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Bible Lexicons

Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible

Metaphor; or Representation

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A Declaration that one Thing is (or represents) another; or, Comparison by Representation

Met´-a-phor. Greek, μεταθορά (metaphora), a transference, or carrying over or across. From μετά (meta), beyond or over, and φέρειν (pherein), to carry. We may call the figure "Representation" or "Transference."

Hence, while the Simile gently states that one thing is like or resembles another, the Metaphor boldly and warmly declares that one thing IS the other.

While the Simile says "All flesh is AS grass" (1 Peter 1:24), the Metaphor carries the figure across at once, and says "All flesh IS grass" (Isaiah 40:6). This is the distinction between the two.

The Metaphor is, therefore, not so true to fact as the Simile, but is much truer to feeling.

The Simile says "All we like sheep," while the Metaphor declares that "we are the sheep of His pasture."

While, therefore, the word "resembles" marks the Simile: "represents" is the word that marks the metaphor.

We have recourse to Metaphor when we say of a picture, "This is my father," or "This is my mother." The verb "is" means in this case represents; there may not be the least resemblance! The verb "is" always has this meaning and no other when used as a metaphor. No other verb will do.

Few figures are more misunderstood than the Metaphor. It is one of the few whose names are well known, and hence it has become. a general term for any figure; and any figurative language is commonly called "metaphorical."

Few figures have been more variously defined. But all the differences of opinion arise from not separating the figure Hypocatastasis (q.v. [Note: Which see.] ) on the one hand, or distinguishing Simile on the other. The same confusion is seen with reference to Allegory (q.v. [Note: Which see.] ).

Let it then be clearly understood that a Metaphor is confined to a distinct affirmation that one thing is another thing, owing to some association or connection in the uses or effects of anything expressed or understood. The two nouns themselves must both be mentioned, and are always to be taken in their absolutely literal sense, or else no one can tell what they mean. The figure lies wholly in the verb, or copula, which, in English, must always be expressed, and never understood by Ellipsis.

For example, "All flesh is grass." Here "flesh" is to be taken literally as the subject spoken of, and "grass" is to be taken equally literally as that which represents "flesh." All the figure lies in the verb "is." This statement is made under strong feeling, the mind realising some point of association; but, instead of using the more measured verb "resembles," or "is like"; which would be truer to fact, though not so true to feeling; the verb "is" is used, and the meaning of one thing is carried across and transferred to the other. It is not, as some might think, a mere Hebrew idiom to use "is" for "represents"; but it is a necessity of language arising from the actual condition and character of the human mind.

We must, therefore, banish the common and loose way in which the words "metaphor" and "metaphorical" are used, and confine the figure strictly and exclusively to this, its one true and proper signification: that of representation.

The Representation referred to in the figure may not lie upon the surface, and may not be at all apparent in the language itself. It may be in the uses of the thing represented, or in the effects which it produces. In this case the Metaphor often comes as a surprise, by the discovery of a point in which two apparently unrelated objects have some point in which they really agree. Hence the same thing may be used, by a Metaphor, to represent two totally different objects by some different quality or character which may be referred to: e.g., a lion is used both of Christ and of the devil. We are to "cease from man" as opposed to trust in God; we are exhorted to "quit" ourselves like men as opposed to all that is effeminate.

The Latins* [Note: Cicero. Orat. xxvii.] called the figure TRANSLATIO: i.e., Translation, thus denoting the same fact: viz., the translation or carrying across of one thing and applying it to another which represents it, just as what is meant in one language is carried across and expressed or translated in the words of another language.

It should be observed that the Hebrew has no verb substantive or copula answering to the Greek and English verb "to be." Consequently the A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] generally puts in italics the verbs "is," "are," "were," etc. The verb "to be," though it is not necessary to be expressed in Hebrew, is yet so really there that the R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] has abandoned the use of italic type with regard to it in the Old Testament, and so the Revisers state it in their preface. We prefer the practice of the translators of the A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] , and believe it is more correct.

In the Greek, as we shall see below, whenever a Metaphor is intended, the verb substantative must be used; otherwise it is often omitted according to the Hebrew usage (see the Beatitudes, etc.). It is, therefore, more easy to discern a Metaphor in the New Testament than in the Old. In the latter we have to be guided by what is true to fact and what is true only to feeling. If we distinguish between these, we shall not fail to see what is a statement of fact, and what is a Metaphor.

