John Gavazzoni
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Metaphorical Inference Overdone
By John Gavazzoni

Becoming more mature in one's understanding of scripture, without a doubt, requires extensive weaning away from the simplicism of literalism per se. Few things keep a believer locked into thinking, understanding and speaking as a child as does literalism overdone. Much of the Bible's richest level of truth is conveyed to us in metaphor. BUT in our rush to not appear as literalist simpletons, we can miss the impact of foundationally-rich truths presented with words conveying literally the thought of God.

In this short article, I will only deal with only one such expression: The Body of Christ. For a short time, I corresponded via e-mails with an evangelical missionary and theologian. In his work in the field of France, he was involved at a rather high level in ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholic hierarchy, trying to build bridges of understanding and co-operation between himself and especially a local bishop, mostly concerning a number of Catholics who had recently had their hearts opened to the Lord through his missionary work.

Having been led to Christ through him, those new converts were looking to him for establishment in the faith, in a home Bible study setting, but they we're definitely not about to leave the Catholic Church, nor was he urging them to do so at all.

In order to remain as Catholics in good standing, they needed permission from their bishop to receive teaching from a Baptist missionary and theologian----a very touchy matter, to be sure. In the brother's dialogue with the bishop, in making his case for being allowed to remain an influence in their spiritual lives, not surprisingly, the issue of what comprised the body of Christ came up, and could the bishop accept this Baptist as a member of Christ's body vitally connected edifyingly to those he had lead to a vital experience of Christ as personal Lord and Savior.


He shared with me in great detail the whole process of interaction with this Roman Catholic bishop, and in our conversation, some remark of mine about just what New Testament scripture was meant to convey in calling the church the Body of Christ, caused him to interjected that, of course, that description of the church was just one more metaphor for what is the Reality of all believer's relationship to Christ.

I countered rather emphatically, that I understood "the Body of Christ," to quite literally convey one facet of what that relationship is, and that while the expression "the temple of God," is a metaphor, it is a metaphor for the reality of humanity, especially believing humanity, being the Real Temple, the Body of Christ.

The existence of the literal temple of the old covenant, metaphorically pointed to the real "temple," the dwelling place of Christ, in all His fullness, in human incarnation. "Temple" is one metaphorical description of that Reality. I will make my point in this article mostly from Paul's description of the seven-fold nature of the Reality's Oneness in the Epistle to the Ephesians.

In that seven-fold description, Paul among other things, speaks of One Spirit, One Lord, and One God and Father. Now I know that there is a sense in which any arrangement of words meant to convey a concept of the Reality to which they point, might be thought of as metaphorical in the sense that words alone cannot transmit the Reality from within God to within us, but that's stretching the meaning of metaphor too far in my opinion.

If we must accept that there is literally One Spirit, and One Lord, and One God and Father who is over all, through all, and in all, are we not to understand that the first on the list of Oneness's facets, i.e., One Body, is to be understood literally? We may not be literal sheep of His pasture; we may not be literal branches grafted into the tree rooted in Abraham's faith; we may not be a temple as the word is literally applied, but we ARE One Body, as literally as there is One Spirit, One Lord, and One God and Father. Even One Baptism ought to be understood literally, while the act of being immersed in literal water, is an acted-out metaphor of the reality of being immersed into God in Christ.

If "one hope of our calling" is a metaphorical expression, what then is the Reality? If "one faith" is a metaphor for something, what is that something? I believe that at the very center of Eternal Reality, there is a Man incarnate in a glorified body, and that His body, and the One Body which we are, by the One Spirit, are one and the same body expressed as one singular Man, and as a corporate New Humanity. That's what I believe. It is not like scripture at all to lead into such a list using a metaphor, and then immediately switch to literal expressions. The One Body is as real as the One Lord, and One God and Father. My heart cries out "Abba, Father," to the One who is exactly that to me, my Father.   

One other, and last, point: If there is such a thing as the fullness of God literally, and I can't imagine that expression being metaphorical, then would it not be obscenely clumsy for Paul to mix the real with the metaphorical, in describing the church as the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all. It is in human embodiment that the fullness of God really fills Itself out. Think of how we say of a young person's growth, "my, look how you've filled out." That, my dear brethren, is what the Body of Christ is all about: God filling Himself out fully and finally in the whole body of humanity.

John GavazzoniJohn Gavazzoni
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