Melanchton on Fables

 Philipp Melanchthon was the great Renaissance scholar of the humanities who became Luther’s right hand man and a major Lutheran theologian, being the author of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology.  Melanchthon also more or less invented the Reformation schools, giving them a curriculum grounded in the classical liberal arts.  He also championed the use of imaginative literature, which was neglected in scholastic institutions.  SZ at Mockingbird quotes from Philipp Melanchthon’s  On the Usefulness of Fables:

‘There is altogether nothing more beautiful and pleasant than the truth, but it is too far removed from the sight and eyes of men for it to be beheld and known fortuitously. The minds of children need to be guided and attracted to it step by step by various enticements, so that they may then contemplate more closely the thing which is the most beautiful of all, but, alas, all too unclear and unknown to mortals… Therefore, extremely sagacious men have devised some tales which first rouse by wonder the children’s minds that are sleeping as if in lethargy. For what seems more unusual to us than that a wolf speak with a horse, a lion with a little fox or an oak with a gourd, all in the manner of men?…

‘I believe that fables were first invented with that intention, because it appeared that the indolent minds of children could not be roused more quickly by any other way of speaking… For we see that the most serious and wisest of men have used this kind of teaching, and I cannot say easily what a great public evil it is that it is now banished from the schools. The learned admire the sagaciousness of the poet Homer so greatly that they place him beyond the common condition of mortals and clearly think that his mind was roused by some divine power. Yet he wrote about the war between frogs and mice…

‘[Finally,] there are so many fables in the Holy Scriptures that it is sufficiently clear that the heavenly God Himself considered this kind of speech most powerful for bending the minds of men. I ask you, what greater praise can fall to fables than that the heavenly God also approves of them?‘

via Melanchton on the Usefulness of Fables | Mockingbird.

“Rouse by wonder the children’s minds.”  Good pedagogy.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Michael B.

    “there are so many fables in the Holy Scriptures that it is sufficiently clear that the heavenly God Himself considered this kind of speech most powerful for bending the minds of men”

    Talk about fodder for emergent Christianity.

  • Michael B.

    “there are so many fables in the Holy Scriptures that it is sufficiently clear that the heavenly God Himself considered this kind of speech most powerful for bending the minds of men”

    Talk about fodder for emergent Christianity.

  • inexile

    What fables in the Scriptures does Melancthon have in mind?

  • inexile

    What fables in the Scriptures does Melancthon have in mind?

  • Carl Vehse

    “Therefore, extremely sagacious men have devised some tales which first rouse by wonder the children’s minds that are sleeping as if in lethargy.”

    This allegation helps explains some of fairy tales promulgated about significant individuals and events in Lutheran history, including Missouri Synod history.

    Martin Luther stated it more bluntly when, on July 15, 1540, he offered this advice to Philip of Hesse, “What is it, if for the good and sake of the Christian church, one should tell a good strong lie?”

  • Carl Vehse

    “Therefore, extremely sagacious men have devised some tales which first rouse by wonder the children’s minds that are sleeping as if in lethargy.”

    This allegation helps explains some of fairy tales promulgated about significant individuals and events in Lutheran history, including Missouri Synod history.

    Martin Luther stated it more bluntly when, on July 15, 1540, he offered this advice to Philip of Hesse, “What is it, if for the good and sake of the Christian church, one should tell a good strong lie?”

  • Tom Hering

    I was curious as to what, exactly, Melanchthon meant by saying the Scriptures are full of fables. So I searched the source of the quote, Orations On Philosophy and Education, available online as a Google book. Unfortunately, Melanchthon doesn’t elaborate.

    A fable is a teaching about morals or character in the form of a fantastic story. I’m hard put to think of anything in Scripture similar to The Tortoise and the Hare. Though it seems a lot of fantastic, moralistic stories about Christ were circulating among the first Christians:

    … have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. (1 Timothy 4:7)

  • Tom Hering

    I was curious as to what, exactly, Melanchthon meant by saying the Scriptures are full of fables. So I searched the source of the quote, Orations On Philosophy and Education, available online as a Google book. Unfortunately, Melanchthon doesn’t elaborate.

