4/14/20 – Metaphors & Similes

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How’s your Bible reading going? A few days ago a friend sent me a message saying, “You know all those things around the house I keep saying I will do when I have time? Well that wasn’t the reason!” Hopefully our time to read and study God’s word and spend time in prayer does not fall into that category. Is there EVER really a time when we don’t have time to spend with God?

Metaphors and Similes

Over the last several days I’ve had a number of questions from people about things they are reading in their Bibles. One that often comes up involves how to understand some of the things that the Bible says. Understand that this is NOT a question of people imagining the that Bible says something when it doesn’t but, rather, a case of HOW God says something to make a point or teach us a lesson.

We do a lot of things with language to make a point, to express humor or to just spice up our words and keep people interested in what we are saying. Many times we illustrate or emphasize what we are saying with comparisons.

Perhaps the most obvious comparison type is called a simile and uses the words like or as to make plain what we are really saying. Life is like a box of chocolates is not to be understood literally (though I’ll admit it would be nice if life WAS a box of chocolates!) and everyone understands that. If you were to say that a baby is as cute as a button, no one would imagine that the baby was really a button.

A good Bible study is to see how often God and the inspired writers use the words like or as to teach a lesson. For example, Psalms and Proverb use the terms a few hundred times. God’s people are not really trees nor are the wicked chaff (Psalm 1:3-4). The purpose of these comparisons is create word pictures that teach us a lesson.

Another frequently used way of comparing things is to make a direct statement that provides a shocking or surprising comparison to provoke us to think seriously about the point. If someone says My life is an open book, do you reach over and turn the page?

Jesus frequently taught using both similes and metaphors and we can look rather foolish if we miss His point and end up believing something that is nonsensical. Are God’s people REALLY sheep? Do you walk on four legs and require being shorn every year to get rid of your fleece?

In John’s Gospel Jesus frequently uses the term I am followed by a metaphor. Jesus is not actually a loaf of bread nor is He a physical door. Rather each of these comparisons are to make us think and understand the ultimate importance of our Savior.

Consider the Lord’s Supper. For the first thousand years of Christianity’s existence it seems that nearly everyone understood that when Jesus took bread and said, this is my body (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-24) that He actually was using the metaphor that the bread represented His body. After all, Jesus didn’t rip off an arm and give it to the disciples, He gave them a figure, an illustration to represent His body. Likewise the cup. Here Jesus uses a double metaphor as the cup is actually representing the contents and NOT the physical vessel (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:25). It was only in 1215 that the Catholic church made up the doctrine that the bread changes into the actual body and the cup into the actual blood of Jesus.

So if you miss the metaphor, you miss the real lesson that Jesus was teaching and end up believing something invented by man over a thousand years after the time of Jesus. Can we please God by teaching as true the false teachings of man? Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; Ephesians 4:14 and 1 Timothy 1:3 all caution us against believing and following such false teachings invented by people. (For a few more metaphor’s check out John 14:6; John 15:5; 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Matthew 5:13.)

There are, of course, many other figures of speech, ways in which we use language to get a point across. Sometimes God uses hyperbole – an exaggeration of the size, power, meaning, and so on, of an object or phenomenon in order to emphasize the point or lesson. In Mark 1:4-5 ALL the people of Judea and Jerusalem are said to have gone out to be baptized by John. Later we learn that many did NOT believe the preaching of John so we understand that Mark is telling us that huge crowds DID believe and obey, but not every single person.

We learn from God, not by making up our own rules, but by the diligent, hard work, study of real students or disciples of Jesus. While it is relatively easy to understand the basics of salvation (even though it may be a real challenge to DO all that God asks), we will never arrive at the point of knowing and understanding all of God’s word. There’s ALWAYS more to learn by digging into and studying the Bible.

NEVER assume you know it all and NEVER slacken your hunger and thirst for the truth. Keep reading and keep studying this week… and every day as long as you live here on earth!

—Lester P. Bagley

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