Does The Bible Use Symbolism?

Does The Bible Use Symbolism? July 25, 2015

Is there symbolism in the Bible? If so, how do we try and decide what the message and the meaning is behind these symbols?

Human use of Symbolic Language

It’s not a question of whether the Bible uses symbolism or not but how does the Bible use it. The fact is we all use symbolism every single day. When someone is angry they might say “I’m so mad I could knock his block off” or in sports, “That guy’s red hot” but we all realize that no one has a block to knock off or the guy is not really “red” as in red hot. Even traffic signs give us warnings by the use of symbols to warn us about things that are ahead like a crosswalk, a sharp curve, or a no passing zone. It’s something that helps us have a better idea of what to expect and we only need to look at the symbols to understand what the signs mean without the need for words. Symbols give us a mental image about something in a descriptive way that sometimes better inform us about something or someone than mere words can.

The Potter and the Clay

Many of the Old Testament prophets used symbolic language. In one such example, Jeremiah writes “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it” (Jer 18:6-8). Naturally, the house of Israel does not consist of clay human beings but of flesh and blood but the point God was making was that He is the Potter and they were the clay and He forms and shapes them and does whatsoever He pleases and has the privilege to do so as the Maker of the clay vessels. Israel being referred to as clay and God as the Potter is symbolic and helps us to better understand what God was trying to tell Israel through Jeremiah.


Fire and Gold

Peter uses the symbolism of fire as a way to refine or purify our faith as he writes in 1st Peter 1:6-7 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Naturally, faith is not something that can pass through the fire but the symbolism with which Peter writes means that our trials refine our faith and burn everything away that is not genuine faith so all that remains is only that faith which will result in the praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ returns.

The Symbolism of the Armor of God

When Paul writes that we need the full armor of God (Eph 6:10), he must have been using the symbolism of the defense needed to thwart off the spiritual attacks of the invisible enemy (Eph 6:11-12). Paul was often under arrest and attended to by Roman guards and was well acquainted with the equipment of the Roman soldier so he made the analogy of the armor that protected the Roman soldier as the different aspects of our salvation that are likened to our being protected by the different pieces of equipment that each Roman soldier carried and wore. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:14-17) are not literal swords, helmets, shields, and such but are representative or symbolic of the equipment necessary for every believer in Christ to survive the attacks of the powerful and invisible forces of darkness.


The Book of Revelation is deep in symbolic language and so we have to see what the different authors of the books of the Bible are trying to communicate to us when they use symbols that we are familiar with so that we can better understand what the writer is telling us. Sometimes symbols give our minds a better grasp of what the author is telling us than simple words can, so yes, the Bible does use symbolism and it is to our benefit when we understand why.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.

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