    A fable is a teaching about morals or character in the form of a fantastic story. I’m hard put to think of anything in Scripture similar to The Tortoise and the Hare. Though it seems a lot of fantastic, moralistic stories about Christ were circulating among the first Christians:

    … have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. (1 Timothy 4:7)

  • dan kempin

    This is a great little find that gives insight on the fact that, among other things, the reformers were not so rigid and formulaic as they are often portrayed. This also seems to serve as an argument for literature and imagination in the exploration of Biblical truth. C.S. Lewis, for instance, does a magnificent job of using “fable” to explore and teach the biblical truth.

    Plus, “what a great public evil it is that it is now banished from the schools.” No kidding. We don’t hear much of the moralizing fables anymore, and the ones we do hear are often so heavily edited that they alter the message. I suppose that makes sense, though. Politicians would have a much harder time if we taught young voters the fables of Aesop.

    In fact, John Boehner may have benefitted significantly if his education had included, “the Horse, the Hunter, and the Stag,” “The Lion’s Share,” and, ‘The Fox and the Goat.”

  • dan kempin

    This is a great little find that gives insight on the fact that, among other things, the reformers were not so rigid and formulaic as they are often portrayed. This also seems to serve as an argument for literature and imagination in the exploration of Biblical truth. C.S. Lewis, for instance, does a magnificent job of using “fable” to explore and teach the biblical truth.

    Plus, “what a great public evil it is that it is now banished from the schools.” No kidding. We don’t hear much of the moralizing fables anymore, and the ones we do hear are often so heavily edited that they alter the message. I suppose that makes sense, though. Politicians would have a much harder time if we taught young voters the fables of Aesop.

    In fact, John Boehner may have benefitted significantly if his education had included, “the Horse, the Hunter, and the Stag,” “The Lion’s Share,” and, ‘The Fox and the Goat.”

  • dan kempin

    inexile and Tom,

    I think he is referring to the parables.

    It seems to me that Melanchthon uses the term “fable” in reference to the teaching technique of constructing stories to make a point, rather than portrayal of false tales as though they are true. I think the word “fable” may have some baggage in english that was not in Melanchthon’s usage.

  • dan kempin

    inexile and Tom,

    I think he is referring to the parables.

    It seems to me that Melanchthon uses the term “fable” in reference to the teaching technique of constructing stories to make a point, rather than portrayal of false tales as though they are true. I think the word “fable” may have some baggage in english that was not in Melanchthon’s usage.

  • Tom Hering

    Dan, I too thought thought that Melanchthon must mean the parables. But no, Orations On Philosophy and Education makes it clear he means stories with fantastic elements. However, though he talks about both pagan moral fables and the Scriptures, he never says the fantastic stories in Scripture didn’t actually happen.

  • Tom Hering

    Dan, I too thought thought that Melanchthon must mean the parables. But no, Orations On Philosophy and Education makes it clear he means stories with fantastic elements. However, though he talks about both pagan moral fables and the Scriptures, he never says the fantastic stories in Scripture didn’t actually happen.

  • inexile

    I recall that Luther was very fond of Aesop and his fables and that he incorporated some of this ‘fable wisdom’ into his sermons from time to time. Maybe Melancthon was connecting the revelation of ‘wisdom’ through the fables to the revelation of ‘wisdom’ through the Scriptures?

  • inexile

    I recall that Luther was very fond of Aesop and his fables and that he incorporated some of this ‘fable wisdom’ into his sermons from time to time. Maybe Melancthon was connecting the revelation of ‘wisdom’ through the fables to the revelation of ‘wisdom’ through the Scriptures?

  • dan kempin

    Tom,

    That may be, but I still take his point to be the manner of teaching rather than the content. You can’t look to the old fables for gospel content, but they sure do get a point across.

  • dan kempin

    Tom,

    That may be, but I still take his point to be the manner of teaching rather than the content. You can’t look to the old fables for gospel content, but they sure do get a point across.