Psalms 23:1.-"The Lord is my Shepherd." Here, we have a Metaphor; and in it a great and blessed truth is set forth by the representation of Jehovah as a Shepherd. It is He who tends his People, and does more for them than any earthly shepherd does for his sheep All His titles and attributes are so bound up with this care that in this Psalm we have the illustration of all the Jehovah-titles:-

In verse 1. "I shall not want," because He is Jehovah-Jireh (Genesis 22:14), and will provide.

In verse 2. "He leadeth me beside the waters of quietness (margin), because He is Jehovah-Shalom (Judges 6:24), and will give peace.

In verse 3. "He restoreth my soul," for He is Jehovah-Rophecha (Exodus 15:26), and will graciously heal.

In verse 3. He guides me "in the paths of righteousness," for He is Jehovah-tzidkenu (Jeremiah 23:6), and is Himself my righteousness, and I am righteous in Him (Jeremiah 33:16).

In verse 4. In deaths dark valley "Thou art with me," for thou art Jehovah-shammah (Ezekiel 48:35), and the Lord is there.

In verse 5. "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies," for Thou art Jehovah-nissi (Exodus 17:15), my banner, and will fight for me, while I feast.

In verse 5. "Thou anointest my head with oil," for Thou art Jehovah-mekaddeschem (Exodus 31:13, etc.), the Lord that sanctifieth me.

In verse 6. "Surely" all these blessings are mine for time and eternity, for He is Jehovah-rohi (Psalms 23:1), Jehovah my Shepherd, pledged to raise me up from the dead, and to preserve and bring me "through" the valley of death into His glorious kingdom (John 6:39).

Psalms 84:11 (12).-"The Lord God is a Sun and Shield." Here, the Metaphor is taken from the uses and effects of the two things mentioned. He is my light and my defence. See P.B.V. [Note: .B.V. The Prayer Book Version of the Psalms (from Coverdales Bible).]

Psalms 91:4.-"His truth is a shield and a buckler" (R.V. [Note: The Revised Version, 1881.] ). Here, we have the Metaphor, by which the one thing is carried over and stated as being the other. In Psalms 5:12, we have the same fact stated literally as a Simile. See page 728 above.

Metaphors are so numerous in the Old Testament, that it is impossible to give more than these few to serve as specimens and examples. We add a few from the New Testament.

Matthew 5:13.-"Ye are the salt of the earth": i.e., ye are (or represent) with regard to the earth what salt is to other things, preserving it from total corruption and destruction; just as the few righteous in Sodom would have preserved that city.

When the Lord Jesus shall have returned and caught up His People (the salt) to meet Him in the air and to be for ever with Him, then the corruption will proceed apace, and the harvest of the earth speedily be ripened for judgment.

Matthew 26:26.-"This is my body" (τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ σῶμά μου, touto esti to sôma mou).

Few passages have been more perverted than these simple words. Rome has insisted on the literal or the figurative sense of words just as it suits her own purpose, and not at all according to the laws of philology and the true science of language.

Hence the Latin idiom, "agere pœnitentiam," repent, has been rendered literally in all her versions from the Vulgate, in various languages, "do penance," except when God is said to repent! Rome dared not translate agere pœnitentiam literally in these cases, which proves her design in thus systematically perverting the Word of God: and the false doctrine is thus forced into the words under a show or semblance of literal translation.* [Note: Rome would not dare to translate the same Latin idiom "agere vitam," to do life, though the expression has passed into slang. It means simply to live, as the other idiom means to repent.] So the Metaphor, "This is my body," has been forced to teach false doctrine by being translated literally.

No perversion of language has been fraught with greater calamity to the human race. Tens of thousands have suffered martyrdom at the hands of Rome rather than believe the "blasphemous fable" forced into these words. The exquisite tortures of the Inquisition were invented to coerce the consciences of men and compel them to accept this lie!

Luther himself was misled, through his ignorance of this simple law of figurative language. In his controversy with Zwingle, he obstinately persisted in maintaining the literal sense of the figure, and thus forced it to have a meaning which it never has. He thus led the whole of Germany into his error! For, while his common sense rejected the error of "Transubstantiation," he fell into another, and invented the figment of "Consubstantiation," and fastened it upon the Lutheran Church to this day.

What a solemn and instructive lesson as to the importance of a true understanding of the figures of language!

The whole figure, in a metaphor, lies, as we have said, in the verb substantive "IS"; and not in either of the two nouns; and it is a remarkable fact that, when a pronoun is used instead of one of the nouns (as it is here), and the two nouns are of different genders, the pronoun is always made to agree in gender with that noun to which the meaning is carried across, and not with the noun from which it is carried, and to which it properly belongs. This at once shows us that a figure is being employed; when a pronoun, which ought, according to the laws of language, to agree in gender with its own noun, is changed, and made to agree with the noun which, by Metaphor, represents it.

