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Mark 1:21-34


And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.


And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (ESV)






Figures of Speech

Tuesday of Epiphany 4

4 February 2014

Figures of speech are normal and common uses of language. One of my favorites is "sunrise." But all educated persons know that the sun does not rise, the earth rotates. However, while awaiting the morning light if you said to your wife, "let's sit together and watch the earth rotate," she would mock you for talking nonsense. And rightly so. The more beautiful and expressive term "sunrise" conveys what we mean to say, nor is anyone confused about its meaning. One of the more common figures of speech is synecdoche. For example, we say, "I drank a whole can of Coke." But we didn't drink the can. We drank all the Coke in the can. This figure of speech refers to the thing contained by the container (and vice versa) or the whole for the part. For example, after a difficult day at work, we say, "I spent all day answering phone calls." This is synecdoche on two fronts. First, a day is twenty-four hours. So we are using the term that refers to the whole to refer to the part. We weren't likely at work for twenty-four hours, even if it feels like it. Second, we were not likely on the telephone for every moment we were at work (even though people do try!). This is probably hyperbole or exaggeration, which we use for emphasis.


The Bible is full of such figures of speech, such as "This cup is the new testament in My blood" (1Co 11:25). What is in the cup is the new testament in the blood of Christ, not the cup itself. The grail, no matter how holy, is not as important as what Christ gives His church in it. So it is not at all strange that the apostles and evangelists are willing to use the terms that refer to the humanity of Christ in connection with His divine works and attributes and to use the terms that refer to the divinity of Christ in connection with his human works. These figures of speech make clear that the divine and human attributes of the person of the Son of God are completely and fully attributable to that one undivided person, who is God and man. John the Baptizer can refer to His Lord, as the man who is before me (Jn 1:30), when in fact, His manhood was received in time through the conception of the Virgin Mary and postdates John's conception by six months. John is using a term for manhood to refer to the whole person of Christ.


Synecdoche is not a matter of confusion on the part of the person who uses that particular figure of speech. In fact, if you would try to avoid its use in your speaking and writing very often people would have no idea what you were trying to say. When the apostles and prophets used synecdoche in talking about Christ, they were making clear the unity of the person of Christ. By confessing the unity of that Christ, you have confessed the whole faith. And that isn't just hyperbole. It is literally quite clear.


John Cassian


"Whenever you speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, you speak of the whole person, and in mentioning the Son of God you mention the Son of man, and in mentioning the Son of man you mention the Son of God. This is a common figure of speech called 'synecdoche,' in which you understand the whole from the parts, and a part is used for the whole. Holy Scripture certainly shows this. The Lord often uses this figure of speech, and teaches in this way about others and would have us understand about Himself in the same way. For sometimes days, and things, and men, and times are denoted in Holy Scripture in no other fashion. For example, God declares that Israel shall serve the Egyptians for four hundred years, and says to Abraham: 'Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years' (Gn 15:13). If you take into account the whole time after God spoke, it is more than four hundred. If you only consider only the time in which they were in slavery, it is less than four hundred years. By giving this period, unless you understand it as a figure of speech, you must think that the Word of God lied (and away with such a thought from Christian minds!). But since from the time of the divine utterance, their sojourn amounted to more than four hundred years, and their bondage endured for less than four hundred, you must understand that the part is to be taken for the whole, or the whole for the part.


"John, the Lord's forerunner says: 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me' (Jn 1:30). In what way does John mean that he would come after Him, whom he shows to be before him? For if this is understood of a man who was afterwards born, how was He before him? But if it is taken of the incarnate Word how is it, 'after me comes a man'? Except that in the one Lord Jesus Christ is shown both that the manhood is later and God the Word is prior. And so the result is that one and the same Lord was before him and came after him. For according to the flesh He was later in time to John; and according to His deity was before all men. And so he, when he named that man, denoted both the manhood and the Word, for as the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God was complete in both manhood and divinity,in mentioning one of these natures in Him he denoted the whole person." 


John Cassian, Seven Books on the Incarnation, 6.23


Almighty God, You know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright. Grant strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


For Ken Schmidt, that the Lord Jesus would grant him healing and a full recovery of strength


For those whose lives are a futile denial of mortality, that they may be brought to repentance through the recognition of death's power


For those whose suffering has led them to reject God's grace, that they might be brought to repentance and come to a knowledge of God's comfort for those who suffer


For all those who give generously to the body of Christ, that they would rejoice in their service to the Head of the church 

Art: MEMLING, Hans  Adoration of the Magi (c. 1470)

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