In the Beginning was the Word: John 1:1–5 and a Revelational Theory of Metaphor -- By: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 80:1 (Spring 2018)
Article: In the Beginning was the Word: John 1:1–5 and a Revelational Theory of Metaphor
Author: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

In the Beginning was the Word:
John 1:1–5 and a Revelational Theory of Metaphor

Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Pierce Taylor Hibbs is Associate Director for Theological Curriculum and Instruction in the Theological English Department at Westminster Theological Seminary.


Because special revelation re-calibrates our understanding not merely of spiritual matters but of natural and physical matters as well, we should strive to develop a “revelational approach to metaphor,” that is, an approach to metaphor that shows how language is ultimately rooted in God himself and thus communicates far more than we often imagine. Even the common understandings we have of words with regard to physicality (e.g., “life,” “light”) must be shaped by the truth that ultimate life and light are found in relationship with the Word of the Father (John 1:1), in the power of the Spirit. This article develops a revelational theory of metaphor in dialogue with another common theory of metaphor: tension theory. It ends by offering implications for our use and understanding of everyday language. The article affirms throughout that we must understand all of language, metaphors included, through the special revelation of God.

The necessity of special revelation appears not only with respect to man’s failure to know and react to spiritual things right, but also with respect to his inability to interpret “natural” things aright.

Cornelius Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology

I. Introduction

I am Nicodemus … and so are you. Every Christian has rapped on the door of Christ in the middle of the night, sought an answer to a simple question, and ended up reborn. The rest of life, we might say, is about understanding and living out that second birth.

Nicodemus approached Jesus after nightfall with the hope of learning more about him. Before he encountered Jesus, he had carried with him a perceptual grid for reality: a way of understanding the world both physically and spiritually. Everything he perceived and understood was bound together with all the

glorious complexity of a Jackson Pollock painting. He knew about fish and finances, death and daylight, sacrifice and sapience. All of what he experienced in his embodied existence was expressed on a single canvas of perception, stretched as tightly as the skin around his knuckles when he struck the wood on the door of the Word.

Of course, the encounter did not go as Nicodemus might have imagined. He came to admit Jesus’ divine influence, but then found himself puzzled ...

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