  • Tom Hering

    Dan, well yeah, the fantastic opens the mind, so it’s an effective teaching tool. The question I (and I think inexile) had was whether or not Melanchthon saw the fantastic stories in Scripture as pure fiction. I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. Maybe he thought some were and others weren’t.

  • Tom Hering

    Dan, well yeah, the fantastic opens the mind, so it’s an effective teaching tool. The question I (and I think inexile) had was whether or not Melanchthon saw the fantastic stories in Scripture as pure fiction. I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. Maybe he thought some were and others weren’t.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Tom (@7), I read several pages of context from Orations On Philosophy and Education and I’m not sure I came away with the same impression as you as to what Melanchthon meant by fables. Certainly seems to me that he could well have — indeed, likely was — referring to the parables.

    Dan (@5) said:

    We don’t hear much of the moralizing fables anymore, and the ones we do hear are often so heavily edited that they alter the message.

    Hmm. I’m not sure that’s true. I think what you mean is that we (you) don’t hear much of the classical fables anymore — the Aesop, etc. I’m sure that’s so.

    But as a consumer of children’s books (that is, I read them to my kids), I can assure you that there is no end of moralizing fables out there for the modern audience. What bothers me is that their moralizing is quite modern. And ever so banal. You could fill a library with just books that lecture children on environmentalism. (Which, in general, and at the vague level suggested by these books, is a fine thing.) But the characters are often so cardboard that they might as well paste curly, waxed mustaches on the villains.

    Of course, I haven’t read Aesop’s fables in a long time. I should try to find a good copy. Hmm.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Tom (@7), I read several pages of context from Orations On Philosophy and Education and I’m not sure I came away with the same impression as you as to what Melanchthon meant by fables. Certainly seems to me that he could well have — indeed, likely was — referring to the parables.

    Dan (@5) said:

    We don’t hear much of the moralizing fables anymore, and the ones we do hear are often so heavily edited that they alter the message.

    Hmm. I’m not sure that’s true. I think what you mean is that we (you) don’t hear much of the classical fables anymore — the Aesop, etc. I’m sure that’s so.

    But as a consumer of children’s books (that is, I read them to my kids), I can assure you that there is no end of moralizing fables out there for the modern audience. What bothers me is that their moralizing is quite modern. And ever so banal. You could fill a library with just books that lecture children on environmentalism. (Which, in general, and at the vague level suggested by these books, is a fine thing.) But the characters are often so cardboard that they might as well paste curly, waxed mustaches on the villains.

    Of course, I haven’t read Aesop’s fables in a long time. I should try to find a good copy. Hmm.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    So would one say there is a difference between a parable and a fable? And if so, what is that difference?

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    So would one say there is a difference between a parable and a fable? And if so, what is that difference?

  • inexile

    J.Dean
    Seems that fables are willing to use the unnatural to make their point, ie, talking frogs and wolves and the like. I can’t think of anything unnatural in any of the parables of Christ. They’re all rooted in the natural occurrences of reality.
    This is precisely the issue that confuses me about Melancthon’s reference to the Scriptures.

  • inexile

    J.Dean
    Seems that fables are willing to use the unnatural to make their point, ie, talking frogs and wolves and the like. I can’t think of anything unnatural in any of the parables of Christ. They’re all rooted in the natural occurrences of reality.
    This is precisely the issue that confuses me about Melancthon’s reference to the Scriptures.

  • Tom Hering

    Todd, Melanchthon saying “there are so many fables in the Holy Scriptures” (page 58 of the Google book) is preceded by a discussion of talking wolves, the staff of Mercury (which calls forth the dead), and the cithern of Orpheus (which charms beasts and rocks). So, the larger context is the fantastic. But he immediately precedes his statement about Scripture with the example of a fable by Lycurgus, about raising two whelps, which doesn’t involve the fantastic at all. So Melanchthon seems to include both fantastic and non-fantastic stories in the category of fable. Which means his statement about Scripture could refer to the parables, but probably not to the parables only.

