Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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The application of a descriptive word or phrase to something to which it does not literally apply; as when Lenin called intellectuals "insects." That at least some biblical language about God is metaphorical could scarcely be denied by any sane person. God cannot literally both be a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) and have a strong right arm (Deuteronomy 4:34, 7:19, and so on). And few would take the doctrine of verbal inspiration so far as to follow certain "fanatics" mentioned by Leibniz in his Theodicy (1710) in insisting that, when Christ referred to Herod as "that fox" (Luke 13:32), Herod was for an instant miraculously turned into a fox. But for all statements about God to be admitted to be metaphorical, and none literally true, would presumably be the end of theism as traditionally understood.

See also Language

Hugo Meynell


T. Aquinas, Summa Theologica I:1,9

H. N. Frye, The Great Code (Toronto: Academic Press Canada, 1982)

P.D. Neilsen, Religious Language as Metaphor (Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1985): J. Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

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