Here, for example, the pronoun, "this" (τοῦτό, touto), is neuter, and is thus made to agree with "body" (σῶμά, sôma), which is neuter, and not with bread (ἄρτος, artos), which is masculine.* [Note: In violation of this law, a recent revision of the Marathi Prayer Book has deliberately changed the gender of the pronoun and made it to agree with the word for "bread"!]

This is always the case in Metaphors, and a few examples may be cited here, instead of in their natural order and place.

In Zechariah 5:8, "This is wickedness." Here, "this" (fem.) does not agree with "ephah" (to which it refers), which is neuter (LXX. [Note: XX. The Septuagint Version (325 b.c.).] ), but with "wickedness," which is feminine.

In Zechariah 5:3, "This is the curse." "This" (fem.) agrees with "curse," which is feminine, and not with "flying roll," which is neuter, (to which it refers), (δρέπανον, drepanon, LXX. [Note: XX. The Septuagint Version (325 b.c.).] ).

In Matthew 13:38, "The good seed are the children of the kingdom." Here, "these" (masc.) (οὗτοι, houtoi), [Note: This pronoun is omitted in the English of the A.V. and R.V.] agrees with "children of the kingdom" (masc.), and not with seed (σπέρμα, sperma), which is neuter.

Luke 8:14, "These are they which having heard," etc. Here, "these" (masc.) (οὗτοι, houtoi) agrees with the participle (οἱ ἀκούσαντες, hoi akousantes), "they which having heard," which is masculine, and not with the seed, (to which it refers), which is neuter.

All this establishes our statement that, in a Metaphor, the two nouns (or pronoun and noun) are always literal, and that the figure lies only in the verb. Another remarkable fact is that in the vast number of cases where the language is literal, and there is no metaphor at all, the verb is omitted altogether.* [Note: This rule does not apply to the Hebrew, of course, as we have said above: because it has no verb "to be."] Even when a Metaphor has been used, and the language passes suddenly from figurative to literal, the verb is at once dropped, by Ellipsis, as not being necessary for the literal sense, as it was for the previous figurative expression: e.g., in 1 Corinthians 12:27, "Ye ARE the body of Christ." Here is a metaphor, and consequently the verb is used. But in verse 29, which is literal, the Change is at once made, and the fact is marked by the omission of the verb," [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles?"

Next compare other examples of Metaphors which are naturally used in the explanations of Parables. Note the Parables of the Sower, and of the Tares (Matthew 13:19-23; Matthew 13:37-43).

"He that soweth the good seed is (i.e., represents) the Son of man."

"The field is (i.e., signifies) the world."

"The good seed are the children of the kingdom."

"But the tares are the children of the wicked one."

"The enemy that sowed them is the devil."

"The harvest is the end of the age."

"And the reapers are the angels."

In all these (as in every other Metaphor) the verb means, and might have been rendered, "represents," or "signifies."

The Apocalypse is full of metaphors, e.g.:

"The seven stars are (i.e., represent) the angels of the seven churches."

"And the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches" (1:20).

The odours "are the prayers of the saints" (5:8).

"They are the spirits of demons" (16:14).

"The seven heads are (i.e., represent) seven mountains (17:9): etc., etc.

So in the very words that follow "this is (i.e., represents or signifies) my body," we have an undoubted Metaphor. "He took the cup saying this is my blood." Here, thus, we have a pair of metaphors. In the former one, "this" refers to "bread," and it is claimed that "is" means changed into the "body" of Christ. In the latter, "this" refers to "the cup," but it is not claimed that the cup is changed into "blood." At least, we have never heard that such a claim has been put forward. The difference of treatment which the same figure meets with in these two verses is the proof that the former is wrong.

In 1 Corinthians 11:25 we read "this cup is the new covenant." Will Romanists, in and out of the Church of England, tell us how this "cup" becomes transubstantiated into a "covenant"?

Is it not clear that the figure in the words, "This is my body," is forced into a literal statement with the set purpose and design of making it teach and support erroneous doctrine?

Other examples of Metaphor in this immediate connection are:

1 Corinthians 10:16.-"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not (i.e., does it not represent) the communion of the blood of Christ." through which all blessing comes to us?

