Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Growing in GOD'S WORD (Part 4)

Take Figurative Language Figuratively 
Much of the Bible is written in figurative language. It explains new and unknown things by comparing them with things that are well known. The most perfect illustration of this is the fact that God became a man so man could understand God. The Lord Jesus Christ expressed the eternal, the spiritual and the divine in terms of the temporal, the natural and the human. 

While we must take figurative language in a figurative way, we must be careful not to give figurative interpretations to that which is plain and literal. Above all, we must not contradict plain, doctrinal truth or morality on the basis of passages which are difficult to interpret. 

Some main forms of figurative language with biblical examples: 

Comparisons (similes and metaphors): “And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Rev. 21:21). 

“As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Psa. 103:13). 

Word Pictures: “You are … built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19,20). 

Personification (projected figures or representations): “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’” (Jud. 9:8). 

Parables (stories that illustrate a truth): The Lord Jesus frequently used parables such as the following: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them … When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside” (Matt. 13:3,4,19). 

Type or Symbol: This refers to the presentation of a truth through the use of objects or events that represent that truth. For example, in Exodus 12 of the Old Testament, the passover lambs that were killed in place of the firstborn sons in the land of Egypt typified and pointed on to the Lord Jesus. In the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 5:7 says, “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us”; and John 1:29 refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Some simple rules for interpreting figurative language: 

✦ Clearly recognize figurative language and treat it accordingly. For example, the Bible speaks of “the devil … as a roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8); and the Lord Jesus refers to the bread at the last supper with these words: “This is my body” (1 Cor. 11:24). Neither description is intended to be taken literally. 

✦ Realize that it may require special study to understand what is symbolized. The book of Revelation is a prime example of this. Always interpret figurative language in the light of its context and in harmony with the general teaching of Scripture. 

✦ Never make a figurative interpretation the main basis of a doctrine or article of faith. By nature, a figure is additional and illustrative, not basic. The reality which it represents must exist elsewhere in Scripture, independently of the illustration. 

✦ Concentrate on the central point or main truth illustrated by the figurative language. Don’t be confused by incongruous details. For example, in the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16, it may seem like the Lord is commending dishonesty. Of course he is not. He is merely making the point that we should use present resources with a view to the future. 

✦ Avoid fanciful interpretations which entertain rather than edify. All interpretations of figurative language must clearly illustrate the truth of the Bible. 


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