Posted tagged ‘metaphor’

Meaning in the Metaphor in the Bible

October 13, 2018


Imagine hearing these words in the First Century:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in youWhoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
(John 6:47‭, ‬49‭-‬54‭, ‬56‭-‬58 ESV) (emphasis added)

The crowd asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”… and they were probably thinking, “Why would we want to it? That’s disgusting!”

They took him literally, but we understand that he was speaking figuratively. In fact, Jesus spoke figuratively all the time. In fact, Mark says that Jesus spoke in parables everywhere. (Mark 4:34).

To Jesus, the physical world was like one big figure of speech. He spoke about bread, and light, and salt, and a lamp, and a vine, and a mustard seed, and on and on and on. In this way, Jesus was continually challenging the people listening to him to think beyond the physical world they knew to consider spiritual truths that transcend it.

Many, like the Jews who asked how Jesus could give them his flesh to eat, had a hard time with the way Jesus spoke. Even the disciples, themselves, found these words the comparison of Jesus as living bread for people to eat hard to swallow (pun intended). (John 6:66)

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Digging Deeper to Mine the Meaning from Scripture

October 2, 2018


I have written on the subject of the similarity in the interpretation style of atheists and fundamentalists, or more specifically, perhaps, young earth creationists. Probably several times or more in fact. But, I am not the only who has noticed the similarity.

Among others who have made this observation is Michael G. Strauss, professor at University of Oklahoma. Strauss has been a research physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and more recently at CERN. Strauss has studied the interaction between quarks and gluons and the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics, and, most recently, the properties of the Higgs Boson and “the top quark”. Dr. Strauss is a pretty smart guy, and he is a Christian.

He writes in a blog article dated September 16, 2018, about A Shared Characteristic Between Atheists and Young Earth Creationists, observing that they interpret the Bible the same way. Both camps insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible, particularly the creation narrative in Genesis. It’s kind of like the person listening to the announcer giving the play-by-play of a baseball game on the radio when he says, “The runner is hugging the base at third.” Should we imagine that the runner is literally embracing third base in his arms?

Of course not, because we know from the context of our modern culture and language what the announcer is saying. While his words may convey a certain literal meaning, his actual meaning is different. We all know exactly what he means. He means that the runner is holding close to the base. We call this a “figure of speech” among other things.*

We don’t have to struggle to know when to take someone “literally” and when to grasp the nuance of metaphorical meaning. We don’t have to think very hard about it, usually, because we are immersed in the culture and intimately familiar with language usage that gives us clues from in the context of the statements.

We have to use that same approach with the Bible. The only difference is that we are not so immersed in the culture and familiar with ancient Hebrew that we can make those same “common sense” connections with the Bible without a little help. But, it’s not that difficult either.

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Taking the Bible Literally? Or Seriously?

August 28, 2018


Some people urge Christians to take the Bible literally. I don’t think taking the Bible literally is taking the Bible seriously enough. I think it’s a far more important matter to take the Bible seriously.

Consider John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

John Lennox, the brilliant Oxford mathematician, relates a conversation he had with Peter Atkins, the prolific atheist scholar. When Lennox referred Atkins to John, Chapter 1, Atkins called Lennox naïve to believe that God has lungs, a voice box and a voice. Of course, that isn’t how Lennox (or anyone who takes the Bible seriously) understands those words at all.

I find it interesting that both atheists and fundamentalists tend to adhere to a literal reading of the Bible. The only difference between them is that one believes all of it, and the other believes none of it.

A literal reading of John 1:1-3 clearly misses the point. No one believes that God has lungs, a voice box and a voice. The devise John uses in Chapter 1 is a metaphor that is intended to convey a deeper and richer meaning than anything that could be conveyed literally. In some sense, Lennox notes, understanding the metaphor is reading the Bible literally. The metaphor is the literal meaning that is intended.

We have to take the Bible very seriously in order to understand this and to see the actual meaning that is there. When we read everything “literally”, we are not taking the Bible seriously enough!

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Malcolm Guite

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