PMW 2021-005 by Ardel B. Caneday

“The Importance of Recognizing Figures of Speech in Scripture”

I had intended to post an article that would flow out from the one last week. However, my rather lengthy response to a friend’s question addresses an issue from which I believe others will benefit. The query raised was generated out of the inquisitor’s hearing my four lectures a few weeks ago at the Common Slaves Fall Conference where my theme was “Let Us Run the Race with Perseverance and Assurance.”

I think that I understand your concern. As I read your correspondence, the following statement leaps out to me: “In any case, I feel funny about it because it seems I’ve been trained to view the cross as the only thing in life or death worth really focusing on, or as the old line goes, beat a path to the cross since everything flows that direction.” I think that the issue that nags at you is the same one that I observed many years ago while listening to a sermon by a preacher whose fame was on the rise. I distinctly remember that while I sat and listened to that sermon I was frustrated with what struck me as needless obscuring of what should have been clear to anyone who occupies the pulpit and which the preacher should have made clear with relative ease if he had given sufficient attention to how the Apostle Paul expresses his thoughts. Some preachers, however, seem to have an uncanny knack for rendering biblical texts unduly complex and complicated.

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The preacher was preaching on Galatians 6:14—“May it never be that I would boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” What troubled the preacher is the exclusivity of the cross as the only thing in which the Apostle Paul would boast, yet elsewhere the Apostle seems to be boasting in other things. He was troubled by other texts where Paul uses the same word for “boast” or “exult” to speak of boasting or exulting in other things. He cited the following passages as sources of his disquiet.

We exult in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2).
We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that they produce patience and approvedness and hope (Romans 5:3).
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19).

Thus, the preacher wondered, “So, if the Apostle can boast and exult in all these things, what does he mean when he claims that his exclusive boast is in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? Does Paul engage in double-talk? Is he contradicting himself by saying that he is exulting only in one thing but also exulting in other things?”

As I reflect on that sermon, it took many needless minutes for the preacher to reach some resolution of the tension, and yet, his resolution was neither sufficient nor satisfying as he presented it. Yes, he eventually did make the point that all our boasting or exulting should be exultation in the cross of Christ by affirming that exulting in the hope of God’s glory, exulting in tribulations, exulting in weaknesses, etc. should be an exulting in the cross. Why was it not sufficient or satisfying? The answer troubled me immensely as I listened to the sermon and it still troubles me because I heard him preach the same sermon on another occasion. That subsequent sermon showed that the preacher still did not understand the point that I am about to make. While I sat there in the pew listening intently to the sermon, I thought, “How is it that a highly educated preacher does not seem to grasp the literary nature of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians? How is it that a seminary educated preacher fails to apprehend the figure of speech that the Apostle Paul is using in Galatians 6:14? How simply and how clearly the preacher could have answered his own puzzlement and question and resolved the tension if he had simply assisted the pew people to understand that Paul is using a figure of speech in the passage, that Paul uses synecdoche when he mentions the cross of Jesus Christ just as he does elsewhere. How simple and clear it would be if only he would show the people that Paul uses ‘the cross’ as a principal aspect of the gospel by way of synecdoche for the gospel.”

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Galatians 6:14 is not the only place where Paul uses “the cross” as an aspect of the gospel by way of synecdoche for the whole gospel (synecdoche—a part used to represent the whole). Even more vividly Paul synecdoche in 1 Corinthians 1:17-18—“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Here, it is obvious that Paul substitutes “the gospel” with “the cross of Christ,” by way of synecdoche, when he mentions the cross again, he expands it to “the message of the cross.”

Without any doubt, the preacher eventually got it right in his sermon concerning why our boast must be in the cross of Christ. The reason is that everything, whether good or bad (for in God’s purposes all things work together for our good for all who are in Christ Jesus) was secured by the cross of Christ Jesus. Without his crucifixion, every one of us would receive nothing but divine punishment. Without the cross, ours would be only condemnation. Consequently, everything that we enjoy in Christ is due to the cross. Apart from the cross, there is no blessing at all.

Therefore, I am arguing that the conflict you are experiencing, as expressed in the statement I cite above, is no real conflict at all. Your own comment captures this well when you query, “Maybe it’s best thought of as a mental shift from cruci-centricity to a more fully-orbed Christocentricity?” My response to your query is this: To be cruci-centric is to be Christo-centric. Why? Because any proper featuring of the cross is not essentially a crucifix, the cross with Christ Jesus still on it. Rather, any proper featuring of the cross necessarily entails synecdoche, as the Apostle Paul conceives of the gospel, by featuring a principal aspect of Christ’s work, namely his sacrificial death on the cross, for the whole of Christ’s work. It is to feature an aspect of the gospel as a representative of the whole gospel. Any proper mention of the cross of Christ necessarily points to God’s Last Day verdict brought forward into the midst of history by Christ Jesus who brought forward both the verdict of God’s judgment and the vindicating life of resurrection from the Last Day. Thus, when Christ Jesus was crucified, he endured the wrath of God’s Last Day judgment on behalf of everyone who is in him. Likewise, when he was raised from the dead, his resurrection assured that all who are in him will most certainly rise from the dead unto eternal life on the Last Day, the Day Resurrection.

Thus, our prospective gaze upon Christ Jesus that we might lay hold of (Philippians 3:12-14) does not in the slightest diminish our cruci-centric affirmation. Rather . . . .
To finish reading the article, go to Ardel B. Caneday’s blogsite

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