.   Not understanding figures of speech can be a hindrance to an individual.  “The lack of understanding and using figures of speech leaves the user of the English language at sea, as to the real meaning of what is being said or written. The unseasoned learner may confuse the figurative meaning with its literal connotation. This may lead to a sense of frustration and lack of self confidence in the learner towards the English language” (Ibid.).