The Figure of Speech Hypocatastasis as used in the Bible

In this article we will examine the figure of speech, hypocatastasis (pronounced; hi-poe-ca-tas-ta-sis), which is an important figure when studying the subject of the Sacred Secret. [1] There are three figures of comparison that are commonly used in the Bible (and by people today), although only two are generally known by name. The first is simile, which is a comparison by resemblance, usually using “like” or “as.” If a person is a sloppy and noisy eater, someone might say, “You eat like a pig.” Psalm 1:3 says a righteous person is like a tree planted by the water.

More intense than a simile is a metaphor, a comparison by representation. In a metaphor, one noun represents another. In the pig example above, a metaphor would be, “You are a pig.” Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches…” (John 15:5a).

Even more intense than metaphor is the figure hypocatastasis, which is a comparison by implication. In the pig example, instead of comparing the messy eater with a pig by saying he is like a pig, or even that he is a pig, in hypocatastasis the comparison is just implied. One person says to the other, “Pig!” and the person spoken to gets the idea. Although the comparison is implied, the meaning is effectively communicated.

Hypocatastasis is used very effectively in our everyday language. If a person helps you when you need it, you might look at him or her and say, “You angel!” If someone lies to you, you might say, “You snake!” When someone is being overly hesitant, he gets called, “Chicken.” As long as the comparison is well known in the culture, the implied meaning is not confused.

When we are studying hypocatastasis in the Bible, we must be careful because we are less familiar with the Hebrew or Greek language than the English language, and there is a chance we could confuse the implied meaning. Some examples are: the “serpent” in Genesis 3:1 is the Devil, just as he is in Revelation 20:2. Samson’s “heifer” that the Philistines plowed with was actually Samson’s wife (Judg. 14:18). The lover’s “dove” was not a bird, but his beloved woman (Song of Sol. 2:14). Other examples of hypocatastasis in the Bible are “lion” (Jer. 4:7), “dogs” (Phil. 3:2), “fox” (Luke 13:32), “plant” (Matt. 15:13), and “leaven” (Matt. 16:6-KJV).

Figures of comparison are helpful in communication because they quickly bring both meaning and emotional impact to a situation that would otherwise take a lengthy description. Imagine how long it would take to describe the way a person was eating and how it was affecting you emotionally, when all you have to say is, “Pig,” and the meaning is clear.

Hypocatastasis is important in the study of Sacred Secret. When a person gets born again, he is filled and sealed with holy spirit, the very nature of God. God could go into a lengthy discussion of the holy spirit in us, but in Colossians 1:27 He uses the figure hypocatastasis and simply says that we have “Christ” in us. Now we all know that Jesus is presently in heaven at the right hand of God, so “Christ” is not literally in us. Nevertheless, the holy spirit in us is so powerful, and so enables us to be like Jesus Christ, that God uses hypocatastasis and says that “Christ” is in us.

God is the Author of language, and employs it with perfect precision. It is up to us to study His Word so that we find its inherent keys and thus derive His originally intended meanings. Only then can we apply His truth and see its benefit in our lives.


[1] The best work on the more than 200 literary figures of speech used in the Bible is Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, written in 1898 by E. W. Bullinger. It has been published by several different publishing houses, and is currently being published by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI.

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1 comment

  1. Thanks for the iformation Gid bless

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