#751…sci, RELIG, etc: “The Elegance of Metaphor”


Returning to Metaphor


As we’ve suggested before,

one factor that clearly¹

humans are categorically different

from animals in using

and understanding




For a few more words on this, use the DOOR.




   First a definition of metaphor from the Oxford On-line:

   (n)  a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

   By “not literal” we’re certainly implying it’s a lie. It’s simply making a comparison of the nature, behavior, appearance, or other characteristics of one thing to another. If the Bible declares “God is a rock” or “God is a refuge” we’re thinking of something other than granite, sandstone, castles, or fortresses. It’s saying, however, that God has characteristics that resemble strength and stability, or protecting ability.

   There’s another thing about metaphors (similes and symbols, etc.). When a reader or hearer encounters such language, his mind has to do some work: it has to make a connection between what’s literal and what’s intended. That work of creation can often cement an observation or truth in a way that a no direct literal connection can.

   Whereas an animal can perceive some sound or signal that can indicate a predator is on its way to select it for dinner, an animal can get the message, but its employing of abstract communication doesn’t seem to go much farther than that.

   Over and over again Jesus used metaphors to drive home important information, usually (according to the Bible record) not stopping to explain the fine print. Consequently, the hearer had to mull things over and discuss what Jesus meant, often given in parable form, with others.

   A good teaching technique!

   There’s one clear example, however, where Jesus goes much farther than this: In Mark 4, He tells the parable of the sower (about the different places his seed landed). Later, step by step He identifies what each piece of the story represents.

   On another occasion, He explains to an educated Pharisee in John 3: “Nicodemus, you must be born again.” To this Nick queries: “How can I go back inside my mother?” To this Jesus tells the man stuck in his extreme literalism than He’s not advocating this. But wait! Jesus says: “Nicodemus, you must be born of water and the Spirit.” Figures of speech are still in play!

   But Nicodemus is much closer to what matters.


   ¹ “Clearly” may be an overstatement here because we can’t exactly get into an animal’s head. But it’s pretty close… You may want to look back to Post #748.

Author: John Knapp