28 August 2007

Clanging symbols

by Dan Phillips

"Well after all, that's just symbolic, isn't it?"

Guess the topic. Is that about Revelation, predictive prophecy, apocalyptic? Parables? Proverbial metaphors? Heaven, Hell?

It could fit any of those and more. Now, my hermeneutic approach is resolutely grammatico-historical. That conviction is essential to me, equally was instrumental in my conversion, and insofar as I am consistent, it explains every theological position I hold.

That position has always allowed for the obvious presence of symbolic elements in the Bible. (Hint: when someone criticizes this position as not allowing for the symbolic, that is a sure sign that he hasn't a clue.) So I'd have no problem with the occasional employment of the opening statement.

Except for one word: "just."

See, here's the thing about the use of symbolism. Symbolism never is used to point to something less than the symbol, but something greater.

For instance: you might say that the term "Branch" is symbolic of Messiah (Isaiah 11:1), or that the image of the stone is Messianic symbolism (Zechariah 3:9); or that the "smoking fire pot and ...flaming torch" of Genesis 15:17 is symbolic of Yahweh's presence. All true. But while we can gladly agree that each is symbolic, we would never imagine that the reality thus symbolized is less than the symbol itself — that Messiah is less than a branch or a stone, or that God is less than a smoking fire pot or flaming torch.

The symbol is but a lowly signpost, pointing away from itself to the great reality.

Which brings to mind an interchange some thirty-plus years ago, when I was a relatively new Christian. A non-Christian coworker conversationally challenged the reality of the fires of Hell, since the symbol would be meaningless as a threat to an Eskimo.

Even at the time, I think I responded that if an Eskimo were to stick his hand in a fire, he'd find the threat real enough.

It's a commonplace to dismiss the fires of Hell (or the pearl gates of the eternal city) as symbols. Dismissers feel quite sage and urbane, and I'm certain that they feel they've lowered Hell's terror-index appreciably by this dismissal.

Are they symbols? Maybe, maybe not. But I am certain of one thing.

If they are symbolic descriptions, then the reality is far more intense, and far more terrifying (— or, in the city's case, more glorious) than the symbol itself.

Symbol? Maybe.

Just a symbol?

Hardly.

Dan Phillips's signature


67 comments:

opn said...

Hey Dan,

First drums and now cymbals. What's going on?

Oh, symbols...

Sorry
=)

Daryl said...

Great post Dan. Your point is so obvious, yet I'd never considered it in that way...Thanks.

steve said...

The symbol is but a lowly signpost, pointing away from itself to the great reality.

Well put, Dan.

We do no favors for anyone when we diminish the severity of hell. Jesus knew better than anyone what awaits those who go to hell--which is why His warnings were so emphatic.

LeeC said...

John- " Oh thats just a metaphor"
Steve- "A metaphor? A metaphor OF WHAT?"

DJP said...

Your point is so obvious

My specialty.

< bows >

Jim Crigler said...

Nice.

As a lifelong Southern Baptist whp has been listening a lot to Lutherans (Rosenbladt & Wilken) lately, I wonder what you have to say about baptism and the Lord's supper in this regard. I know what I was taught to believe in these things, but Lutherans seem to have the advantage of reading the institution passages rather simply, i.e., the way you argued a while back for your reading of the Revelation.

Ideas?

DJP said...

Me, I'd say the more representative reading is the simpler, obvious meaning. He's standing there, with them, body intact and blood still in His veins. Odds that He means that the bread and cup actually are His literal body and blood? Zero.

And if this thread goes irreparably off-track, you're getting the bill, Crigler.

(c;

centuri0n said...

Not to get all on-topic or anything, but this ranks as one of the best sentences ever posted on this blog:

Symbolism never is used to point to something less than the symbol, but something greater.

If people got that part, the rest is quibbling.

LeeC said...

I would think 1 Cor 11 26-28 is clear that it is bread is bread, and wine is wine in the simplest reading. You do not need to remember what you have in front of you, but you may use something as a "type" to remind you of that thing.

No one who sees the commercial "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs" as literal, and yet there are no qualifiers.

Why?

DJP said...

Thank you, Frank — and that really is my one main central point. The rest is illustrative.

Libbie said...

quibbling? In the comments at Teampyro? For shame! I've never seen such a thing!

