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"It's precisely in contrast to the ordinary that the resurrection stands out."

Could someone explain what the author meant by "in contrast to the ordinary"? Could I replace "in contrast" in this case with "opposite"?

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"In contrast to" is used when you are comparing unlike things. So, "the resurrection" stands out from "the ordinary" because it contrasts with it, that is, it differs from it.

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What the author meant by "in contrast to the ordinary" is that the "resurrection" (which is the thing being referred to) was so unusual, because it was so different from "ordinary". "In contrast to" is used to compare two things, and to list their differences.

You could replace "in contrast" in this case with "opposite" in this case, but there are cases when the two things being compared are not opposites, just slightly different, so "opposite" couldn't replace "in contrast to" in those cases. In this case however, it's fine to replace with "opposite".

An example where "in contrast to" cannot be replaced with "opposite" would be:

The egg of a Dorgen is completely round, in contrast to that of a normal egg, which is slightly oval.

"Opposite" can't be used here, because the "opposite" of round is square, but a normal egg isn't square, but oval. It's only slightly different from round.

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Could you give me an example when it would be not appropriate to replace "in contrast" with "opposite"? –  Jon Aug 20 '11 at 4:49
    
You generally can't replace "in contrast" with "opposite", really, because "in contrast to X" is written in cases where X does not have a clear opposite. (I would object to the assertion that "the 'opposite' of round is square", for example.) –  Karl Knechtel Aug 21 '11 at 1:07

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