Saturday, July 02, 2005

Metaphors and Revelation

Metaphors and Revelation

Humans evidently cannot name God unless God first reveals himself to finite beings.[1] The Christian transcendent object of reverence discloses himself and his onomata or prosreseis in creation, Scripture and Heilsgeschichte. Justin Martyr (Apology 2.6) appears to insist that humans derive the names, which they employ to address God, via a posteriori reasoning—by making inferences from the divine effects to the primum movens. In essence, Justin maintains that rational creaturely essences on earth evidently assign a specific functional designation to God based on his general or special revelation to humanity.[2] Consequently, the Martyr would undoubtedly agree with Herman Bavinck who considers divine names neither “arbitrary” nor “mere inventions” of human minds. In fact, Apology 2.6 confirms that Justin believes the mortal naming of God is grounded in divine revelation.[3] But if humans affix designations to God based on revelation, could theological speech (la parole) or language (la langue) be as vulnerable and historically conditioned as Donald Bloesch or Thomas A. Marsh claim? Granted, the divine one mediates his supernatural revelation through finite noetic structures, which by nature are fallible and limited (Rocca). The Christian tradition nonetheless affirms that God the Father unveils himself or the divine name in the act of revelation.[4] Hence, while theological metaphors may not narrate the entire divine story—they may even suppress certain aspects of God’s nature quoad se at times—in order to qualify as revelation, the metaphors that Christians use to describe God must in some sense be reality depicting.[5]

Gerald O’Collins and Daniel Kendall, contra Bloesch, insist that theological metaphors “refer to and describe reality.”[6] Concurring with Janet Soskice, they argue that metasememes (=metaphors) speak about one thing in terms that appear suggestive of another thing.[7] For instance, God evidently does not instantiate the literal mind-independent properties of a rock, but the ancient prophets speak in ways that imply there are various similarities between God and a rock. Likewise, God is called “a sun and shield” in Psalms 84:11. Again, the deity apparently does not exemplify the literal predicates that structurally constitute the sun or a shield. In these instances, the Bible writers are presumably employing tropes to speak about one animate entity (God) in terms of created inanimate entities (rock, sun and shield). Metaphor thus allows those who composed Scripture to describe the supreme reality adequately, though indirectly. Far from being inadequate or vulnerable, then, theological metaphors seem to accomplish what “proper terminology” (De Oratore 3.152-155) cannot achieve. They convey truths that non-tropic expressions attributing literal properties to a particular subject cannot communicate.

[1] Cooper, Our Father in Heaven, 139.

[2] See Bloesch, The Battle for the Trinity, 25. He notes that we do not name God; God names himself “by showing us who he is.” See Exod 3:14. Cooper adds that “rightly naming God is an activity in which humans truly recognize who God has identified himself to be in the various modes of special and general revelation” (160). Assigning the deity a nomen or nomina means that we “acknowledge” and “discover” the names God has given Himself in revelation (ibid). Justin’s thoughts do not seem to be at odd with these observations.

[3] Cooper, Our Father in Heaven, 145.

[4] Magnesians 8.2; Dialogue with Trypho 62.4; Tatian’s Exhortation to the Greeks 4; De Anima 18.

[5] See John Sanders.

[6] The Bible for Theology, 83.

[7] Bible for Theology, 83.

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