(thanks for the off-topic comment, Dan, really helpful to me at the moment)

DJP said...

BTW, OPN — thanks for the chuckle.

David said...

I'm bugged when someone says as we prepare to receive communion, "The bread and the cup are merely a symbol. . ."

You can't say "merely" about the Lord's Supper, and then get your knickers in a wad about flag burning.

Daryl said...

That's not a flag...that's a real country you're burning!!!

DJP said...

That's a good point, David.

Of course, they're meaning to correct the blasphemous errors of Rome and its hocus-pocus about "the Mass." But an error in an opposite direction is still an error.

It's a bit of a reach of an analogy, but I liken it to a wedding ring. My wedding ring is not my marriage. But I'd not say it's "just" a symbol, because what it symbolizes to me is precious and unparalleled in human relations.

Jake said...

Dan- Great post, reminds me of something written by C.S. Lewis where he discusses his belief that the language used to describe Heaven and Hell is symbolic, however that fact in no way takes the edge off either of them. If anything, it makes them even more awesome by removing the limitations imposed by an overly-literal interpretation.

opn said...

"It's a commonplace to dismiss the fires of Hell (or the pearl gates of the eternal city) as symbols. Dismissers feel quite sage and urbane, and I'm certain that they feel they've lowered Hell's terror-index appreciably by this dismissal".

Charles Russell comes to mind...

DJP said...

Exactly. If it isn't literal fire and worms, then it's vastly worse than literal fire and worms.

Conversely, if it isn't literal pearl and gold (etc.), then it's unimaginably more grand and glorious than pearl and gold.

Mike said...

This might not be where you wanted this to go either, Dan, but you mention the grammatico-historical hermeneutic. I've been quite interested in hearing a defense for why this hermeneutic is the best vs. others, and why other folks think other hermeneutical systems are better.

Think you could do that in 50 words or less? LoL... just kidding. Any resources are welcome as well.

Thanks.

DJP said...

(I was interrupted -- my last comment was to Jake's last comment)

lordodamanor said...

it's those funny little cuts on the side that give it away. Those analysis droids only concentrate on symbols...respect the difference between knowledge and wisdom...if droids could think there would not be any of us

curiosity killed the cat, but in the case of Scripture we are encouraged to look for what has been revealed, this bush that is not consumed, God knows where all the gold is buried and the road to it, but what is God's and is hidden belongs to God, alone.

if there was Scripture that said fires of hell equal, we could find Kamino, too...

it is enough to know that Hell is separation from God and subjection to everything that opposes Him, death, corruption, decay, absolute darkness, burning passions without satisfaction, alone forever consumed by self....

What really is freaky is that some will be pue-nished with more stripes than other by the Bossness, and in light of the eternality of hell, that all becomes quite incomprensible

opn said...

Sorry!

DJP said...

Yes, Mike, I can do it in 50 words or less.

Statement:

It's the best because "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son" (Hebrews 1:1-2a).

Brief explication:

He didn't talk to us over the heads of the fathers; he didn't talk to the Magisterium over the heads of "us." He utilized normal canons of communication. It's wasn't a lie or a cheat.

For more unpacking, for which none of my fellow-Pyro's is to be billed, see here.

And if that gets us too off-topic, YOU get the bill, Mike.

(c;

LeeC said...

here is one fo my favorites.
Redrawing The Line Between Hermeneutics and Application

DJP said...

Yeah, I suppose that's okay too, Lee.

Sewing said...

Thank you, Dan, for this thought. As others have already mentioned, this idea is so simple and seemingly obvious (in retrospect! ;)), but profound and for me, it wasn't obvious until I read it here in writing just a few moments ago.

Thanks also for the excursus on the grammatico-historical hermeneutic.

separateunion said...

I hope this isn't too much of a shameless plug, but my sister and I are pretty regular readers of your site and we absolutely love it. In honor of the spectacular group of people here, my sister has created a facebook group called Pyromaniacs. If any of you happen to be on facebook, we'd love to have you join our group so we can discuss all thing pyromaniacal.

DJP said...

A... a Pyromaniacs facebook?

I have no words.

donsands said...

Amen. Excellent post.

LeeC said...

