Beyond Language?

Beyond Language? September 19, 2016

In his Anchor Bible commentary on Revelation, Craig Koester says this about John’s initial vision of Jesus: “The figure’s appearance defies easy description: hair that is white like wool or snow, eyes like a flame of fire, a voice like rushing water, a face like the sun. The comparisons show that what John describes does not fit within the confines of ordinary speech. He uses analogies from human experience to depict something from a different realm” (249).

I confess I do not know what this means. Are similes beyond the “confines of ordinary speech”? Don’t we use analogies all the time, whether we’re speaking of God or of the shape of a cloud or the taste of a wine? We use analogies from human experience to describe what’s in our own realm.

It’s admittedly unusual to see someone with eyes like fire and a face shining like the sun. It’s not so unusual to see someone with snowy-wooly hair. Pretty common, I’d say. And I know a few people whose voices approach the volume of a waterfall.

Jesus is certainly more than language captures, but so is everything else. The vision of Jesus is certainly overwhelming, but John’s language is perfectly ordinary. And no wonder: Language exists so that human beings can speak of and to our Creator. Human language exists for God-talk.

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