Metonomy and the Cup

By Lynn Trapp

Brethren who oppose the use of a plural number of drinking vessels in the Lord’s Supper have for years tried to make an effort to fit the figure of speech, metonomy, into their scheme of things. These brethren seem unable to avoid seeing some significance to the drinking vessel which the Lord “took” (Kittel says it was “. . . the pitcher which stood filled on the table . . .,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 6, p. 148) when He instituted the supper. Therefore, these brethren have devised a series of “rules” which they believe govern this figure of speech. These “rules” were recently given by Richard D. Frizzell in the Old Paths Advocate (Jan. 1, 1980, pp. 3, 9-10). He said,

From the above definitions of Metonomy we learn several facts about this figure of speech: (1) The object named is not the thing suggested; (2) There is a real object, not an imaginary one, named; (3) both the thing named and the thing suggested-must exist; (4) In metonomy of the “container for the thing contained” the container named must contain the thing suggested; and (5) One can only suggest the contents of as many cups as he names (p. 9, emphasis his, LT).

I should point out that no qualified grammarian has ever been produced who confirms these “rules.” Instead, they have been contrived and devised, most likely by Ervin Waters. E.W. Bullinger says, “No one is at liberty to exercise any arbitrary power in their (figures of speech, LT) use . . . . There is no room for private opinion, neither can speculation concerning them have any authority” (Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, p. xi). I propose to demonstrate that Frizzell’s “rules” are “private opinion” and “speculation,” therefore, they have no authority:

“Rule” number one says, “The object named is not the thing suggested.” This statement is very true except for one thing – the application made by brother Frizzell is totally incorrect. First, he contradicts himself when he says, “So do not let the big word Metonomy frighten you. It simply means that two things are suggested to the mind by the mention of one of them which readily suggests the other” (p. 9). 1 am not “frightened” by the word metonomy, but I am frightened by brother Frizzell’s use of it. He tells us that the thing named is not the thing suggested, and then does an about face and tells us that it is the thing suggested. Thus, he gives the word “cup” both figurative and literal significance at the same time, a thing impossible in metonomy (even though sometimes, when the thing named has to be present, such as a drinking vessel to contain liquid, it still has no significance in the metonomy). The points of Frizzell’s “rule” are that the object named is not the thing suggested and, in addition to this, the object named does not have significance in the sentence in which it is used as a figure of speech. Please notice some specific cases. (All the passages used are listed by Bullinger as illustrations of Metonomy of the Subject under the sub-heading of “container for the thing contained.”) Deuteronomy 28:5 says, “Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.” In this passage the basket and the kneading bowl are used to represent their various contents; and yet, no special blessing is upon the containers themselves, but the produce of the land which they would contain. In Psalms 49:11 where the “inner thought is, that their houses continue forever,” the houses, which are put for the “households,” have no significance. “They do not desire that their houses, i.e. buildings, continue forever, but that their families do. (See also 1 Tim. 3:4)

The second “rule” is that “there is a real object, not an imaginary one, named.” I would ask here, when the “altar” (Heb. 13:10) is named to suggest the sacrifice of Christ, what “real object” is being named? If it is the cross, then I would ask in what sense one applies the word “altar” to the cross? The cross is a figurative altar, but it is not a “real” altar. David said, “Thou doest prepare a table before me in the presence -of mine enemies” (Psa. 23:5). What “real” table is named in this passage? What significance is there to the “house” and “tent” of Proverbs 14:11? Do the wicked only live in houses and the upright only in tents? The scriptures, written by the inspiration of God, do not substantiate Frizzell’s “rules.”

The third “rule” listed by brother Frizzell says, “both the thing named and the thing suggested must exist.” The only thing wrong with this “rule” is that it is just not so. Edom was told that they would drink of “the cup” (Jer. 49:12). The thing suggested by reference to “the cup” is the punishment by God mentioned in verses 7-11. I, personally, know of no “real” drinking vessel which could contain an intangible like punishment. Perhaps Frizzell can tell us what “real” cup is named in Jeremiah 49:12. This point can be seen even clearer in the prophecy of Ezekiel (23:31-33). The content of the cup is “horror and desolation” (v. 33). No “real” cup exists and no “real” cup is being named. Real drinking vessels do not contain horror and desolation; they contain only tangible objects like liquids. In fact, it would be as impossible to put horror and desolation into A real drinking vessel as it is to put love and devotion into a bottle.

“Rule” four maintains that “the container named must contain the thing suggested.” In this “rule,” Frizzel says that because “cup” is named, a bottle, a pitcher, or a bowl cannot be the drinking vessel used in the Lord’s supper. I ask, must the cup always contain fruit of the vine in order to be the “cup of the Lord”? Webster defined “drink” as to “a. swallow . . . b. to take in . . . c. to take in or receive in a way suggestive of a liquid being swallowed.” If the container must always contain the contents, then one has not drunk the “cup of the Lord” unless he “swallows” or “takes in” a drinking vessel containing the fruit of the vine. If not, why not? But, again, the scriptures will not substantiate this “rule.” Noah’s house (Gen. 7:1) was told to enter the ark. In .this case, the “household” (the thing suggested) is contained by the ark and not the “house” (the thing named). Since Proverbs 14:11 mentions the “house of the wicked” and the “tent of the upright,” are we to understand that all wicked persons must be contained in one (see “rule” 5) house and all upright persons must be contained in one tent? Surely, the folly in such reasoning is clearly evident.

Brother Frizzell’s last “rule” – “one can only suggest the contents of as many cups as he names” – is more devoid of proof than all the others combined, and yet, this is the one they must prove in order to make metonomy fit their doctrine. Jacob asked Laban, “But now, when shall I provide for my own house” (Gen. 30:30)? In spite of this, we find that his “house” was contained by, at least, four different and separate dwelling places (Gen. 31:33), not any one of which was a “house.” The father of Moses was of the “house of Levi” (Exod. 2:1); but, surely, we are not expected to believe that the great number of Levi’s descendants, which must have been living in the time of the captivity, were all dwelling or being contained in one house. Yet, according to Frizzell, since only one house is named, only the contents of one house could have been suggested. But it gets worse! Ezekiel mentions those from the “house of Togarmah” (Ezek. 27:14). Togarmah was the greatgrandson of Noah. Can you image how large the building would have been in order to contain the family of Togarmah in the time of Ezekiel? Further, Joshua 13:6 mentions the “hill country” of Lebanon. Since only one hill is named, we are to believe that there is only one hill in Lebanon? Obviously, as Bullinger suggests, “hill” is named to suggest the “mountainous region” (p. 575). Also, the “grave” of Isaiah 38:18 cannot be stretched to mean that all the dead persons in Isaiah’s time were interred in one grave. This so-called “rule” makes absolutely no sense, scriptural or otherwise.

Brother Frizzell’s “rules” have all fallen by the wayside in the face of scriptural facts. He and his brethren will have to search elsewhere for substantiation of their divisive “one drinking vessel” concept, for metonomy gives them no hope; it rather establishes that “the cup” is not the literal drinking vessel, as far as significance is concerned, but is the contents, the fruit of the vine.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 41, pp. 666-667
October 16, 1980