Hey, no disrespect to yours Dan. I love what you have put together, very readable, and yet thorough with lots of real life application. You already had put that link up though.

Brians' article comes at it from a more "Ok, so what hermeneutic should I use?" approach instead of "This is what the grammatico-historical hermeneutic is." And as such seemed in line with what mike was asking for...if waaaay over 50 words. :D

Or I may just have serious reading comprehension issues. ;-)

Luke & Rachael said...

'Symbolism never is used to point to something less than the symbol, but something greater.

If people got that part, the rest is quibbling.'


I must not get it, or maybe I'm quibbling. It seems to imply that it's downright impossible for me to use fantastic symbolic imagery to make relatively small points. But we do this all the time:

"If I don't stop studying my head will explode!"

Does the quote above entail that if I don't stop studying, something even worse will happen than my head exploding?

Don't we tell our kids stories that involve loads of grand symbolic imagery to make relatively mundane points? If we don't, it at least seems *possible*, no?

"If you don't say thank you the Thank You Monster will return your lack of gratefulness by blowing his nose on all your toys."

Maybe we just need to be clearer about what counts as symbolic language.

DJP said...

Find a symbol in the Bible (not your own speech) that you'd like to discuss.

Luke & Rachael said...

Oops, sorry. I thought it was a blanket claim about symbolism. If I can think of one I'll throw it out there.

Although, it seems to me that, given the admission that ordinary language is capable of making small points w/ big symbolism (and indeed often does so), the burden of proof would be on you to show that the Bible doesn't. A priori, I see no reason whatsoever to think the Bible works differently regarding symbolic language.

You must be making an a posteriori claim about how the Bible actually uses symbolism. Without the blanket thesis about symbolism, I fear this is going to be hard to justify in most cases. If it's false that, necessarily, symbolic language always signifies the greater, then why think Jesus' talk about hell signifies the greater? If the blanket thesis is false, we need reasons for thinking that Jesus signifies something greater w/ his hell imagery. What reasons do you have in mind?

Luke & Rachael said...

(And I take it we would need more than just the claim that other instances of symbolic imagery in the Bible point to the greater. If in the course of one day I can use symbolic language to point to the greater and the lesser, presumably the biblical authors could too.)

DJP said...

And if you do it today, the Biblical writers must have done it three thousand years ago.

Though, so far, your example count stands at zero.

Sewing said...

Forgive me for continuing the off-topic tangential subtheme already established, but by the way, I appreciate your and Cent's repeated referencing of the opening verses of Hebrews.

Before I was saved, the Lord led me to a Bible study group that was finishing up Leviticus...the next year, we worked through Hebrews. The Holy Spirit's guiding me to understanding that book—especially in light of Leviticus—was a pivotal part of my journey to conversion. The completion of the "trifecta" was in the sermon series on Romans 9-11 that our pastor did this past winter. When he got to Paul's olive tree metaphor (hence my avatar, writing as a Jewish Christian) and mentioned that the entire New Testament is a commentary on the Old Testament, the process was complete. The Lord had done his work, and eleven days later I repented and was saved.

Of course, there's a LOT more to that story, as is the case for everyone else here, but suffice it to say that as far as the written Word is concerned, Hebrews 1:1-2 is one of the linchpins that holds it all together.

Luke & Rachael said...

How about when Ezekiel chastises the king of Egypt:

"I will strew your sinews upon the mountains, and fill the valleys with your carcass. I will drench the land even to the mountains w/ your flowing blood; and the watercourses will be full of you. When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens, and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun w/ a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark upon your land, says the Lord God'

Ezekiel 32.5-8

Four options:

(1) The passage is strictly literal. These things will really happen to Pharaoh; his carcass will *fill* the valleys (plural).
(2) The passage is symbolic and points to the greater. Things actually worse than Pharaoh's carcass filling the valleys, and the waterways running w/ Pharaoh's blood, are in the works.
(3) The passage is symbolic and points to the lesser. Pharaoh will be overthrown, his kingdom destroyed, but it won't actually involve the darkening of stars or Pharaoh's sinews being strewn on the mountains. It will no doubt be bad, but not quite so bad, or at least differently bad, not so fantastically bad, as a literal reading implies.

(3) seems by far the most plausible.

