brj logo

On Main Ideas and Imported Images
In Figures of Comparison
-- Jeff, Saturday 02-16-2013, 9:31 am CST

In the Figures of Speech Class at the Way College of Emporia, which I was privileged to attend in the early 1980s, one of the subjects that we studied was how certain figures utilize Main Ideas and Imported Images. Understanding how these two work together represents an important tool for recognizing and analyzing an entire class of figures of speech known as Tropes.1

In this weblog post I would like to show how Main Ideas and Imported Images work within a particular category of Rhetorical Tropes. Specifically, with three of the figures of speech that involve Comparison: Simile, Metaphor, and Hypocatastasis,2 of which I will give a biblical example of each.

Where Main Ideas and Imported Images Meet

Both Grammatical and Rhetorical Tropes utilize some particular relationship that exists between a Main Idea (also called "the literal") with an Imported Image (also called "the figurative"). This relationship can be illustrated graphically:

Graphic Illustrating the Points of Comparison between Main Ideas and Imported Images

With Similes, Metaphors, and Hypocatastasises, the Points of Relationship will always be points of comparison, which is what makes them figures of comparison. While with other Tropes, the points of relationship will be along some different line.

For example, Metonymy is a Grammatical Trope which exchanges one noun for a related noun, in which the Points of Relationship involve points of contact.

So as your guest at a coffee klatch, when you ask me, "Would you like another cup?" after you notice me gazing longingly at the empty bottom of the one that I just drained, I will feel safe to assume that you are talking about "more coffee," the Main Idea, not "another cup," the Imported Image. But you are not making a comparison between the coffee and the cup, the Points of Relationship are points of contact.

Another example, the figure Anthropopathia is a Rhetorical Trope which depicts God the Creator as having the characteristics or acting as a created thing, in which the Points of Relationship involve points of shared characteristics.

Psalm 27:8
When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.
God Almighty is Spirit (see John 4:24), He has no face. But God, the Main Idea, does share characteristics that we as human beings associate with the human face, the Imported Image. Including that God can be recognized, familiar to us, and we can be intimate with Him. But these are not mere points of comparison, they are shared characteristics between God and human beings who have faces.

The Main Ideas and Imported Images in Figures of Comparison

Looking at the figures of comparison which are the subject of this post, a progression in the intensity of their comparisons can be observed by noting the increase in rhetorical weight these figures give to their Imported Images in relation to their Main Ideas, starting at Simile, then Metaphor, and then Hypocatastasis.

Look at the beautiful Simile that Psalms begins with:

Psalm 1:1-3
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Similes declare a resemblance between their Imported Images and their Main Ideas. And as seen in Verse 3, the points of comparison are spelled out. Like a tree by a river brings forth fruit, so the person who delights in God's Word shall prosper.

Now look at the Metaphor in Psalm 91:

Psalm 91:4b
...his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Metaphors declare their Imported Images to represent their Main Ideas, which is much more emphatic, rhetorically, than the declaration of resemblance that Similes make. And as seen in this verse, in a Metaphor the points of comparison, rather than being spelled out, are meant to be pondered.

Together, the shield and buckler made up all of the defensive accoutrements of a soldier, which would protect from flights of arrows, sword and spear attacks, and from unexpected blows; and the shield of which could be used to push back against the bodies of an advancing enemy. And also by comparison, the truth of God.

Finally, look at the Hypocatastasis in Psalm 22:

Psalm 22:11-12
Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
Hypocatastasises transform their Imported Images into their Main Ideas, their Main Ideas being not explicitly stated, only implied. Which is much more emphatic, rhetorically, than the declaration of representation that Metaphors make.

Anyone with any experience with bulls knows that they are notoriously aggressive and dangerous creatures, and the bulls of Bashan must have been particularly nasty examples. So as seen in this verse, in Hypocatastasises the points of comparison, being so emphatic as to be comprehensive, need not be spelled out or pondered. Rather what is meant to be investigated is the identity of the Main Idea.

Who were these raging bulls who surrounded David, and who would surround his Root and Offspring, the Lord Jesus Christ?


1. See our in-progress work, A Guide to Figures of Speech Used in the Bible (pdf), pages 21 and 25.

2. Ibid. On page 26 I have classified these as Figures of Rhetoric, Involving Change, In the Application of Word, By Imported Images, In Comparisons. This category also includes the figures Parable, Allegory, and Fable.


HTML Comment Box is loading comments...