The following debate happened between myself and Church of Christ member Dave Bell. “Faith is a synecdoche (please see opening statements for a definition)” is an argument that is often employed by Church of Christ preachers. The claim is often made without any substantiation. Therefore I am grateful to Mr. Bell for participating in this debate with me as it is the only one on this subject on the internet. – Damon Whitsell
Opening Statement by Dave Bell
IS “FAITH” A SYNECDOCHE?
It has been said that “words written in truth are everlasting” and I believe that with all my heart. The question of this discussion is about the use of the word “faith” or belief and how it is used in scripture especially in regards to our salvation. Many contend that all one has to do is to believe or have faith in Christ and at that point one is saved and that it is by faith alone and nothing else since all other would be to add ‘works’ of our own to that salvation. In one sense that is true but it is only true if one realises that “faith is a synecdoche for the whole plan of salvation we must obey in order to be saved. So that is how am I using the word synecdoche here? We must define our terms for the discussion to continue.
Synecdoche: This word is from the Greek sunechdeechesthai meaning to receive jointly. It is usually spoken of as a figure of speech by which is spoken a whole by a part or a part by using a term denoting the whole.
All of us who read and study the Bible must remember that it is richly endowed with figures of speech and the synecdoche is one of the most common figures of speech used by the Bible writers under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There fore we must read, recognise, and learn to correctly interpret synecdoche’s this is absolutely necessary if we would be faithful and accurate in drawing our conclusions on numerous passages and indeed subjects.
It is my contention in this discussion that “faith” of “belief” is a part put for the whole of the Gospel plan of salvation as it is presented in the New Testament that is all of the conditions of salvation are indicated by the use of one; generally that of faith this is the first one mentioned as without it nothing else would follow. The whole Gospel plan of salvation given is this: Hearing the Gospel, believing the gospel, repentance of sin, confession of Christ as Lord before men, baptism for the remission of sins, and living a faithful life until death. “Faith” involves all of these and is thus the synecdoche of salvation by Gospel obedience.
Men were to call on the name of the Lord in order to be saved (Romans10:17); they were to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved (Acts 16:31); they were to repent of their sins in order to be saved (Acts 17:30); they were to be baptised in order to be saved (Acts 2:38; 22:16). It is common for us to see one of these mentioned without any reference as to the presence of any other. That is how I am using “faith” as a synecdoche in this discussion.
If we were to put the word “alone” with all of these component parts I think we can see what I mean. We are saved by “faith alone” but are we? We could do this with the entire component parts of the plan of salvation legitimately since all on their own are synecdoches. We could say we are saved by baptism alone since it saves us (II Peter 3:21). It was not however Peter’s intent to teach us that all one must do to be saved was to be baptised. Yet by parity of reasoning with the faith only error we could say that Peter does indeed teach this since we forget how to employ the synecdoche in our reasoning. Baptism (a part) is made to stand for the whole plan of salvation as faith is made to stand as a part for the whole plan of forgiveness of our sins.
We are then to recognize and understand the various synecdoches that relate to the terms of our forgiveness of sins and thus our pardon. If we can do this I think we will find a truly beautiful and harmonious picture in the plan of salvation given to us by God through the Holy Spirit in the word.
However if we do not recognize them it is not possible to understand fully what God requires from us in order to be is for the whole plan to be Obeyed, not just one part of it at the expense of the rest. To repeat it, the whole for which a single element (synecdoche) is made to stand in various passages consists of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance of one’s sins, confession of Christ as Lord before men, being baptised for the remission of one’s sins, and living faithfully until one dies.
Figures of speech are common in all languages and the Bible is no exception to this. Our New Testament was written in the common or koine Greek and the Greeks seemed to make a “science” out of figures of speech and we must learn to interpret those figures or “tropes” as they were called; tropes comes from tropos meaning a turn this is simply because these figures represented “turns” or variations from the normal literal meaning of words.
For this and the other reasons we have seen we must acknowledge that the Bible is replete with figures of speech. We must also learn to recognize when a writer or speaker is using figurative terms like the synecdoche, and to correctly interpret those terms as a failure to do so can lead to disastrous consequences for us especially in regards to our salvation.
If we look at a question such as “How long was Jesus in the grave?” we can see how a synecdoche works in practice. In Mark15:42-43; Luke 23: 50-54; and John 19:31, we can see that the crucifixion occurred on a Friday. Then in Matthew 28:1ff; Mark16:2ff; Luke 24:1ff; and John 20:1ff, we can see that the lord’s resurrection was on the first day of the week or Sunday.