There is also a fourth option, which is that, w/ respect to the Pharaoh's coming destruction, the passage points to the lesser, but w/ respect to some future not-explicitly-specified event, (e.g., Christ's judgment of wicked nations at the eschaton), it points to the greater. Even if this is so, it would still be true that, w/ respect to Pharaoh's impending doom, the imagery points to the lesser. And that's all my argument needs.

I think the OT uses fantastic, catastrophic, apocalyptic imagery all the time to depict the coming disintegration of some nation, or some radical way in which YHWH is planning to move in the world. In most of these cases the imagery is so over the top that I think we should conclude it points to the lesser. Some big OT event is going to happen, but it's not going to involve stars literally falling from the sky or rivers being filled with blood.

Daryl said...

His word will not return void. We're all thankful that it softened you and didn't harden you Sewing.

centuri0n said...

Warning to DJP:

Luke is not the average bear.

semper reformundo said...

"Symbolism never is used to point to something less than the symbol, but something greater."

This is what puzzles me about the rancor against the EC here. As an ECer, I LOVE this sentiment. If we can say this about metaphor, can we also say this about parable, poetry, story and narrative? If not, why not?

Look, I learned about the EC from "this neck of the woods" - (not sure what you guys call yourself besides The Only True Christians TM ) and I read some EC stuff and I noticed something very strange. They engage the things you say and try to be fair with the nuances (I'm thinking of the Calvinist chapter in Generous Orthodoxy) but it seems like you look for the most lunatic fringe you can find on the EC and paint that as the core.

But what Dan said seems very "EC." I'm just wondering what Dan would say is the main difference between how Emergents see it as opposed to "The Only Real Christians"?

farmboy said...

"(3) seems by far the most plausible."

Why does (3) seem the most plausible? From what perspective does (3) seem the most plausible? Do the assumptions implicit in this perspective preclude (2) from being plausible? From a Divine perspective is (2) any less plausible than (3)?

"If we can say this about metaphor, can we also say this about parable, poetry, story and narrative? If not, why not?"

If what one can reasonably state about metaphor can also be reasonably stated about parable, poetry, story (a synonym for narrative?) and narrative, then what is the use in distinguishing between metaphor, poetry, story and narrative?

Luke & Rachael said...

Well, (3) seems the most plausible from a grammatico-historical perspective. I'd also be willing to wager that the consensus among the Fathers and the tradition generally w/ respect to this passage is something like (3). (Please feel free to call me on this, somebody!)

I'm willing to entertain the possibility of (2). What reasons can you give me?

As for the divine perspective, I take it the only way we could know what God thinks about whether (2) or (3) is more plausible is if we find some other text of Scripture that we can justifiably conclude works as a hermeneutic key to this one, and in particular has something substantive to say about which option is more plausible. Do you have such a text in mind?

It seems Dan's principle about metaphor should (at least ideally) be defensible without resorting to: "Well, that may not seem greater for you, but it does for God!" At this point I want to ask why, if the use of symbolic language in the Bible doesn't always point to what is, recognizably for us, the greater, we should buy this principle at all? Why should we assume, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, that the symbolism in the Ezekiel passage points to the greater? If we admit that from our perspective it may not always look like Biblical symbolism necessarily points to the greater--and absent an explicit, or quasi-explicit statement of it in Scripture--what justified us in accepting the principle at all? How can we even come up with the principle in the first place, if not through a faulty inductive process that simply ignores cases where it looks the world as if symbolic biblical imagery points to the lesser?

centuri0n said...

| This is what puzzles me about the
| rancor against the EC here. As an
| ECer, I LOVE this sentiment. If we
| can say this about metaphor, can we
| also say this about parable, poetry,
| story and narrative? If not, why not?

We can say, “Genre.” For example, poetry frequently employs hyperbole.

And this would be one of the reasons there is rancor toward ECMers here – saying it as charitably as possible, it’s got unwarranted youthful enthusiasm.

When I was a college sophomore, I knew I didn’t know everything, but I also knew I knew a lot more than I did just 2 years previous – and it was obvious to me that I knew a lot more than the average person did about a lot of things.

It was obvious to me. It was not so obvious to people who were, say, two years older than me, or three years older than me who had to work for a living.