  • Tom Hering

    Todd, Melanchthon saying “there are so many fables in the Holy Scriptures” (page 58 of the Google book) is preceded by a discussion of talking wolves, the staff of Mercury (which calls forth the dead), and the cithern of Orpheus (which charms beasts and rocks). So, the larger context is the fantastic. But he immediately precedes his statement about Scripture with the example of a fable by Lycurgus, about raising two whelps, which doesn’t involve the fantastic at all. So Melanchthon seems to include both fantastic and non-fantastic stories in the category of fable. Which means his statement about Scripture could refer to the parables, but probably not to the parables only.

  • timothyd

    There is quite a lot of fable/legend/myth in the scriptures. Job is a kind of fable or folk-story. The beginning of Genesis (at least) is in the form of a myth. The book of Jonah is a story of some kind. Apocalypses (Revelation, Daniel) are similar to fables. Like half of the apocrypha is fiction, not history.

    I know modern-day American conservatives like to try to deny that any of the Bible is “less than” historical. There is really no reason for that. It’s biased at least -why should history be more useful than legend? That fiction is not as “true” as factual accounts is a terribly modernist idea; if not arrogant (God can’t use a darn good folk-tale or allegory etc to communicate to us? Who says?).

  • timothyd

    There is quite a lot of fable/legend/myth in the scriptures. Job is a kind of fable or folk-story. The beginning of Genesis (at least) is in the form of a myth. The book of Jonah is a story of some kind. Apocalypses (Revelation, Daniel) are similar to fables. Like half of the apocrypha is fiction, not history.

    I know modern-day American conservatives like to try to deny that any of the Bible is “less than” historical. There is really no reason for that. It’s biased at least -why should history be more useful than legend? That fiction is not as “true” as factual accounts is a terribly modernist idea; if not arrogant (God can’t use a darn good folk-tale or allegory etc to communicate to us? Who says?).

  • larry

    The confusion is only because we really don’t READ the parables and HEAR the fantastic elements, and a lot of that has to do with a complete confusion of Law and Gospel.

    For example, while parables are short on talking frogs and dancing donkeys as fantastic elements they have fantastic elements like a man “selling all that he has, gain nothing more than a pearl (at the end of the day)”. Or the parable of the man who went out to lug the lost sheep. Our sleepy minds and bad English translations seem imply some cuddly clean little near weightless ole baby lamb, when the parable is speaking of a filthy sleep in their feces full grown sheep. Men don’t just lug those around. Let alone, no business farmer then or now would spend five seconds leaving the majority flock, the 99, for the 1. They’d say, “Bottom line loss, cost of doing business”. Furthermore, no man in his right mind would say and think, “‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’” As if by killing the heir the inheritance would be gained. No one would use the stone a builder rejects, their expertise, as the corner stone in the “real world”. These things are more fantastical than talking frogs and Jesus even says they are concerning the parables.

    Of course on the other hand we did have a snake and an ass speak in reality in Scripture, though in fables this is fiction.

  • larry

    The confusion is only because we really don’t READ the parables and HEAR the fantastic elements, and a lot of that has to do with a complete confusion of Law and Gospel.

    For example, while parables are short on talking frogs and dancing donkeys as fantastic elements they have fantastic elements like a man “selling all that he has, gain nothing more than a pearl (at the end of the day)”. Or the parable of the man who went out to lug the lost sheep. Our sleepy minds and bad English translations seem imply some cuddly clean little near weightless ole baby lamb, when the parable is speaking of a filthy sleep in their feces full grown sheep. Men don’t just lug those around. Let alone, no business farmer then or now would spend five seconds leaving the majority flock, the 99, for the 1. They’d say, “Bottom line loss, cost of doing business”. Furthermore, no man in his right mind would say and think, “‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’” As if by killing the heir the inheritance would be gained. No one would use the stone a builder rejects, their expertise, as the corner stone in the “real world”. These things are more fantastical than talking frogs and Jesus even says they are concerning the parables.

    Of course on the other hand we did have a snake and an ass speak in reality in Scripture, though in fables this is fiction.

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD, #11,

    I not only concede your point, I agree with it. And yes, you should peruse Aesop (and Grimm) again sometime. Just make sure it is an older edition, so you get the full crassness, and sometimes the entire point, of the fable.

