Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Rhetorical Tricks of the Enemy's Trade [Pt.4b]


by Hiram R. Diaz III

II. Slippery Analogies

In addition to the misinterpretations listed in our last article on this subject, we will now look at how enemies of the Christian faith will often misinterpret analogies in order to not deal with the weight of the arguments using those literary devices. Analogies come in different forms, depending on the communicative context. Broadly speaking, we can differentiate between didactic analogies and literary analogies. Didactic analogies seek to narrow in on a shared similarity between the analogy’s source and target, for the sake of helping the reader understand the target.[1] Here is an example of a didactic analogy —
Isolating variables is like peeling an onion one layer at a time.[2]
The source of the analogy is the action of peeling an onion one layer at a time; the target is the action of isolating variables. What is similar in both cases is the action of dealing with one aspect of a problem at a time in order to reach one’s desired end, as well as the determination one must exercise in both instances.

Here is an example of a literary analogy —
My love is like the sun.
Here the similarities between the love and the sun are not clearly identifiable. The relationship is intentionally broad in order to saturate the comparison with qualitative meaning. If one’s love is like the sun, this could mean that one’s love is the object of central importance in one’s emotional well-being, or one’s source of emotional “warmth,” or central to one’s continued existence. The author is ultimately the one who can tell the reader the rules necessary for grasping his intended meaning.

Both instances of analogy are intended to help the reader understand something better. In the case of poetry/literature, the intention is to help the reader understand the qualitative nature of the target. In the case of, say, mathematics, the intention is to help the reader understand that the process of isolating variables moves by steps. Both kinds of analogies can take the form of either a simile or a metaphor. Similes use the terms “like,” “Such as,” etc. Metaphors, however, take a more emphatic approach. Metaphors are syntactically identitive (e.g. “My son is a beast!”) for the sake of drawing out the qualitative nature of the target, but are not actually identitive. Let’s look at how enemies of the faith err with respect to their interpretation of analogies.
IIa. Replacing the Ideal with the Real

An analogy is a reality that one uses to help explain another reality. The word reality here can mean anything from a physical event to an immaterial concept. What makes an analogy helpful is some aspect of its source’s nature or function which it has in common with its target. Consider Paul’s use of analogy in 1st Corinthians 12:12-31. Paul writes —
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way.
The body of Christ is like a literal human body because
1. It is one, but is made of many members.
2. Its members are functionally distinct from, but necessary for the proper functioning of, the body as a whole.
3. It would be foolish and self-destructive to cut off any of its members.
4. Its members take care of one another.
What is shared by the physical body of man and the spiritual body of Christ, then, are these general similarities. Paul’s example is meant to provide us with a working picture of the kind of unity of diverse natures and roles we will find in the body of Christ. To stretch the analogy further would be to miss the point. Consider the following dialogue between A and B concerning the body of Christ.
Person A: The church is the body of Christ. We are supposed to be united in what we believe and practice, just like the parts of our bodies are always in unity with one another.

Person B: I understand what you mean. But sometimes you have to cut off a body part to spare your life. So can’t it be that the same is true of the church? The church is the body of Christ, after all, isn’t it?
This may appear to be a legitimate extension of analogy by B, but it is not. The reason why is that Scripture’s use of the analogy, being followed by A, employs the concept of an ideal body, not the concept of a real body. The terms ideal and real respectively signify (a.)a state of perfection, and (b.)any state deviating from perfection. The following table shows the differences between the ideal body and the real body.

Ideal Human Body
Real Human Body
Lacks no parts
All parts are fully functional
All parts work in unison
All parts help one another
Atemporal/Not subject to decay
Lacks parts
Not all parts are fully functional
Not all parts work in unison
Not all parts help one another
Temporal/Subject to decay

We know from Scripture that the human body was created ideally, but because of sin it became the failing, corrupt, dying body we are familiar with now. Our postlapsarian bodies are not ideal and, therefore, are not going to be held up as exhibiting ideal properties which the church should emulate. Paul uses an ideal conception of the body to show the church how it should ideally operate. B, however, uses a real conception of the body, i.e. the postlapsarian body, to show how the church should ideally operate; and this renders his further analogizing illegitimate.