When Dan says something brilliant like "Symbolism never is used to point to something less than the symbol, but something greater,” somehow it comes a great shock to ECMers that Dan is a literate person – conservative, middle-aged Dan is literate and has a grasp of reading which exceeds the prerequisites to read, say, “see Dick run”, and probably exceeds the prereqs to reading Dante’s Inferno well.

The rancor “against the ECM” here stems from this: just because Dan makes one excellent, general point, you can’t just slap it on every genre and every example of metaphor and simile under the headline of “symbol”. Trying to do so misses both his point and a plethora of contextual issues.

You guys who are allegedly the experts at cultural context.

| Look, I learned about the EC from
| "this neck of the woods" - (not sure
| what you guys call yourself besides
| The Only True Christians TM ) . . .

This would be another reason to furrow one’s brow at ECM advocates: the blog is called “PyroManiacs” or “TeamPyro”, and as far as our faith goes, we call ourselves “Christians” and “Baptists”. You should look a little harder if you think we’re drawing a small circle for ourselves and pony up some evidence.

| . . . and I
| read some EC stuff and I noticed
| something very strange. They engage
| the things you say and try to be fair
| with the nuances (I'm thinking of the
| Calvinist chapter in Generous
| Orthodoxy) but it seems like you look
| for the most lunatic fringe you can
| find on the EC and paint that as the
| core.

I am pretty sure that Dan Kimball and Bob would be pretty mad at you for calling them “the most lunatic fringe”, McLaren on Calvinism notwithstanding.

| But what Dan said seems very "EC."
| I'm just wondering what Dan would
| say is the main difference between
| how Emergents see it as opposed to
| "The Only Real Christians"?

Can’t speak directly for Dan, or "The Only Real Christians", but I think the main thing would be the willingness to bash one’s head against a brick wall past the place where it is painful and into the place where it is sacrificial.

farmboy said...

Has the prophecy of Ezekiel 32:2-8 been fulfilled? If so, then one can establish a link between the symbol and that to which the symbol refers. However, if this prophecy has not been fulfilled, then one cannot yet establish such a link. Commenting on this passage Keil and Delitzsch observe: "The thought on which the figure rests is that of the day of the Lord, the day of God’s judgment, on which the lights of heaven lose their brightness (cf. ch. 30:3 and Joel 2:10, etc.). This day bursts upon Egypt with the fall of Pharaoh, and on it the shining stars of heaven are darkened, so that the land of Pharaoh becomes dark. Egypt is a world-power represented by Pharaoh, which collapses with his fall. But the overthrow of this world-power is an omen and prelude of the overthrow of every ungodly world-power on the day of the last judgment, when the present heaven and the present earth will perish in the judgment-fire" (Volume 9, pages 268-269).

Egypt and Pharaoh are of important theological significance. The exodus liberated God’s chosen people from the tyranny and oppression of Egypt and Pharaoh. This liberation foreshadows the liberation from the tyranny and oppression of sin that Jesus Christ obtained for God’s chosen people on the cross. (As an aside, in these two cases the biblical understanding of liberation or freedom is "freedom from" as opposed to "freedom to".) Given all this, one can make the case that Ezekiel’s prophecy will not be ultimately fulfilled until Jesus Christ’s second coming and the final judgment. Following this line of interpretation, the passage in question is symbolic and the symbol refers to the greater. This is consistent with Mr. Phillips’ post.

Given the above, if I were to attempt to make the case that the biblical record uses symbols in cases where the symbol refers to the lesser, I wouldn’t offer Ezekiel 32:2-8 as the first passage in support of this position. If this is the best evidence that one can offer from the biblical record in support of the "symbol refers to the lesser" position, one can argue that this is actually evidence in support of the "symbol refers to the greater" position.

semper reformundo said...

Hey Cent, thanks for the response.

Just a few thoughts:
I understand that you and Dan and Phil are probably much more formally "learned" in certain areas than I am and I won't even try to pretend otherwise. But these issues shouldn't be only for those who went to the "authorized" schools or have a certain number of degrees. So I understand you think my original question was very simple-minded and that I am missing all of the extra-contextual layers that you and Dan are able to draw from. That's great - but it was an honest question and I'm just curious why a symbol that points to something greater than itself (not something that's able to be gutted of its propositional meaning) stands apart from poetry, parable and narrative? I understand I don't have PhD, but talk slowly and spell out the big word phone-et-ic-ally and I might be able to get the jist of it.