Now even though these statements are clear there are many unbelievers who will tell us that Christ’s own words just cannot be harmonized with a sixth day crucifixion (Friday) and a first day resurrection (Sunday). The prophecy they will all go to is found in (Matthew12:40) where Jesus said that He would be three days and three nights in the grave. They are quick to show that part of Friday night, the entire day and night of Saturday and part of Sunday are equal to only ‘part’ of days and only two nights. I think that what is even sadder is that some who claim to be believers also make this argument and agree with the unbelievers.
Now if it be demanded that we take the Lord’s words strictly literally then we do have a problem as they would contradict what He had spoken in passages such as: (Matthew 16:21; Luke9:22; Mark 8:31; and John 2:19). Yet when Jesus said these things those who heard Him had no problem with them including His enemies.
All of these apparent difficulties melt away when we recognize that the three days and three nights are a synecdoche of time in which the phrase “three days and nights” actually refers to a part of that time.
If we go back nearly a thousand years and read (I Kings 12:5, 12) we can see the exact same figure used by Rehoboam; where he says to the people “Depart for three days, then return to me, so the people departed.” Then Jereboam and all the people came to Rehoboam on the “third day” as the king had directed, saying “Return to me on the third day.” So we can see that this type of synecdoche was very familiar to the Jews and they would understand what Jesus had said to them hence they had no problem with His words at all and never made the argument the atheists and some “believers” make about ittoday. All that was needed was to understand the type of figure Jesus used and here it was a synecdoche and is an example to ustoday.
If we now look at some Biblical examples of salvation we might begin to see how this figure is used in scripture. The question we must ask ourselves regarding these synecdoches is this: Is this “all” or is it only a part of what God requires for us to be saved?
(1) (Titus 3:5) “According to His mercy He saved us.”
(2) (Hebrews 7:25) “He saves to the uttermost them that draw near to God.’
(3) (Matthew 10:22) “He that endures to the end shall be saved.”
(4) (Romans 10:17) with (Matthew 10:32 “He who confesses Me etc.
(5) (I Peter 3:21) “Baptism now saves us.”
(6) (John 3:16) “He who believes shall have eternal life.”
(7) (Mark 16:16) “He who believes AND is baptized shall be saved.”
I think when we examine these properly and interpret them right we must agree that all of these are synecdoches they are part of the plan of salvation that have been given to represent the whole of that plan of salvation.
This raises a question that I think demands an answer from us if we are to be logical in our interpretations and that is this: Should we now fault the Holy Spirit (who inspired the New Testament writers) for NOT stating ALL the conditions of salvation every time the subject occurs, both God and our part in it?
This in turn provokes (to me) another question which is this: Why is it that when the word “faith” appears in the New Testament that those who claim that this alone saves us feel that they must insert the word “only” after faith? We can surely all agree that what we have just looked at are indeed synecdoches yet with faith it suddenly changes here, why? I think that it has to be this way for the “faith only” corner because if they believe this doctrine then in order to be true and consistent to it they must then teach that faith is the only condition thus when it appears it simply cannot stand for anything else. This I deny.
The only place that the doctrine of faith only is discussed is in (James 2) and in that passage it explicitly states that faith according to the non synecdoche corner cannot and does not save us.
This is because true faith produces and works through love (Galatians 5:6) if it does not do this then faith does not work at all. Further if we love God then (I John 5:3-4) will tell us that this is the love of God that we keep His commandments and that his commandments are not grievous for whatsoever is begotten of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that overcomes the world (even) our faith.
The last question is has your faith overcome the world and if so how can it be “faith only?
DEBATE: Is faith a Synecdoche?
Denial Opening Statement
by Damon Whitsell
Hello Dave, thanks for this debate and bringing up this interesting topic, it’s a new one for me. In researching for this debate I found many Church of Christ articles that claimed faith is a synecdoche. But they all just made the assertion without trying to prove or make a positive case for that assertion. I look forward to hearing your affirmative case and responding.
A Synecdoche, as I understand it, is a figure of speech in which a part represents a whole of something, or the whole represents a part of something, such as a “hand” represents a “worker”. And from our prior interactions and your posting in the group, I take it that by saying “faith is a synecdoche” you mean the word faith means to do or “obey” the “whole plan of salvation” which is “hear, repent of sin, believe, confess, be baptized for remission of sin and live a faithful life” (6 steps). I think you will have a hard time establishing the truthfulness of that claim and my reasons follow.