On Metaphor

Before we continue to examine the scandal of the cross I would like to take a brief look at the concept of metaphor and symbol, as it is important to understanding theological discourse.

This is not a boat

It is just a pile of 1’s and 0’s that most assuredly will not float. It is in a sense a metaphor or symbol for a boat, not an actual boat. Furthermore it is a number of other things all together: a picture, a photograph, in this case a piece of art, it could represent history, it is html code, and maybe a few other things as well. One thing it is not, is an actual floating boat.

So it is with theological language. The language, even the concepts are not the reality behind them. The word atonement, event the concept of atonement is not the same as what Jesus actually did on the cross, especially from his and/or God's perspective.

If we want to talk about boats its nice to have a picture of one, but its not the same as sailing. And like wise, when we need to talk about theology (and we most assuredly do need to talk about it) its nice to have word pictures and concepts to use, but it is not the same as the actual reality.

Secondly, boats change. A dugout canoe and an aircraft carrier, they both float in water, but are slightly different. Over the course of time, depending on the needs of the user, boats and metaphors change.

Thirdly, boats and metaphors are bound up in their time and place, and must be used or at least understood in light of their surrounding culture. No one wants to float an aircraft carrier down a river, and a navy man doesn’t want to go to war with a dugout canoe.

All of this comes into play when interpreting the Bible. We can’t just grab words and or metaphors out of the Bible without being cognizant of the authors surrounding culture and his intent. Additionally while we absolutely want to hold on to the original metaphors, we need to realize that, A, they must be translated, and B, they already have been translated, over and over again through two thousand years of church history. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something to recognize and be aware of. (though when done improperly it certainly is a bad thing.)

Additionally, we also bring our baggage to the table. Those of us who have grown up in the church have been raised with X metaphor, or Y metaphor for this or that. Those metaphor’s may have been appropriate to their original audience, (or not) and they may continue to be appropriate in this particular time and place, (or not). (Don’t read too much doubt into that last sentence, I’m just stating that either/or may be true) Consequently, we need to occasionally reexamine if the metaphors we are using, communicate to our audience A, what the original author wanted them to communicate, and B, what we want to communicate. Yes, A and B are often the same thing, but not necessarily. For instance, Paul may address women covering their heads, we may simply choose to only address modesty, or respect.

I say all of this simply to serve as background for the upcoming post on the scandal of the cross, but also for your own benefit in your own future endeavors in Biblical interpretation. I think it also illustrates that though the Bible may be infallible, interpreting it certainly is not.

Do you look at all of this a different way? Please tell me about it.


The Scandal of the Cross (3)

As we continue to examine the meaning of the death of Jesus on a cross, I would like to turn next to the word-images that appear in the New Testament narrative. What images did the authors of the Bible use, and what are the implications of those images?

The Biblical authors found it necessary to construct multiple ways of explaining the cross, ways which where bound up in their time and place. All I'll do here is list what those images are, and offer an all too brief word on each. If you are so inclined there is more than you will ever want to read about each one if you click on the link. If I have missed some images used by biblical authors to explain the cross of Christ, by all means let me know.

This word gets at the heart of salvation. This doctrine not-so-briefly sums up our standing with God.

This word gets at the nature and means of God's redemptive work on the cross.

The link I have provided for this one is less helpful. Revelation as it applies to Jesus Christ gets at the idea that in Jesus we see most full the heart and reality of God the Father. In other words, Jesus revels God to humanity. Jesus' whole life does this, but nothing so vividly as his death. The death of Jesus illustrates or revels the love of God in a way nothing else can.

This doctrine sums up what has been accomplished by the other three points. Most Christians are aware of their personal reconciliation with God, however what is taught less often, is the way and degree to which Christ death has the potential to reconcile all things, and in fact one day will, on that day when the lion will lie down with the lamb. To be specific, race relations, economic affairs and humanities relationship with its environment, God's creation, are just three areas that are in need of immense reconciliation. The death of Jesus makes these things possible, in part because of the example Christ displayed for us but also for other spiritual and theological reasons as well.