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Bible Lexicons

Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

Metalepsis; or Double Metonymy

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Two Metonymies, one contained in the other, but only one expressed

Met´-a-lep´sis, from μετά (mĕta), behind, and λείπω (leipô), to leave, a leaving behind.

The Figure is so called, because something more is deficient than in Metonymy, which has to be supplied entirely by the thought, rather than by the association or relation of ideas, as is the case in Metonymy.

This something more that is deficient consists of another Metonymy, which the mind has to supply. Hence Metalepsis is a double or compound Metonymy, or a Metonymy in two stages, only one of which is expressed.

Thus, for example, when we say that a man "drank his house," we do not mean that he drank the building of bricks and mortar with its contents, but we first use the word "house," and put it by Metonymy for the money it fetched when sold, and then, by a second Metonymy, the "money" is put for the drink it purchased, which was what the man actually drank.

So Virgil (Buc. Ecl i. 70) speaks of Melibœus returning to hit home "after some ears of corn," where the "ears of corn" are first put (by Metonymy of Subject) for the harvest-time, and then the harvest-time is put mentally (by Metonymy of Adjunct) for a years So that what Melibœus means is that he will return after some years.

The Latins called the figure TRANSUMPTIO: i.e., a taking across from one to another. They sometimes called it TRANSLATIO, a transferring across; but this latter name is best reserved as representing Metaphor rather than Metalepsis.

We have one or two examples:-

Genesis 19:8.-"Therefore came they under the shadow of my roof."

Here, "roof" is first put (by Synecdoche) for the whole house, of which it was a part: and then the house is put for the protection it afforded.

Ecclesiastes 12:5.-The Heb. of this is literally "and the caper-berry shall be powerless."

Almost every part of the caper-berry plant was used to make condiments; but the berries were specially provocative of appetite, though not restricted to sexual desire. Hence it was called אֲבִיּוֹנָה (aveeyônah), desire or appetite, from אָבָה (avah), to desire.

Here, then, we have first the plant or berry put for the condiments made from it, and then the condiments put for the desire they created. The meaning is that not only shall appetite or desire fail, but that condiments and stimulants shall be powerless to produce their usual effect.

The R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] makes the sentence absurd by translating the figure literally: "The caper-berry shall fail." The A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] , with its elegant idiomatic version, much better conveys the essential meaning of the passage: "And desire shall fail."

In the New Testament, the expression "the blood of Christ" is the figure Metalepsis; because first the "blood" is put (by Synecdoche) for blood-shedding: i.e., the death of Christ, as distinct from His life; and then His death is put for the perfect satisfaction made by it, for all the merits of the atonement effected by it: i.e., it means not merely the actual blood corpuscles, neither does it mean His death as an act, but the merits of the atonement effected by it and associated with it.

Hosea 14:2 (3).-"So will we render the calves of our lips." Here, "calves" are put by Metonymy (of Subject) for sacrifices, and then, by another Metonymy, these sacrifices are put for the confession and praises rendered. See under Metonymy, pages 574 and 575.

Romans 3:25.-"Through faith in his blood": i.e., through faith in the merits of the atonement accomplished by it.

Romans 5:9.-"Being now justified by his blood": i.e., his atonement.

Ephesians 1:7.-"Redemption through his blood": i.e., through the merits of His atoning death.

Ephesians 2:13.-"But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ": i.e., by His death, not by His life: yet not by His death alone, but by the atonement made in His obedient act in dying for His people.

1 John 1:7.-"The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." Here, when it is a question of "walking in the light," the saved sinner is reminded of that which put him there and which alone can keep him there. Whereas, in chapter 2:1 where it is a question of sin ("If any man sin"), the sinful child is reminded, not of the blood, but of the Father, with whom Christ, the righteous One, is the Advocate, to show that relationship has not been broken.

Revelation 1:5.-"Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood": i.e., loosed us from our sins by His atonement, which was accomplished by His death (reading λύσαντι (lusanti), freed, instead of λούσαντι (lousanti), washed, with all the Critical Texts and R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] ).

Here note that ἐν (en), whose first meaning is in, must not be so taken here, or in all the parallel passages; we must take it as meaning by or through, a meaning which it frequently has: e.g., Matthew 9:34 : "He casteth out devils through (ἐν) the prince of the devils." Matthew 5:34-35 : "Swear not at all, neither by (ἐν) heaven nor by (ἐν) the earth." Galatians 3:11 : "No man is justified by (ἐν) the law." 2 Timothy 2:10 : "Salvation which is in (ἐν) Christ Jesus": i.e., by or through Him; in virtue of His atoning death. In this very book (Revelation 5:9), it is rendered "by thy blood."

So that such expressions are to be avoided, as "Washed in the blood of the Lamb"; and the sentiment contained in the verse:-

"There is a fountain filled with blood,

Drawn from Immanuels veins:

And sinners plunged beneath that flood,

Lose all their guilty stains."

All such expressions are contrary to physiology and common sense.

We lose nothing of the facts, but gain immensely as to their meaning, when we understand that, by Metalepsis, "blood" is put for death, and "death" for the atonement made by it and all its infinite merits.

In like manner "the Cross" is put first for the crucifixion as an act, or for Him who was crucified thereon: and then this is put for the resulting merits of His atonements procured thereby.

1 Corinthians 1:17-18.-"The preaching of the cross." Paul did not preach the cross, nor did he speak merely of the crucifixion (2:2), but of all the blessed results, not only of that death, but of the resurrection also.

Galatians 6:14.-"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ": i.e., not the wooden instrument of death, nor the act of crucifixion; but he gloried in all that this meant for him, all the precious merits of Christs atonement and the blessings resulting from it.

Colossians 1:20.-"And, having made peace through the blood of his cross." Here, again, "cross" is put for His death, and His death is put for all its meritorious results.

It is by forcing the word "cross" into a literal meaning in such passages as the above that the Church of Rome has appeared to have a Scriptural sanction for its reverence for and adoration of "the cross."

The reader may easily see where the word "cross" is used literally and historically and where it is used figuratively. If the latter be substituted for the former, not only shall we introduce much error, but we shall lose much of precious Scriptural truth and teaching.


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Bibliography Information
Bullinger, E. W., D.D. Entry for 'Metalepsis; or Double Metonymy'. Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/bullinger/131.

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