We continue our look at biblical figures of speech involving comparison. In our previous post, we considered the metaphor, which is an implicit comparison between two things of unlike nature that nevertheless have something in common. Today we consider the closely related figure known as hypocatastasis.


Pronunciation: \ ˌhī-pō-ˌka-ˈtasˌ-tə-sis \

A hypocatastasis captures implication. It is an inferred comparison between two things of unlike nature that nevertheless have something in common. Unlike metaphors, where the two points of comparison are both named, in a hypocatastasis only the one is named; the other is implied.

A hypocatastasis can therefore have more intensity than a metaphor, expressing a greater degree of resemblance because the referent is not named, and does not need to be. Consequently, the term has fallen out of general usage because it nearly becomes a figure of speech involving substitution (e.g., a metonymy or synechdoche). The term is thus largely confined to biblical studies.

General Examples

•  “Clean your pigsty [= your messy room]!”

•  “How could she marry that snake [= that awful person]?”

•  “An angel [= a very kind person] carried my groceries to the car.”

•  “That scum [= that mean person] took my wallet, keys, and phone.”

•  “That wretched beast [= that hostile person] shoved her up against the wall and screamed at her.”

•  “My baby [= my adorable husband] takes the morning train.” (Sheena Easton)

Biblical Examples

•  “Dogs [= evil men] have surrounded me . . . .” (Ps 22:16a)

•  “Blessed is the man who fills his quiver [= his family] with them!” (Ps 127:5a)

•  “A lion [= Babylon] has come out of his lair.” (Jer 4:7a)

•  “Watch and beware of the leaven [= the erroneous, spreading teaching] of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matt 16:6b)

•  “Look, the Lamb of God [= the substitutionary sacrifice], who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

•  “Destroy this temple [= my body], and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19b)

•  “I know that after I leave, savage wolves [= false teachers] will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:29)

Additional Resources

The definition at Wikipedia for hypocatastasis.

An audio pronunciation guide for the word hypocatastasis.


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