Monday, February 7, 2011

Mere metaphor?

Janet Martin Soskice on the problem of assuming that biblical metaphors are always "mere" metaphors:

Jesus' phrase 'this bread is my body'. Is this metaphorical or not? The question is frequently asked as though one's answer will settle an enormous theological though, could we but acknowledge that phrases such as this one were metaphorical, we would be freed from the metaphysical difficulties which have troubled centuries of theological debate. But to think in this way is to fall back into the ornamentalist theories of metaphor against which we have been arguing from the beginning of the book. Even a conservative, catholic Christian could acknowledge that Jesus' phrase 'this is my body' is, or was, metaphorical but in doing so he would make a linguistic and not an ontological point. It would be analogous to acknowledging that the phrase 'there is a strong electrical current flowing through the wire' is, or was, metaphorical. The point at issue is not really whether we have metaphor here, but what the metaphor is doing: is it simply an ornamental redescription, so that Jesus has redescribed bread in an evocative way? or is the metaphor genuinely catachretical, not a redescribing but a naming or disclosing for the first time? It is one's metaphysics, not metaphor, which is at issue. To put it another way, the question is not simply whether we have a metaphor here or not, but what, if anything, the metaphor refers to or signifies.

Metaphor and Religious Language, (OUP, 1985).


  1. Nathan, this is a great find, thanks for posting it.

    Do you have a version of your SBL paper on Matt published yet? If not, any chance I could get a glimpse at it?

  2. sure. If you give me your email address I'll send you a copy.

    Your presentation is included in your published dissertation, right?

  3. Gmail account; the ID is jasonbrianhood

    I ad libbed a bit (per the Goodacre school of conference talk delivery) but otherwise it's in there.