"The bread which we break, is it not (i.e., does it not represent) the communion of the body of Christ?" i.e., does it not signify the fellowship of all the members of Christs mystical body, who, being many, are one body (1 Corinthians 12:12)? "For we being many are one bread, and one body," as 1 Corinthians 10:17 declares.

It is because those who eat of that bread do not "discern" or discriminate that "one body" (i.e., Christ mystical) that they are said to eat to their own condemnation; for they witness to the fact of that "great Mystery" and yet are ignorant of its truth! And hence they condemn themselves.

Further, the verb, εἰμι (eimi), I am, or the infinitive of it, to be, means to be in the sense of signifying, amounting to. And that this is one of its primary senses may be seen from the following passages, where it is actually translated "to mean," and not merely to be:-"

"Now, while Peter doubted in himself what this vision was which he had seen" (A.V. [Note: The Authorized Version, or current Text of our English Bible, 1611.] , "What this vision should mean"), Acts 10:17, etc., etc., etc.

On the other hand, if an actual change is meant, then there must be a verb which shall plainly and actually say so: for the verb "to be" never has or conveys any idea of such change.

The usual verb to express such a change is γίνομαι (ginomai), which means to be or become. Mark 4:39, "There was (i.e., there became) a great calm," and the storm was changed (or turned into) into calm.

Luke 4:3, "Command this stone that it be made (i.e., changed into) bread."

John 2:9, "When the ruler of the feast tasted the water that was made (i.e., changed into) wine."

John 16:20, "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy." This was a real transubstantiation.

Acts 26:28, Agrippa said, "Almost thou persuadest me to be (i.e., to become) a Christian."

Revelation 8:8, "The third part of the sea became blood," and in verse 11, "Many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."

In all these cases (but the last) the verb is γίνομαι (ginomai), to become: and, if the Lord had meant that the bread became His body, that is the verb He would have necessarily used. The fact that He did not use it, but used the simple verb, εἰμι (eimi), instead, i.e., "is," proves conclusively that no change was meant, and that only representation was intended.

Just as when we are looking over a map and say, "This is England," "This is America," "This is Palestine," etc., we do not mean that that piece of paper is England, but we mean that those marks upon it represent those respective countries.

From all this it is philologically, philosophically, and scientifically clear that the words, "This is my body," mean "This [bread] represents my body." And as Professor Macbeth has put it, "We trample on the laws of nature, and we trample on the laws of language when we force the verb is to mean what it never does mean."

And, besides all this, to pass from the use made of this perversion, suppose for a moment that we grant the claim, and the words mean that the Lord Jesus then and there did transmute the bread into His own body (if we can imagine such an impossibility!), what then? Where is there a breath about His giving that power to any one else? Where is there one word about such gifts being conferred? And, if it be claimed, as it is by some traitors in the Church of England, that the words, "Do this," convey that power and authority, it could have been conveyed only to the eleven that were present. Where is there a breath about not only giving them power, but delegating it to them to give to others, and these to others again indefinitely? There is not one single word expressed or implied that conveys the idea that one iota of such power was conferred or delegated. So that the whole fabric of transubstantiation rests on absolutely no foundation whatsoever! There is a "missing link" which is fatal to the whole position.

And this, on the assumption which we have only for the moment granted. But, when it is seen that not only is there this link missing, which can never be supplied: but that there is also this claim which can never be substantiated; we have an explanation of the Metaphor which sweeps the dogma out of the Scriptures, and proves it to be a fiction which is the outcome of ignorance, and this by arguments that cannot be overthrown, and facts that cannot be denied.

John 6:35. "I am the bread of life: i.e., what bread does in supporting natural life is a representation of what Christ does in supporting and nourishing the new, Divine, spiritual life.

John 8:12.-"I am the light of the world."

John 10:9.-"I am the door": i.e., I am what a door is. I am the entrance to the sheepfold, and to the Father. Yes, a door, and not a flight of steps. A door, through which we pass in one movement from one side to the other.

John 15:5.-"I am the true vine."

Here the word ἀληθινός (aleethinos) helps the figure, for it means true as regards the reality in relation to shadows or representations. Not "true" as opposed to what is false, but the "very" vine: the vine all earthly vines represent, and to which they point in such Scriptures as Isaiah 5:1-30 and Psalms 80:1-19* [Note: See an Article, by the same author, in Things to Come for July, 1899.]

Galatians 4:24.-"Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants," etc.


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Bibliography Information
Bullinger, E. W., D.D. Entry for 'Metaphor; or Representation'. Bullinger's Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/bullinger/133.

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