    (You might, like me, even come across an old word that is not in the OED. Remember “wrekin?” Ah. Good times.)

    http://www.geneveith.com/2010/07/05/while-im-away/

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD, #11,

    I not only concede your point, I agree with it. And yes, you should peruse Aesop (and Grimm) again sometime. Just make sure it is an older edition, so you get the full crassness, and sometimes the entire point, of the fable.

    (You might, like me, even come across an old word that is not in the OED. Remember “wrekin?” Ah. Good times.)

    http://www.geneveith.com/2010/07/05/while-im-away/

  • Tom Hering

    Yes, turn to an older edition:

  • Tom Hering

    Yes, turn to an older edition:

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Dan (@17), oh, but we do have a very nice edition of Grimm’s fairy tales! The stories are a bit too text-heavy for my three-year-old. And, as they are the original stories, they can be a bit gruesome at times. It is a new edition, true — or newly translated, at least, as it uses illustrations from several cultures, spanning almost two centuries of art.

    And, though it has an even more tangential relationship to the topic at hand, I must say that I’ve really enjoyed reading Mother Goose rhymes with our children as well. We have Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever, which is pretty good (I’ve always enjoyed his depictions of life in a European village), although it makes the odd choice, whenever a rhyme is about pigs (usually being bought, eaten, or tended), of depicting the main characters as pigs. So in “To market, to market”, we see a pig family purchasing pig-shaped cookies. No idea why.

    Anyhow, even in Scarry’s version (I believe it’s from the 70s), there are some questionable bits, such as the thievery and violent revenge — to say nothing of nationalistic stereotypes — in “Taffy was a Welshman”, for example.

    But for Christmas, we got our son a reprint of a 1916 Mother Goose, and, having given it a quick read, it is occasionally shocking, occasionally trenchant, and often surprisingly humorous. You don’t get that in children’s literature as much these days.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Dan (@17), oh, but we do have a very nice edition of Grimm’s fairy tales! The stories are a bit too text-heavy for my three-year-old. And, as they are the original stories, they can be a bit gruesome at times. It is a new edition, true — or newly translated, at least, as it uses illustrations from several cultures, spanning almost two centuries of art.

    And, though it has an even more tangential relationship to the topic at hand, I must say that I’ve really enjoyed reading Mother Goose rhymes with our children as well. We have Richard Scarry’s Best Mother Goose Ever, which is pretty good (I’ve always enjoyed his depictions of life in a European village), although it makes the odd choice, whenever a rhyme is about pigs (usually being bought, eaten, or tended), of depicting the main characters as pigs. So in “To market, to market”, we see a pig family purchasing pig-shaped cookies. No idea why.

    Anyhow, even in Scarry’s version (I believe it’s from the 70s), there are some questionable bits, such as the thievery and violent revenge — to say nothing of nationalistic stereotypes — in “Taffy was a Welshman”, for example.

    But for Christmas, we got our son a reprint of a 1916 Mother Goose, and, having given it a quick read, it is occasionally shocking, occasionally trenchant, and often surprisingly humorous. You don’t get that in children’s literature as much these days.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    In case I wasn’t clear, I kind of enjoy the “questionable bits”. As, apparently, does my son. For several weeks there, when I asked him which nursery rhyme he wanted to read, he’d make his request by way of repeating the last line: “beat him on the head”. I laughed every time. (And, to those who are now sure I’m a horrible parent, I did make sure to point out that neither Taffy nor the narrator were making the best choices blah blah blah.)

    There was also the time my son told me, unprompted, that “I’m going to grow up. I’m’a be a bachelor. Live by myself.” It took me a while to realize he was reciting Mother Goose at me. No word on where he plans to buy his wife.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    In case I wasn’t clear, I kind of enjoy the “questionable bits”. As, apparently, does my son. For several weeks there, when I asked him which nursery rhyme he wanted to read, he’d make his request by way of repeating the last line: “beat him on the head”. I laughed every time. (And, to those who are now sure I’m a horrible parent, I did make sure to point out that neither Taffy nor the narrator were making the best choices blah blah blah.)