This is done not only when enemies of the faith replace the ideal with the real, but when they replace the abstract with the concrete.

IIb. Replacing the Abstract with the Concrete

Though similar, IIb differs from IIa in a very significant way. As it is being used in this article, the abstract is immaterial, it is an idea that we can extract from a physical reality that applies to other physical realities completely unlike it. In Paul’s analogy of the body, he extracts from the ideal body of man the notions of completeness, harmonious interrelation, mutuality, and cooperation. These attributes were expressed by the physical body of prelapsarian Adam; however, they can equally be expressed in a spiritual/immaterial context. The ideal physical body, in other words, can have these non-physical concepts extracted from it, concepts that we can apply to completely different physical or non-physical contexts.

Enemies of the faith will often replace the abstract with the concrete when interpreting analogies. Specifically, this kind of illegitimate analogizing is frequently employed by false teachers to extend the application of biblical teaching beyond its proper scope. Consider the following dialogue —
Person A: Why did you tell me that you think Christians will be given beautiful and expensive clothing if they are faithful to God?

Person B: Because Psalm 1:3 says so.

Person A: What? No, it doesn’t. How do you figure it does?

Person B: Well, it says that the righteous - i.e. the faithful Christian - “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither...” The faithful Christian is like a tree, and because he is faithful he is covered with beautiful fruit and leaves, i.e. the clothing of the tree.
B is abusing the Scriptures in order to promote the idea that faithfulness to God will result in one being rewarded with beautiful and expensive clothing. He is doing this by illegitimately extending the point of similarity being drawn between the righteous person and the tree beyond what the Scripture allows. The point of emphasis in the psalm is that the righteous person will prosper in all that he does. This is signified by the fruitfulness and stability of the creature in touch with its proper source of nourishment, the tree. The righteous are in touch with the only proper source of spiritual nourishment, namely God. As a result, the righteous are spiritually fruitful and stable. The wicked, however, are not so. The wicked are like chaff - unstable, lifeless, fruitless, weak, easily scattered and tossed about.

Whereas the prior abuse of analogy rested upon employing a real conception of the body instead of an ideal conception of the body, B here purposefully makes the point of similarity between the righteous and the tree physical rather than abstract. The inverse error is made by annihilationists who use Psalm 1:4 as evidence that the wicked will be annihilated.[3] There we read that “the wicked...are like chaff that the wind drives away,” making the point of similarity between the wicked and the chaff physical instead of abstract. That such an interpretation entirely misses the point being made by the psalmist can be seen from noting that if the analogy is to be understood physically/concretely and not abstractly when the psalmist speaks of the wicked, it must necessarily be understood physically/concretely when the psalmist speaks of the righteous. This would mean that the righteous physically are sustained by some other physical source. In other words, to interpret the analogy concretely in Psalm 1 is to imply that the righteous will forever be mortal. This clearly contradicts the teaching of Scripture.

Thankfully, Scripture tells us how to interpret many of its analogical passages. For instance, in Psalm 1:3 we are told that the righteous are like trees planted by rivers of water. This has been taken by the annihilationists to mean that the righteous have life that lasts forever, whereas the wicked are like chaff that is blown away (which they interpret as ceases to substantial existence/is annihilated). However, the psalmist tells us what the analogy is meant to convey in the case of the righteous. He says —
In all that [the righteous man] does, he prospers.
The source and the target, then, share this in common: They are fully prosperous. The wicked, however, are not so. That is to say, the wicked are not fully prosperous; the wicked are useless to the divine husbandman. The analogy underscores an immaterial reality that can be applied to any physical target that equally experiences or produces this immaterial reality. To interpret the analogy physically/concretely is to entirely misinterpret the psalm.[4]

