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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
This Is (10/31/2005)
Bill Steidtmann

If I show you a map of Minnesota and say "This is Minnesota", I think everyone would understand that what I mean is "This represents Minnesota". It is not literally Minnesota, nor am I suggesting that Minnesota is somehow metaphysically enveloped within the map beyond your senses. The truth is, Minnesota is not a piece of paper with pictures drawn on it. It is real dirt, trees, people, and most importantly, really big mosquitoes. In the Bible we are often met with the literary construct where it is said that one thing is another. Entire denominations have formed over the debate as to whether such phrases are meant literally or metaphorically. Here is a classic verse from the Bible, the literalness of which has been debated for centuries:

Matt 26:26b (KJV) "...this is my body."

What is not apparent to the English reader is that Jesus put grammatical clues into the text to resolve the problem. In Greek, in the case of a metaphor, the verb "is" must be present, which is the case here in Matt 26:26, and this at least hints that a metaphor is being employed, since the majority of cases that actually are literal will omit the word "is" as a form of ellipsis. But there is even more here than meets the English eye to let us know conclusively that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. There is a peculiar characteristic in Greek that when a pronoun replaces a noun it normally takes the gender of the noun it is replacing, however, in a phrase such as the one before us, the pronoun can take the gender of the other noun instead, thereby signaling that a metaphoric relationship is intended (E. W. Bullinger - "Figures of Speech Used in the Bible", pg 737-743, 17th ed.). So we have "bread" (artos) being replaced by the demonstrative pronoun "this" (touto) which would normally take the masculine gender of "bread" (artos), but instead took the neuter gender of "body" (soma). It is therefore, a metaphor. So, does the bread turn into Jesus? Catholicism says: Yes. Lutheranism says: Yes-No. Calvinism says: No. I'll leave that up to you. But now I want to reverse the question: Does Jesus' body ever turn into bread? Hopefully you said: No. Christendom may argue until the sacred cows come home about the bread turning into Jesus' body, but no one would suggest the opposite case, that Jesus' body turns into bread. Yet that is exactly the logic that eternal hell advocates use with this verse:

Rev 20:14 (KJV) "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."

Here we have the same problem before us. Once again the verb "is" is present (in the Greek), suggesting that the phrase is probably not literal. And like Matt 26:26 "this" (outos) took it's gender not from the feminine "lake" (limne), but from the masculine noun "death" (thanatos), signaling that this statement is a metaphor. The lake of fire represents the second death. The death represented is all very real, however we can no more say that the people who die this death will meet up with a literal lake of fire, than we can say that Mary looked up at the Cross and saw a loaf of bread, or that Minnesota's tourists enjoy visiting a piece of paper. The second death does not "turn into" a lake of fire. Traditional Christian theology takes the statement "This [lake] is the second death" and reverses it into "the second death is this [lake]", and then, not content to merely jumble up the sense, it goes one step further and changes "second death" into the opposite "second life", by effectively proclaiming "this second life is a lake of fire". That would be like Jesus reversing his statement in Matt 26:26, and then making Himself the opposite of what He actually is, like this: My non-messianic body is a piece of bread. Now there's some wild and woolly nonsense. I trust then that the next time someone tells you that hell is a literal lake of fire you'll consider carefully how one comes to that conclusion. 

 

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