    There was also the time my son told me, unprompted, that “I’m going to grow up. I’m’a be a bachelor. Live by myself.” It took me a while to realize he was reciting Mother Goose at me. No word on where he plans to buy his wife.

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    breaking thread -
    heads up-
    Lutherans send dogs to help in the healing -Newton-
    http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/2012/12/dogs-from-lutheran-charities-serving.html
    C-CS

  • http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/ C-Christian Soldier

    breaking thread -
    heads up-
    Lutherans send dogs to help in the healing -Newton-
    http://carolmsblog.blogspot.com/2012/12/dogs-from-lutheran-charities-serving.html
    C-CS

  • Dan Kempin

    Btw, tODD, thanks for introducing me to Desmond Dekker. (And Burnt Toast, of course.) I’ve been listening to him on rhapsody. I especially enjoy “Children obey your Mother and Father” and “Dracula.”

  • Dan Kempin

    Btw, tODD, thanks for introducing me to Desmond Dekker. (And Burnt Toast, of course.) I’ve been listening to him on rhapsody. I especially enjoy “Children obey your Mother and Father” and “Dracula.”

  • Dan Kempin

    Oops, I typed it wrong. It’s “Honor your mother and your Father.”

    You know what I meant.

  • Dan Kempin

    Oops, I typed it wrong. It’s “Honor your mother and your Father.”

    You know what I meant.

  • Michael B.

    @Tom Hering

    “Though it seems a lot of fantastic, moralistic stories about Christ were circulating among the first Christians:”

    The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a must read.

  • Michael B.

    @Tom Hering

    “Though it seems a lot of fantastic, moralistic stories about Christ were circulating among the first Christians:”

    The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a must read.

  • larry

    Apocalyptic scripture is its own genre but it does make Melanchton’s point in that it uses visual and fantastic imagery to express truth and reality that has/will/continues to take place in truth and reality, as does metaphor and the like. It’s why children “get” Revelation before adults do, at least in our modernized American culture. The overlay of characters and imagery expresses a greater reality. A great and simple example I was given once was, “If I tell you that great battle took place between an elephant king and his elephants and a donkey king and his donkeys” most modern Americans immediately get the imagery and the reality to which they point.

    Some get stuck on the overlay and metaphor, and breath a sigh, “aahhh, wheew”, of relief but forget that things like metaphor, parable, apocalyptic literature, etc. should not bring such a sigh of relief. And even ignorantly deduce, “Whew must not be true”. For these things point to greater realities that are much greater than the imagery they present. That’s the point of metaphor and the like, they are signify in a much reduced way a greater reality. This is especially true in Scripture where the greater reality is eternal and not temporal in which an “end” might be realized. This ramps up to infinity wrath on the one hand and grace on the other. Thus, the imagery in such things as parable and apocalyptic literature is much less than the reality being communicated through the imagery. People think they “escape” the realty, especially if it’s a terrible or wrathful reality being expressed, by suddenly saying, “this must be metaphor”, then they make a leap (= fiction). But they’ve lost the whole point of metaphor even if they are applying it wrongly in a given expression of Scripture. To wit, “Oh no, it’s MUCH worse (or better) than metaphor is able to convey”. E.g. hell being expressed as the place where the worm never dies and such. The reality is so eternally worse that THAT metaphor would be much preferred once the reality is realized.

    It’s all too easy to make the mistake that if a thing is metaphor this equals not true. But that is false. Even human metaphor and similar literature, the principle use of the tool metaphor, is designed to express a greater reality or truth. Making it “metaphor” does not erase it away into ‘not real’ or ‘not true’ from the writer(s). This is even true when that “greater reality or truth” is of its own ultimately false. I.e. if a false epistemology, in reality and truth, is indeed false, if those who wish to express it and believe it “to be” true use metaphor or some such symbolic language, their intent is not to express that its false but since this is what they think is true, to express the gravity of that reality being pointed to via the metaphor they believe to be real and true. This is even true in moralistic fables.

