Monday, August 31, 2015

Metaphoric Language for the Divine (the Son's Birth and Kingly Rule)

I want to avoid undue speculation here, but it's possible that events which Scripture reports transpiring in the spirit realm are usually metaphorically tinged. I desire to avoid the position, however, that says one can never speak literally about God. Nevertheless, when Jehovah "speaks" to His spirit sons while convening the heavenly council, which is reported in 1 Kings 22:19-23, the description probably should not be taken literally. In other words, God cannot have a voice in the same way that humans have voices since "He" is not human (Num. 23:19), lacks a larynyx (etc.) and there is evidently no way for sound waves to travel in the spirit realm because it is more than likely devoid of matter or atmospheric conditions which makes vocal sounds possible. John Sanders also seems to make an excellent point when he notes:

"When God is said to be a husband, father and friend, these metaphors depend on the reality of God's being a personal agent" (The God Who Risks, page 26).

The point I want to extract from Sander's comment is that when the Bible speaks about God being a husband, father or friend, it is employing metaphorical language. God doesn't literally have a wife and He is not a friend to me in the same way that my human friends are. The same principle applies to my relationship with Jehovah as Father or when it comes to His relationship with Jerusalem above (Gal. 4:26)--his figurative wife.

Having said the foregoing, however, I want to make it clear that I think it is still possible to speak literally (i.e., non-metaphorically) about certain spiritual realities. A medieval thinker named Duns Scotus set forth the possibility that we can speak univocally about God and creatures. The late William Alston did work in our time on this same question.

One example of metaphorical uses in Scripture might be Col. 1:15. PRWTOTOKOS is possibly a metaphor that is not to be construed literally: (1) For according to Scripture, Christ was not really born, but he was created since John calls him, the ARXH THS KTISEWS (Rev. 3:14). The term "born" (and its derivatives or cognates) is used metaphorically in the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the divine act of bringing forth a contingent entity. Ps. 90:2 refers to the "birth" of mountains actually created by God. Isa. 66:7-8 depicts Zion giving birth to sons and a land in one day. But the context shows that God is the one who causes Zion to bring forth sons in a figurative sense. He too produces the land spoken of in this verse in that He is responsible for the repatriation of Judah and causes her to teem. By returning Judah to her homeland, God "creates" a new heaven and a new earth (Isa. 65:17ff). However, the prophet also employs birth language to delineate this event.

BDB Hebrew and English Lexicon likewise shows that God figuratively becomes a Father to the Son in that He installs His anointed one upon Zion, His holy mountain (Ps. 2:7). Even in its Messianic sense, the term "Son" in the second psalm only has reference to the king's function; it does not convey the thought of a divine generatio but rather "an investiture with royal dignity." Artur Weiser points out that the OT rejects the notion of God literally procreating a kingly human son (Ps. 89:26). The psalmist, he observes, excludes the view of God physically generating the Israelite king by employing the word "today" and the familiar adoption formula "you are my son" in connection with the generative language of Ps. 2:7. The King consequently becomes God's Son through the process of enthronement. He is thus YHWH's vice-regent and figurative royal offspring; the language in the second psalm turns out to be metaphorical.


Sean Killackey said...

Hi Edgar,
On a similar subject: In traditional Trinitarian thought is Jesus begotten
when he is born of Mary, raised from the dead, or in his divine nature (and would this be eternal generation?). I have seen most often the first two, but I am getting the feeling that such is not the case. Augustine says that Jesus coming in the flesh is not his being begotten, but his being sent, and that his being begotten is before all creation - is this still the accepted interpretation?

And what is your view on the traditional interpretation of "begotten?"

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Sean,

There are different Trinitarian interpretations of the begettal passages contained in scripture, but Nicaea declared and the post-Nicenes generally affirmed that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father from the ages of the ages (i.e., timelessly or eternally). The Counsil of 325 Ce stated that the Son is begotten, not created. Augustine speaks of the eternal generation as something that occurs to the preincarnate Christ, as you say, before all creation. But see Millard Erickson for an opposing viewpoint. I have a blog entry on him.

I guess my view of the begotten language is that it is metaphorical. I cannot make sense (logically) of the eternal generation doctrine.