Applying The New Testament Metaphors -- By: David F. Gibson

Journal: Michigan Theological Journal
Volume: MTJ 01:2 (Fall 1990)
Article: Applying The New Testament Metaphors
Author: David F. Gibson

Applying The New Testament Metaphors

David F. Gibson

The metaphors conceming the believer, as presented in the New Testament, are to be personally accepted and adapted as identities for the Christian in his view of his role in this world. Many problems are cartied into the Christian walk as a result of retaining worldly metaphors. Healthy transformation can occur more easily as the believer comprehends the biblical metaphors and applies them to Christian living.

The New Testament contains over 40 metaphors1 which describe the nature and the relationships of the Christian. The metaphor is a very powerful communication device used to communicate truth vividly in the mind of the listener. Metaphors “connect two different universes of meaning through some similarity the two share.”2 In doing so, metaphors help us to understand one idea by means of another. For example, we understand the nature of a particular financial function by comparing it to a watchdog (they both protect), the passing of time to a river (flow), and the feeding interrelationship of the animal world to a chain (links).

“The key to metaphorical thinking is similarity. In fact, this is how our thinking grows; we understand the unfamiliar by means of the similarities it has with what is familiar to us. For example, what were the first automobiles called? That’s right,

‘horseless carriages.’ And the first locomotives were called ‘iron horses.’ We frequently refer to resemblances between things. We say that hammers have heads, tables have legs, roads have shoulders and beds have feet.”3 Biblical communicators, inspired by the Spirit, took advantage of the metaphor and compared the believer to a servant, a son, a sojourner, a soldier and many other common identities.

The word “metaphor” comes from two Greek words: μετά (after or beyond) and φέρω (to carry) are used together to mean “carry a meaning beyond” its literal setting. A literal truth is carried to another setting and some point of comparison is thus taught in a graphic manner. The metaphor is more powerful than simply writing the desired truth.

In communicating ideas, the biblical writer, as well as the modern writer has a choice of several figures of speech along the spectrum of impact. He can choose a figure which is close to truth and has the least force — the simile. (“He is like a gorilla.”) The next choice is more forceful and farther removed from literal trut...

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