  • larry

    Apocalyptic scripture is its own genre but it does make Melanchton’s point in that it uses visual and fantastic imagery to express truth and reality that has/will/continues to take place in truth and reality, as does metaphor and the like. It’s why children “get” Revelation before adults do, at least in our modernized American culture. The overlay of characters and imagery expresses a greater reality. A great and simple example I was given once was, “If I tell you that great battle took place between an elephant king and his elephants and a donkey king and his donkeys” most modern Americans immediately get the imagery and the reality to which they point.

    Some get stuck on the overlay and metaphor, and breath a sigh, “aahhh, wheew”, of relief but forget that things like metaphor, parable, apocalyptic literature, etc. should not bring such a sigh of relief. And even ignorantly deduce, “Whew must not be true”. For these things point to greater realities that are much greater than the imagery they present. That’s the point of metaphor and the like, they are signify in a much reduced way a greater reality. This is especially true in Scripture where the greater reality is eternal and not temporal in which an “end” might be realized. This ramps up to infinity wrath on the one hand and grace on the other. Thus, the imagery in such things as parable and apocalyptic literature is much less than the reality being communicated through the imagery. People think they “escape” the realty, especially if it’s a terrible or wrathful reality being expressed, by suddenly saying, “this must be metaphor”, then they make a leap (= fiction). But they’ve lost the whole point of metaphor even if they are applying it wrongly in a given expression of Scripture. To wit, “Oh no, it’s MUCH worse (or better) than metaphor is able to convey”. E.g. hell being expressed as the place where the worm never dies and such. The reality is so eternally worse that THAT metaphor would be much preferred once the reality is realized.

    It’s all too easy to make the mistake that if a thing is metaphor this equals not true. But that is false. Even human metaphor and similar literature, the principle use of the tool metaphor, is designed to express a greater reality or truth. Making it “metaphor” does not erase it away into ‘not real’ or ‘not true’ from the writer(s). This is even true when that “greater reality or truth” is of its own ultimately false. I.e. if a false epistemology, in reality and truth, is indeed false, if those who wish to express it and believe it “to be” true use metaphor or some such symbolic language, their intent is not to express that its false but since this is what they think is true, to express the gravity of that reality being pointed to via the metaphor they believe to be real and true. This is even true in moralistic fables.

  • helen

    timothyd @ 15
    Job is a kind of fable or folk-story. The beginning of Genesis (at least) is in the form of a myth. The book of Jonah is a story of some kind…

    It never seems to occur to people who believe Genesis is not historical truth that, if it is not true, the Incarnation wasn’t necessary, Christ’s death and resurrection weren’t necessary and their redemption has not happened.

    The last, because they don’t believe in Christ… not really.
    Remember he quoted events in Eden and in Jonah as fact.

    [Not a good idea to have more faith in Robert Jenson's opinions than in Scripture! I don't suppose the ideas were original with him, but he represents what passes for ***A theology.]

  • helen

    timothyd @ 15
    Job is a kind of fable or folk-story. The beginning of Genesis (at least) is in the form of a myth. The book of Jonah is a story of some kind…

    It never seems to occur to people who believe Genesis is not historical truth that, if it is not true, the Incarnation wasn’t necessary, Christ’s death and resurrection weren’t necessary and their redemption has not happened.

    The last, because they don’t believe in Christ… not really.
    Remember he quoted events in Eden and in Jonah as fact.

    [Not a good idea to have more faith in Robert Jenson's opinions than in Scripture! I don't suppose the ideas were original with him, but he represents what passes for ***A theology.]

  • helen

    I usually capitalize He, referring to Christ. Excuse the lapse.

  • helen

    I usually capitalize He, referring to Christ. Excuse the lapse.

  • The Boiler Guy

    This was the first thing that came to mind when I read this, ” For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isa 55:12. I know that we have nice little rhetorical categories for these type of verses but it still sound fabulous

  • The Boiler Guy

    This was the first thing that came to mind when I read this, ” For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isa 55:12. I know that we have nice little rhetorical categories for these type of verses but it still sound fabulous


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