Another example from the annihilationists can be drawn from their misuse of Psalm 2:9. There we read —
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
The you here refers to God, while the them refers to the nations who rage against God and his Christ.[5] This imagery has been understood by many annihilationists to signify the utter annihilation of the wicked. However, such an interpretation mistakenly sees the physical/concrete as being the point of similarity between the source and its target. We note here that Christ gives us the understanding of this analogy when he declares —
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.[6]
If the shattering of these vessels in Psalm 2 signifies their being annihilated, then Christ is telling his church that they will annihilate the wicked. But we know that God alone is the one who will mete out judgment to his enemies. It cannot, therefore, be the case that the righteous will be engaged in the job of judging the wicked. And, therefore, it cannot be the case that Ps 2:9 means to teach that the wicked will be annihilated. Rather than interpreting the analogy physically/concretely, Christ interprets the analogy immaterially or abstractly, indicating that it signifies rule, authority, power. David’s psalm, in other words, is teaching that the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, will rule with complete authority, power, etc over the nations - not that he will annihilate them.

The heretic’s misuse of Scriptural analogies in this manner, i.e. interpreting the analogy physically/concretely rather than immaterially/abstractly allows him to read into the Scriptures something that is not there. Such interpretations are purposefully mishandling the Word of God and, therefore, cannot be understood as serious exegetical treatments of the texts they quote.

IIc. De-anologizing the Analogy

As we have noted already, the source and target in an analogy are only like one another. If the source and target are thought to be identical, the interpreter has misunderstood what is being communicated. Consider the following dialogue —
Person A: Isn’t it the case that God likens the wicked to trees that are consumed by fire?

Person B: Yes.

Person A: Then, isn’t it the case that the wicked, who are like the trees consumed by fire, will be consumed in the same way, ceasing to exist upon completely being reduced to ashes?

Person B: Well, no.

Person A: So you are just going to flatly contradict the clear teaching of Scripture?
In this dialogue, A is arguing that because it is the case that the consumption of trees by fire reduces them to ashes and renders them, thereby, non-existent, that this too will be the fate of the wicked. His doctrine is not supported by the texts he alludes to, however, seeing as the trees being consumed by fire is merely an analogy of what will happen to the wicked, not a statement of the precise manner in which the wicked will be punished. The Scriptures present the analogy of bad trees being completely consumed by fire; they do not maintain a relationship of identity between the process of consumption by fire in both instances (i.e. of the bad trees and the wicked). A is treating as identitive what God has intended to be read analogically.

Similarly, consider the following dialogue —
Person A: The Scriptures tell us that Jesus is the son of God, not God himself. You Trinitarians are clearly misinterpreting the Bible!

Person B: Is Jesus literally the Son of God? I mean, was he produced by God in the same way that a man produces offspring in his image?

Person A: Well, no.

Person B: Then you acknowledge that Christ is the Son of God in a non-literal, i.e. analogical, manner?

Person A: It would seem to be the case, yes.

Person B: Then what makes you think that the Sonship of Christ entails that he is a created, finite, subordinate, and separate being from the Father?

Person A: The Scripture says that he is the son of God. And that’s what the word son implies!
Note here that A is simultaneously maintaining that the Sonship of Christ is an analogy to human sonship, seeing as Christ was not made the Son of God in the same way that humans make sons in their image, and yet that Christ’s Sonship disproves his essential unity and equality with the Father because “that’s what the word son implies.” If the Sonship of Christ is analogical to human sonship, then it is not identical to human sonship. To reject the essential unity and equality of the Son of God to the Father, on the grounds that the language used of Christ is used only one way in human contexts, is to interpret Christ’s Sonship as being essentially identical to human sonship.

Christ is the Son of God, of course; however, his Sonship is unique to himself, being analogous, but not identical, to human sonship.


 [1]  The terms source and target respectively refer to the analogue and what it is meant to elucidate.
[2]  This example is borrowed from “Instruction of Mathematical Concepts Through Analogical Reasoning Skills” in Indian Journal of Science and Technology Vol.5 No. 6 (June 2012), 2619.
[3]  Edward Fudge famously argued this way in his paper “The Final End of the Wicked” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27/3 (September, 1984), 325-334.
[4]  We may add to this the fact that the wicked are described as presently being like chaff.
[5]  cf. Ps 2:1-4 & 8.
[6] Rev 2:26-27.

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