MIXING METAPHORS

T. PIERCE BROWN

There may be some appropriate occasion when one can properly mix metaphors, or other figures of speech, but we have noted some cases of it that we feel should be brought to our attention that may help us to be better Bible students and teachers. Any proper sharpening of one’s tools should make a better, more efficient workman.

Most of us probably know better than to mix the figures of speech when Jesus speaks of himself as the door, vine, body, shepherd, light or bread. We would not say, “Jesus is the vine. So every sheep that does not function properly as a part of the body will be cut off and burned.”

We also know that in parabolic or metaphorical statements, we should not press figures or analogies too far. If we discuss the vine and branches, we do not need to try to figure out what are the leaves, the seeds, or the juice.

But there is a statement that Jesus made which I believe many, even astute students, misuse slightly. It probably is not VERY important, but if it violates a principle of proper exegesis and interpretation, it should be corrected, even if it may seem a bit too technical to mention.

Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Most of the preachers I have heard talk about it have said something like this, “The foundation of the church is Jesus himself, for Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:11, `For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ’, so that settles it.”

But that does not settle it! In Ephesians 2:20, he is the corner stone. In other places he is the head of the corner. In other places he is many other things. But they are all different figures of speech. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus is the architect, or builder. Peter is the keeper of the keys, the foundation is the TRUTH that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. That is the bedrock — an irrefutable fact on which the church is built. If one does not believe that fact, no matter what else he may think about Jesus, he can not be a part of the church!

One may reply, “What difference does it make? He is both the builder and the foundation.”  Yes, He is the door and the corner stone; He is the vine and the head; He is the light and the bread; but not in the same figure of speech.

We do not want to take the space or time to properly dwell on it now, but there is a difference in the meaning and implication of the fact that Jesus Himself is the foundation of the church (1 Cor.3:11) and the fact that the truth about Jesus is the foundation. Both are truths, but one should express the proper truth in the proper figure of speech.

However, one suggestion will help you to understand my point more completely. You may believe some truth that is said about Jesus without trusting in Jesus. You may even believe some truth that Jesus said without believing in Jesus. The Devils believe and tremble (James2:19), but they do not trust in Jesus. If one trusts in Jesus, then any statement made by Jesus or authorized by him is trusted, so it is a more fundamental truth that the church has Christ as its foundation than it is that it is built upon a truth about Christ. However, in this case they amount to the same thing, for Christ made the statement, so the one who believes the statement will believe in Christ, and vice versa.

My point in this article is simply to stress the point that although we may teach truth, even in mixing metaphors, it will not be the same truth that Christ was teaching when He gave the figure of speech. That is, one may say, “Jesus is the vine. Everyone who follows his voice will go in an out of the door and bear much fruit. Whoever is not built upon the proper foundation will be cut off and burned.” Those are all truths, but they are not an exegesis or clarification of anything Jesus said, for they are an improper mixing of metaphors.

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