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Metaphor And The Bible


GeorgeW
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Once the canon of a scripture is fixed, one way for it to maintain its relevance is through metaphor. This, I think, becomes even more necessary as time goes along and the context of the writing and attitudes of the author(s) become more and more unlike that of the readers.

 

Although conservative and progressive Christians each employ literal and metaphoric interpretations, clearly metaphor is more prevalent among progressives.

 

I would suggest that there are two types of metaphorical interpretation and it isn't always clear to me which one is being asserted. The first type is an interpretation that the author of the text was using metaphor. The second type is that the author of the text was writing literally, but the reader is interpreting the text metaphorically.

 

An example is the creation story in Genesis. The six-day creation is sometimes asserted to be literally six twenty-four hour cycles. Alternatively, the six days could have been intended by the author to represent six stages of creation with each day representing a long period of time. Or, the author could have meant six literal days, but the reader interprets it as a metaphor for periods of time. In this case, given the names of the characters, I suspect the story was not intended literally by the author.

 

I would be interested in Biblical passages in which others believe were intended as metaphor by the author vs. those intended by the author as literal, but interpreted by the reader as metaphor.

 

George

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This is a great question that I am unqualified to answer.

 

I'm more or less confident that the author of the last book of the Bible was not actually expecting a horned beast to show up. Now, what all those metaphors and allegories mean, that's a bit trickier.

 

Crossan, IIRC, has claimed that early Christians who knew the Gospels didn't think of the Resurrection in literal terms, though I'm not sure about that one. But then, they're called the Gospels, and not the Chronicles, and I suspect that different in terms is meaningful.

 

The 3rd book in my Christianity queue is something (I haven't decided what) by Kevin VanHoozer, who is apparently a rising star in systematic theology. He's not progressive by any means, but he's apparently very well read and enjoys using Austin and Searle and Ricoeur in his analysis of the Bible. One of the things he's spent a great deal of effort doing, apparently, is decoupling the words "literal" and "inerrant" precisely in the attempt to identify the metaphors and allegories the authors of the Bible intended. I'm sure I will disagree with him about many things, but his name keeps showing up, so I'll be looking into him soon.

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George

 

Its my understanding that the 6 day creation has a literal slant in that it reinforced the 7 day week with the Sabbath. The Priestly writer inserted it, I think.

 

Readers have struggled with the Song of Songs often trying to make it an allegory so they don't have to think about sex. One book I didn't finish was of the opinion that it was precisely for the juiciness and sexiness that it was kept, not by an unanimous vote. Metaphor rather than allegory. Our relationship with God is to be that rich and moist and intense. The center of the Biblical message.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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I'm more or less confident that the author of the last book of the Bible was not actually expecting a horned beast to show up. Now, what all those metaphors and allegories mean, that's a bit trickier.

 

 

Yes, I think most people, and probably all scholars, recognize that the author intended allegory here. Isn't this the basis for the "Left Behind" series?

 

George

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George

 

Readers have struggled with the Song of Songs often trying to make it an allegory so they don't have to think about sex. One book I didn't finish was of the opinion that it was precisely for the juiciness and sexiness that it was kept, not by an unanimous vote. Metaphor rather than allegory. Our relationship with God is to be that rich and moist and intense. The center of the Biblical message.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

 

A good example. I have read that inclusion of Song of Songs in the canon was controversial. There were copies found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and since the Qumran community was rather straitlaced and puritanical, one would assume allegory was their interpretation.

 

According to Professor Hiers ("the Trinity Guide to the Bible"), it was included because Jewish authorities believed that Solomon was the author although he likely was not.

 

In any event, it has been interpreted by many to be author-intended allegory.

 

George

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I think unless we have a time machine to travel back in time to meet the authors themselves, we'll never know for certain which parts of the bible were intended to be read literally or metaphorically and without more extra-biblical evidence, we can never be certain about what parts of the bible literally happened in history. Regardless of intention or historicity, I like to see the entire bible as a metaphor for the human condition. The bible has every human emotion you can think of included in its stories; love, hate, forgiveness, wrath, justice, corruption. I think sometimes we can get too wrapped up in arguing over what parts are historical but whether the stories were intended to be metaphors or if they were intended to be true but are factually inaccurate, that doesn't take away from what the stories mean and what valuable insights into the human condition we can gain from them.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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