Good teaching is the ability to communicate one's ideas without resorting to scholastic elitist, isn't it?

Luke & Rachael said...

Hi farmboy,

Suppose it's true that Ezek. 32.2-8 points to something beyond the imminent fall of Egypt. Fine. (I made room for this in my previous post, as the fourth option.) It's still true that the passage in its immediate historical context refers to the downfall of Egypt. Keil and Delitzsch recognize this when they say: 'This day bursts upon Egypt with the fall of Pharaoh, and on it the shining stars of heaven are darkened, so that the land of Pharaoh becomes dark. Egypt is a world-power represented by Pharaoh, which collapses with his fall.' It's interesting to note that they seems to endorse a literalist gloss for at least one element of the passage, the stars being literally darkened.

But at any rate, my point is this: I concede that, with respect to the future cosmic eschatalogical Day of the Lord, the symbolism in this passage may very well point to the greater. But this doesn't entail that, w/ respect to Egypt's imminent demise, the symbolism points to the greater. We can't lose sight of the immediate historical context of this passage, which is Egypt and the punishment God intends to bring. This prophecy was fulfilled when Egypt fell. The question is whether the events involved in Egypt's actual fall were more or less gruesome, or cataclysmic, than the symbolic language of the passage implies. My point is just that it's more plausible to think that, while the downfall of Egypt was no doubt a terrible sight to behold, it was in some sense "lesser" than the stars being darkened, Pharaoh's sinews being srewn upon mountains, his carcass filling (!) multiple vallies, the land up to the mountains being drenched w/ his running blood, etc.

The reason I picked this passage was because it's a token of what I take to be a common type in the OT: the use of apocalyptic imagery and symbolism to describe an impending event that will be terrible and significant, though not quite so cosmically cataclysmic (sky darkened, stars falling, etc) as the symbolism describes. In fact, this may not be very popular around here, but this is, for many scholars these days, just how apocalyptic imagery in general works. It employs cosmic and cataclysmic images in an attempt to interpret important earthly happenings, be they political or religious or both. In cases like this the events described, the objects of apocalyptic imagery, will in most cases be "lesser" than the symbolism, just because the symbolism's so extreme and cataclysmic. The symbolism is trying to make a point about significant earthly happenings, and to do this it calls upon the most powerful symbols and images at its disposal.

farmboy said...

"In fact, this may not be very popular around here, but this is, for many scholars these days, just how apocalyptic imagery in general works. It employs cosmic and cataclysmic images in an attempt to interpret important earthly happenings, be they political or religious or both."

While I can't vouch for how others might receive this view, as a Reformed Baptist, this is a position I am receptive to. I see this as one of the advantages of the apocalyptic genre - it uses imagery to depict an ongoing conflict, a conflict that evidences itself at various points in time and space.

Maybe I'm making too fine a distinction, but I distinguish between prophecy and apocalypse, where a prophecy has a single fulfillment, while an apocalyptic conflict can have multiple fulfillments in the sense that the apocalypse evidences itself at various points in time and space.

Given the above, the images in apocalyptic writings do not have a one-to-one reference. My take is that the symbols that Mr. Phillips was referring to were those that had a one-to-one reference, with the symbol referring to a single object or event.

Luke & Rachael said...

I like fine distinctions. I agree that your move might give Dan a way out on the Ezekiel passage, depending on whether he's hip to your proposal. But I doubt we could get around every other similar passage in the OT in the same way. Plus on your approach there's always the question of whether the symbols have a one-to-one reference or more, which is going to be sticky, controversial, and hard-to-decide in most cases.

farmboy said...

"I'm just curious why a symbol that points to something greater than itself (not something that's able to be gutted of its propositional meaning) stands apart from poetry, parable and narrative?"

Read and compare Acts with Revelation. They are both inspired, inerrant books of the Bible, but they are written in significantly different styles. Much of Acts is a matter-of-fact recounting of significant events in the history of the first century Church. In a narrative of this sort there is no need for imagery or symbolism.

Contrast this with Revelation, a book that depicts the ongoing conflict between God and evil and God's ultimate triumph. With Revelation - whatever position you stake out within the range of interpretations found within the conservative evangelical camp - imagery and symbolism is absolutely necessary to effectively depict this conflict.

