Discipleship Quick Tip: Metaphors in the Bible

Discipleship Quick Tip

“How can God be a rock?” my seven-year old asked me.

This was a great opportunity to teach her about an important principle of interpreting scripture: the use of metaphors.

A metaphor is defined as “a word or phrase used to describe somebody/something else, in a way that is different from its normal use, in order to show that the two things have the same qualities and to make the description more powerful.”

Metaphors essentially create “word pictures” of one thing in our minds that help us understand another thing. In this case, my daughter had read verses like Psalm 18:31, among many others:

For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? (NAS)

This verse uses the imagery of a rock to help us understand some qualities of God.

Because we had already laid the groundwork that God is a spirit and doesn’t have a physical body, she understood that God does not have physical characteristics at all. So I reminded her about other places in scripture where God is described as having body parts, such as hands and nostrils.

I then asked her to think about a large heavy rock.

“Like the one in our island [in the driveway]?”

“Yes, exactly. What is that rock like?”

She came up with several ideas, such as it is too big for her to move; it’s a place where she rests when she’s playing, if it were bigger she could hide behind it during hide-and-seek. (Others like it is smooth in some places, rough in others, gray in color, etc. didn’t seem to work in the God-imagining process!)

I then asked her to think about why David might use the word rock to help us understand God. I think you can see where this conversation led.

That was an easy one. A little while later she asked me how Jesus’ body and blood could be bread and wine. That led to a deeper conversation about how Communion and the Lord’s Supper are reminders Jesus gave us about His sacrifice on our behalf.

As parents, when we read scripture for ourselves and with our children, pause, think about, and discuss the metaphors and other figures of speech (such as similes and analogies) that the Bible authors used to communicate certain ideas to their readers. Our grasp of spiritual truths will be deeper for the process.

 

Resources

Here are some examples of metaphors in scripture.

Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament is a classic and in-depth discussion of figures of speech.

This is a useful tool on “types” of Christ in the Bible (a “type” is a kind of metaphor or analogy)

I found helpful Howard Hendricks’ Living by the Book (also available for Kindle) for guidance on interpreting scripture generally. Search for the book+workbook set, too.