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|The UNIQUE SON I
|To redeem the world the Father did not send a son (both angels and humans are sons of God, Job 1:6; 38:7; Luke 3:38), but the
special Son, the only one of his kind, the only one virgin-born. This distinctive paternal-filial syndrome, with God as "his own Father"
(John 5:18) and Jesus as "his own Son" (Romans 8:32), is figurative, but so appealing and meaningful. It is an unparalleled, and
incomparable mystery: Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23; 1 Timothy 3:16).
This is a most dangerous statement: "This distinctive paternal-filial syndrome with God as 'his own Father' (John 5:18) and Jesus as 'his own Son'
(Romans 8:32), is figurative, but so appealing and meaningful." Is the statement that Jesus is the Son of God figurative?
Figurative is defined: "1a: representing by a figure or resemblance: EMBLEMATIC ... 2. expressing one thing in terms nornally denoting another with
which it may be regarded as analogous: METAPHORICAL (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary). Does God merely resemble the Father of
Jesus? Does Jesus merely resemble the Son of God? Is God called Jesus' Father metaphorically because He is analogous, or similar, to His Father? Is
Jesus called the Son of God metaphorically, or because he is analogous, or similar, to His Son?
At this point it would be good to review how one determines whether language is literal or figurative.
Hermeneutics, by D.R. Dungan, states:
Sec. 50 Rules by which the meaning of words shall be ascertained.
Rule 1. All words are to be understood in their literal sense, unless the evident meaning of the context forbids. -- Figures are the exception, literal language the
rule; hence we are not to regard anything as figurative until we feel compelled to do so by the evident import of the passage. And even here great caution
should be observed. We are very apt to regard contexts as teaching some theory which we have in our minds. And having so determined, anything to the
contrary will be regarded as a mistaken interpretation; hence, if the literal meaning of the words shall be found to oppose our speculations, we are ready to
give the words in question some figurative import that will better agree with our preconceived opinions. Let us be sure that the meaning of the author has
demanded that the language be regarded in a figurative sense, and that it is not our theory which has made the necessity.
Principles of Interpretation, by Clinton Lockhart, in Chapter VII. FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE states:
Nature and Use of Figures
Defintions. When a word has been appropriated by usage to one thing and is transferred to another, it is said to be used figuratively. When a word is used in
its primitive or most usual sense, it is said to be literal. A figure, therefore, is a departure or deflection from the primitive or usual meaning of a word, or the
usual manner of expressing ideas. In all languages figures are necessary to express adequately some of the thoughts of intelligent people. Literal terms may be
readily found in almost any language to express such ideas as, cold iron, stony pavements, hard wood, soft clay, and the like; but there is probably no
language capable of expressing literally the ideas cold heart, stony heart, hard heart, and soft heart. As applied to the heart all these adjectives must be
figurative. This is due to the face that literal meanings are given to words as applied first to material things, and when conceptions of immaterial things arise,
they can be expressed only by analogous uses of the words at hand.
Close Relations. It follows from the foregoing that the figurative meaning of a word is necessarily a secondary sense. If this latter sense should become very
usual, and especially if the primitive meaning should be obsolete, the secondary sense will be regarded as literal. Accordingly, it is not always easy to fix the
exact boundary line between the literal and figurative. This will require a careful study of language, a vigilant observation of the usage of words and a good
judgment and training in literary matters.
Consistency the Test. It may be often important to distinquish between the literal and the figurative; and therefore a reliable test will be desirable. Perhaps no
absolute test can be applied; but is is usually sufficient to inquire in any case of doubt, Does the literal make good sense? If the literal proves to be absurd, or
in any way inconsistent, either with other parts of the sentence or with the nature of things discussed, we may conclude with tolerable certainty that the
language is figurative. This test will require a careful study of the adjuncts associated with any word that may not seem to be literal, a careful examination of
the general context, and perhaps a comparison of parallel passages. Sometimes a knowledge of the subject treated or of historical or doctrinal matters related
to it, will reveal the inconsistency which marks a word or sentence as figurative. Great familiarity with all kinds of figures, so that the reader will readily
recognize and classify them when he meets them, will often save much hesitancy and doubt. Moreover, the custome of a writer or class of writers in respect to
a free use of figures or their employment inthe discussion of particular subjects, will prove a valuable guide in distinguishing between the literal and the
RULE XXXI. -- Preference for the Literal
Since the literal is the most usual signification of a word, and therefore occurs much more frequently than the figurative, any term will be regarded as
literal until there is good reason for a different understanding ...
RULE: --The literal or most usual meaning of a word, if consistent, should be preferred to a figurative or less usual signification.
How To Read The Bible, by John Allen Hudson, sates under General Rules for Determining the Sense of Scripture:
1st. The most simple sense, the obvious sense, is the genuine meaning in almost all instances ...
2nd. A simple and safe rule, nay, an indispensable rule, is never to read into a passage, from our own thinking, what it does not say …
3rd. Unless there is something in a passage that is repugnant to reason and common sense, it is to be taken in its most obvious sense ...
4th. The plain and obvious literal meaning of a Scripture must not be abandoned unless something in the text makes it absolutely necessary. Fanciful
interpretations are too much the interpretation of the day, when ill-advised scripturians, rashly take some conjectyural meaning while ignoring entirely what
the text would say. Such persons are convinced in advance that the text does not mean what it says, but means something else, It is like the case of the
traveling man from Louisiana who asked N.B. Hardeman in Dallas once whether Christ meant water when He said water, that one must be born of water
and the spirit. Brother Hardeman said, "No, He meant buttermilk. Since He did not mean what He said, but meant something else, and since He said water,
He must have meant buttermilk!"
That, of course, was answering a fool according to his folly.
How To Study the Bible, by Earle H. West, in "Lesson 11: UNDERSTANDING WHAT WE STUDY (2)," says:
Since the Bible contains both figurative and literal language, one major problem of interpretation is that of recognizing figurative language and learning what
it means. Figurative language is languae in which the words have other meanings than their usual meaning but in which there is some similarity between the
common meaning and the special meaning ...
RECOGNIZING FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE
Ordinarily it is assumed that words are used in their normal, literal sense. Good evidence is required before we treat words as figurative. Many figures of
speech are so labeled by the writer as being parables, allegories, fables or the like. Sometimes we recognize words as figurative because their literal meaning
would involve an impossibility or a contradiction, or be contrary to known fact. Certain types of literature are more marked for figurative language than
others. Thus we would naturally expect figures of speech to be more abundant in the Psalms (poetry) or in the prophetic books than in the historical books.
Common sense, enlighted by a good general knowledge of the Bible and the context of the passage, must be used ...
The question is: "Is there sufficient reason, because of the context or contradiction, in the New Testament to assume confidently that 'this distinctive
paternal-filial symdrome' (the Father'Son relationship) of God and Christ is figurative and not literal"?
[TO BE CONTINUED]