In the end, imagery or symbolism are used where these techniques are necessary to effectively commuicate the desired point. Where these techniques aren't needed, they aren't used.

Joe Friday could write good narrative. He might have had trouble with apocalypse.

BugBlaster said...

Dan,
This was excellent.

separateunion,
It was pyromaniacs group 73 of 122. Yikes.

Phil,
I still don't get facebook. But I've discovered it's a good way to spy on my teenagers, so it's good.

Mike said...

Maybe the part of the prophecy that's what farmboy would call "prophecy and not apocalyptic" is hyperbole and the eschatalogical part is symbolism. So Pharaoh's carcass being strewn across valleys is showing how significant and absolute his fall was.

Not really sure. And it's late on the East coast. But I'm just seeing it as a way that one doesn't have to commit to Luke's exception to Dan's posited symbol rule.

Sorry if I don't make any sense. I'll catch you guys tomorrow.

david rudd said...

Semper,

Good teaching is the ability to communicate one's ideas without resorting to scholastic elitist...

is that yours or are you quoting someone? i'd like to use it.

dan,

i'd love to hear you engage Luke. I think you both make excellent points, and i'd like to see if there is a synthesis.

Tony Myles said...

Intriguing thought... I like it a lot and think if we could grasp the concept of symbolism from the slant you take the entire Church just might stand on tiptoe for once.

Luke & Rachael said...

Hi Mike,

I guess I've been assuming that hyperbolic language is just a species of symbolic language; if so, calling the 'prophecy' aspect of the Ezekiel passage--its use in relation to the imminent fall of Egypt--hyperbolic concedes my point, since hyperbole generally uses fantastic language and images to make a "lesser" point.

But maybe you're pointing to the deeper problem, which is this: I'm not exactly sure how Dan's using "symbolism," and how it relates to metaphor, hyperbole, apocalyptic, etc. I've been assuming that symbolic language is something like the broad genus of which metaphor, hyperbole, apocalyptic, etc. are more specific species. I could be wrong about this; haven't thought about it much. For all I know there's a better way of distinguishing them; someone call me out!

If Dan has a different, more determinate conception of "symbolism" in mind, he might be able to dismiss the Ezekiel counterexample (and others as well). One problem is that the symbolic language Dan drew attention to in his original post--Jesus' words about hell--doesn't seem different in kind than the language of the Ezekiel passage; the two seem quite similar. So if the principle applies to Jesus' words about hell, and if the Ezekiel passage is, as seems, relevantly similar, the principle should apply to the Ezekiel passage (in its immediate historical, not apocalyptic, context) too. But it seems false w/ respect to the Ezekiel passage (and many others, I think).

semper reformundo said...

David Rudd,

Yeah, it's mine. I made a typo though..."elitist" should be "elitism."

That's just my uneducated thinking: what good is an education if you can't simply communicate the stuff you know? If you just say (as Centurion seemed to) "Look, we are more educated, our thought process is much more complex...don't ask stupid questions." Oh, all that after rhapsodizing about always knowing at an early age that he was smarter than everyone else. Huh? What on earth does that uninteresting bit of trivia have to do with my question?

opn said...

Luke:

You may want to clarify that you are simply disagreeing with Dan's notion that symbolism is "always" used to point to something greater.

Otherwise, I feel new believers may walk away from this thread believing hell is not as bad as we thought.

Luke & Rachael said...

Right. My point has just been that it seems false that biblical symbolism *always* or *necessarily* points to the greater. Of course, this doesn't imply that it *never* point to the greater. It might do so quite often.

As for hell, I don't want to imply anything either way. I personally don't know how to go about deciding whether the hell language in the NT
is literal, symbolic-pointing-to- the-greater, or symbolic-pointing-to-the lesser. I'd love to have a discussion about how we should decide this question, though it might take us too far afield. I'd also love to hear Dan's thoughts about this thread!

opn said...

If the symbolism used to describe hell is greater than the reality, wouldn't I naturally assume the same for heaven? I see no reason to assume that heaven is going to be less spectacular than the symbolism used to describe it. Why would I assume that hell would be less horrifying?

It doesn't seem logical one would be less and the other greater.

