Metaphor and the Bible
A metaphor is a comparison made between two or more things using figurative or descriptive language. Metaphors serve to make difficult to understand ideas or concepts more tangible. Metaphors also infuse written text with vivid descriptions that make the text more vibrant and enjoyable to read.
As the metaphor is one of the most common literary devices, it can be found in almost any text, and The Bible is no exception. Some of the metaphors found in The Bible are alluded to and referenced in many other texts, so it pays to be familiar with them and understand what is being said. Here is a list of fifteen of the most famous metaphors in The Bible.
• Proverbs 13:14
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life.
In our first example, teaching is compared to a fountain, but not just any fountain. The fountain of life is a common metaphor that suggests a continuing source of sustenance and life.
• Isaiah 64:8
But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.
In this metaphor, God is compared to a potter who molds clay. God’s followers are the clay and are subject to his design and influence.
• Psalms 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Here is a commonly alluded to metaphor from one of the most famous passages in The Bible. God is compared to a shepherd, someone whose duty it is to look after and care for his sheep.
• John 6:35
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.’
In this metaphor, Jesus compares himself to bread. The bread of life is a symbolic idea that Jesus offers eternal fulfillment. Like bread sustains us in life, Jesus’s metaphor suggests that he can sustain his followers in a spiritual sense.
• John 8:12
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’
Here is another metaphor that Jesus used to talk about himself. He calls himself “the light of the world.” In The Bible, light refers to salvation, and darkness refers to sinfulness.
• Revelations 19:7
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.
This example contains three metaphors. The lamb is Jesus, the bride is the Church, or the followers of Christ, and the marriage is the union of the two in heaven.
• Isaiah 5:5
So now let me tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.
In this example, God is warning Israel, which he refers to as his “vineyard.” God says he will remove “its hedge” or protective surroundings and allow its destruction.
• Deuteronomy 32:4
He is the rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.
Metaphors about God and Jesus abound in The Bible. God is commonly referred to as a rock, as in this example.
• Psalm 18:2
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
As in the last example, God is compared to a rock. But this metaphor is expanded in this verse from Psalms. God is compared to a fortress, a shield, and a stronghold to illustrate his role as a protector.
• Revelations 21:6
And He said unto me, it is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
Here is another commonly quoted verse from The Bible. In it, God compares himself to the Greek alphabet. The first and last letter of the Greek alphabet is alpha and omega, respectively.
• Genesis 49:9
Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
This verse illustrates another commonly alluded to name of God. In this verse, Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, is called a “lion’s whelp,” or a lion’s cub. It is from this verse that the term of God as “the Lion of Judah” originates.
• John 14:6
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
In this verse, Jesus establishes himself as not only the pathway to God, but also as truth and life itself.
• John 15:5
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Here is another commonly quoted Bible verse with a famous metaphor. In this example, Jesus compares himself to a vine and calls his followers branches of the vine, in that they are extensions of himself. Also, Jesus states his followers will “bear much fruit,” meaning good things will come as a result of their faith.
• Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
In this example, followers of Christ are said to be “a new creation.” It is metaphorical, of course, because something already existing cannot be created.
• Matthew 5:13
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
Here is another famous metaphor for the followers of Christ. They are compared to salt, in that they have a purpose in the world. In biblical times, salt was very important as a preservative, flavoring, and even as currency. This metaphor says that followers of Christ have no purpose without Christ.
In each of these examples, figurative language and descriptions are used in order to make comparisons between different things easier to understand. Since each of these verses are commonly quoted and alluded to, the metaphors used are important to understand. So, not only are these metaphors integral in The Bible, but show up in many other texts.