Metaphors, similes and parables are forms of speech that many people use every day in their communication with each other. The New Testament uses these forms of speech quite often with regard to its message.
In fact, I think it nigh on impossible to understand the word of God unless one is familiar with these speech forms because the writers of scripture used them so frequently.
Firstly, a reminder about these forms of speech …
• Metaphor – literally means a ‘change of shape.’ The word comes from ‘metamorphosis’ – as when a caterpillar changes shape into a butterfly.
• Simile – when something is compared to something else having similar features, and in conjunction with the word ‘as’ or ‘like.’
• Parable – a story which illustrates a spiritual truth. Usually the story is one that is true or capable of being true (ie very likely) and about which the hearers or readers are familiar with in their own experience.
For instance, we might use a metaphor when talking about a ‘ship ploughing through the ocean.’ We know that a ship is not a plough and the ocean is not a field but as a ship moves through the ocean it creates a furrow with its bow as does a plough in the field. The ship leaves a wake in the ocean and our metaphor leaves us with the impression that a single furrow is behind the ‘plough’ (actually the ship).
When using a simile we might say, ‘He is as fast as a racehorse.’ Again the person about whom we are speaking is not a racehorse but his running speed is likened to that of a racehorse (slight exaggeration, of course).
Jesus and parables
Jesus used many parables when teaching people. These were stories with which the people were familiar because they had experienced or heard of such accounts in real life and Jesus used what was familiar to them to teach a spiritual lesson.
Jesus used to teach of God’s search for lost souls and the rejoicing that takes place in heaven when a sinner repents. Here he spoke of a lost coin for which a woman searched high and low until she found it. After finding it the woman rejoices.
Jesus’ listeners would have been familiar with such an account of searching high and low for some lost money and the joy following a successful search regardless of whether the story was of a real event or not. There may have been such a woman, there may not have been.
That’s not the point. The account of searching high and low for something valuable (such as souls are to God) and the rejoicing in heaven over a lost soul being found is the point of the parable.
An important metaphor to consider…
Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’ (John 8:12). This metaphor that Jesus used of himself and of his followers, say much to us regarding our situations with regard to our spiritual conditions.
We’re all familiar with light and darkness. We know that in darkness we cannot see where we are going nor visualise our surroundings. Once we have light, we can know our circumstances and we can know the way we should take.
The Bible uses ‘light’ as a metaphor for ‘righteousness,’ ‘truth,’ and so on. And it uses ‘darkness’ to stand for ‘unrighteousness,’ ‘sin’ and ‘spiritual death’ (being cut off from God).
This metaphor of John 8:12 implies that those not following the Lord Jesus are in the ‘darkness’ of ‘sin’ and the consequent ‘spiritual death’ situation. Those who follow the Lord have his ‘light’ (‘truth’) in which to walk. They do not walk in ‘darkness’ (‘sin,’ ‘unrighteousness’) and consequently they are not ‘dead’ (‘cut off from God’).
When considering the metaphor that Jesus used to speak of himself and his followers, it really does beg the question, ‘Am I a follower of Christ? Am I walking in darkness or do I have the light of life?’ This question – or rather, these questions – naturally arise from a reading of the text.
Easter next month!
Paul, the writer of Ephesians, says as though quoting God speaking to us: ‘Awake you who sleep, Arise from the dead and Christ will give you light’ (Ephesians 5:14).
Here again, is the use of metaphors…
- Those who ‘sleep’ are those who ignore the call to follow Christ.
- ‘Death’ (being cut off from God) is the situation of those ignoring the call of Christ.
- ‘Light’ (knowledge of the truth and light to see in which one can walk in righteousness) is what Christ will give to those who wake from their ‘sleep’ and who ‘arise from the dead.’
Jesus’ words in John 8:12 (above) comprise one important metaphor that Christians should consider sharing with those in spiritual darkness as we approach Easter next month.
May we take every God-given opportunity and share the gospel message of enlightenment through salvation through the risen Saviour!
Harold Harvey, Koongamia, WA, has ministered in Foursquare Church and Christian Revival Crusade churches and is currently a minister in the Australian Christian Churches. Now retired – though not believing in ministerial retirement – he continues ministry with weekly write-ups (Beams of Light), link: firstname.lastname@example.org