By the way, I am assuming this is Luke based on the previous comments.

Luke & Rachael said...

Yes, it seems reasonable to think that there's a sort of parity between heaven and hell symbolism, such that if hell language is symbolic-to-the greater, so is heaven language, and if hell language is symbolic-to-the-lesser, so is heaven language. We might have to be careful, though, about context. It at least seems possible that in one context an author could describe hell using symbolism-to-the-greater, while in another context a different author might describe hell with symbolism-to-the-lesser. Though I suspect many would try to rule this out with a particular brand of doctrine of revelation.

Suppose there's the parity you point out, and we rule out potential difficulties w/ context. Then we just have to figure out how either heaven or hell symbolism--not both--works in the NT. You say that you don't see any reason to assume that heaven symbolism points to the lesser. I agree. But I also don't see any reason to assume that it points to the greater! Do you? Why is the default position that heaven symbolism--and thus hell symbolism as well, given the parity--points to the greater? It'd be good to have textual reasons for thinking so.

And yes, it's the Luke from above. :)

opn said...

If He is preparing a place for me in His Father's house, where there are many mansions, wouldn't I (at the very least) assume that the mansion will be what I (literally) imagine it will be if not greater. Or should I expect something less.

If our reward is as described or better, I see no logical reason to assume our punishment would be any different.

It still does not seem logical to me that the symbolism used to describe hell would be greater than the reality. It would (literally) be as bad as described or worse.

Of course, I am approaching this from the standpoint that I believe the realities are going to be equal to, or greater than the symbolism in regards to heaven & hell.

Luke & Rachael said...

I'm not sure what to expect. Should the Pharaoh to whom Ezek. 32 is addressed have expected something worse than to have his carcass fill valleys and his blood fill rivers? Probably not, though he likely figured that, if Ezekiel was telling the truth, his downfall wouldn't be pretty, even if not quite so fantastically cataclysmically bad as Ezekiel made it sound.

The same might be true for hell. I'm not sure. The hell imagery might indicate something totally different than what we're used to envisioning, which I think for most people is physical torment. It might indicate self-inflicted separation from God--becoming so wrapped up in me that I can no longer see truth and beauty for what it is. Something like CS Lewis's view in The Great Divorce. This might involve no physical pain, but it would still be terrible.

fissh said...

Luke, weren't you the guy who was making noise on another thread about how you don't believe the Bible was inerrant?

Luke & Rachael said...

Not sure. I've been on blog hiatus for about 6 months. When/where were you thinking?

Or are you just asking whether I think the Bible is inerrant? :)

opn said...

As a believer, I would catagorize that as being greater than the symbolism.

Luke & Rachael said...

OPN, you mean that Lewis's view in the Great Divorce would be greater than the biblical symbolism describing hell? That's interesting. I tend to agree, though I'm not sure how many others would. I think we have a tendency to view physical pain as the worst that can happen to us, but this doesn't seem true at all. Emotional and spiritual separation from God, and so from one's true self, seems far worse to me.

Daryl said...

Interesting conversation...

Just thought I'd drop in and add this thought. If the non-physical torment would be far worse, then why do so many play hell down by insisting that real flames are too cruel and eternity is too long. Why not just say "Whatever hell is, we know it's way worse than we think it is" and leave it at that.
Then you have a non-literal (meaning non-physical) hell to keep the liberals happy, and and eternal unbelievable torment to maintain faithfulness to Scripture.

But people don't do that (usually) do they. They make hell non-physical in order to ease the pain, not increase it.

opn said...

"Hell is not so much the absence of God, as the consequence of His wrath and displeasure. God is like a consuming fire, and His righteous condemnation for defying Him and clinging to the sins He loathes will be experienced in hell". JI Packer (?)

I've never read any of Lewis, so I can't comment on his opinion. I am saying, based on your comment, that eternal separation from God would be greater than the symbolized description of hell. As far as the physical torment; I am not mature enough to establish for certain whether or not The Rich Man and Lazarus is a Parable. I know that 2 Thess 1:9 tells us that punishment is everlasting destruction and that Rev. speaks alot of a lake filled with fire and brimestone. Whether we take it literally are not, the reality of hell and the everlasting punishment that accompanies, is greater (not lesser) than these symbolic descriptions.