From Literal to Literary: The Essential Reference Book for Biblical Metaphors Second Edition

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This book is particularly useful to pastors who minister to liberal, skeptical, or academic communities. Pastors can use From Literal to Literary to look up words from the passages from which they plan to preach and receive insightful and intriguing understandings of the text.

TCPC Founder, James Rowe Adams’s most recent book. The newly updated second edition of this professional reference tool examines over 165 biblical metaphors – 15 of which are new – and includes an index to Hebrew and Greek words, an index of Bible citations, and a pronunciation guide for transliterated Hebrew and Greek words. Will be useful for sermon preparation and Christian education, especially adult Bible study groups.

Words are tools to be examined for their provenance and honed to meet expression’s present needs; if meaning-mining loses its attraction, then what’s a metaphor?

– William Safire

Over 150 metaphors examined

Index to Hebrew and Greek words

Index of Bible citations

Pronunciation guide for transliterated Hebrew and Greek words

“An exceptionally fine book… a very relevant resource for recovering the rich resonances of biblical and Christian language.” ~Marcus Borg, author of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

“Those who try to defend the claim that the Bible is the literal Word of God will be undone…” ~John Shelby, author of Reclaiming the Bible for the Non-Religious World 

“The further we are from a word’s literal meaning , the more abstract it becomes in our conscience. Hence the title of James R. Adams’s book. Its main idea is that biblical language should be understood primarily as the metaphor. The author traces the origin of 164 words, from DESPAIR to SALVATION and from CHRIST to SATAN (even METAPHOR is there), shows how multiple translations of the Old and the New Testament from Hebrew and Greek color our attitude toward some of the most basic concepts, and does it in a lively, readable way.” ~Anatoly Liberman, Professor of Germanic Philosophy, University of Minnesota, Author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them- Etymology for Everyone

“This book makes clear how extensively connotations picked up later have shaped our understanding of the original Bible texts and brings us closer to that original meaning. The organization and form of presentation make it readily available for sermon preparation and Bible study, and if it is widely used, it can contribute greatly to a more intelligent and informed Christianity.” ~ John B. Cobb, Jr., Professor Emeritus?Claremont School of Theology

“I found the research and conclusions interesting, a very helpful bridge between the (post-) modern and the ancient worlds. I learned a lot of new, interesting, and surprising things about biblical terms that I thought I had studied a hundred times before. ” ~Lawrence M. Wills, Professor of Biblical Studies, Episcopal Divinity School of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Author of Ancient Jewish Novels, An Anthology

“From Literal to Literary deepens my sermon research in a matter of minutes. It is semesters worth of Greek and Hebrew condensed into fewer than 400 pages. It should be on every minister’s desk and in the library of anyone who wants to explore deeply the Bible and the Christian faith.” ~Jonathan Wortmann, Pastor Pilgrim Congregational Church, Southborough, Massachusetts

Review & Commentary

One thought on “From Literal to Literary: The Essential Reference Book for Biblical Metaphors Second Edition

  1. Review

    Confronting the resurgence of Biblical literalism, this unique and timely book should be in the hands, on the desk, and in the library of any anyone serious about understanding and communicating the depth and breadth of the Christian message in the contemporary world. The author is President of The Center for Progressive Christianity, Cambridge, MA which “provides guiding ideas, networking opportunities and resources for progressive churches, organizations and individuals with connections to Christianity.”

    The reason Adams wrote his book is stated in the introduction. He writes, “In my opinion, Christians who can’t cope with metaphors have done their best, perhaps unintentionally, to spoil the faith for the rest of us. Part of progressive Christianity’s task is to reclaim the classic metaphors for what they are: figures of speech that inspired beautiful narratives. To name a few: Son of God, Resurrection of the Dead, Body of Christ, and Kingdom of Heaven.” To understand that the Bible is metaphorical means that it contains words which are used both in a non-literal way and in a more than literal way.

    The book references an exploration of over one hundred and fifty metaphors from Abba to yeast. The root meaning and social context of each word is explained. Then the reader is given a list of some of the verses from Scriptures using the word. Finally, the author offers his interpretation of the original use of the metaphor and its relevance today. An abbreviated sample, using the metaphor Son of God, will illustrate this structure. (Pages 242-43)

    “In using the metaphor Son of God for Jesus, his followers were being as subversive as they were in calling him Son of David or Son of Man. The great conquerors who became emperors, such as Alexander the Great and Augustus Caesar, called themselves sons of God in order to encourage loyalty among their subjects. They encouraged stories of their virgin births in order to back up their claims. Anybody calling Jesus huios tou theou in Greek, would have been putting Jesus on a par with the Roman emperor. Ever whispering such a title for Jesus was a subversive move, but the term appears in all four gospels and in many of the epistles.”

    The five verses, using the metaphor Son of God, from the four gospels and one epistle are given. Also a verse from the book of Genesis is given to show it is “not without precedent in the Hebrew Scriptures.”

    The author points out that of the three “Son of” metaphors (son of Adam, David, and God) only Son of God has ever been taken literally.” The consequence is that “by the fourth century, many Christians were attempting to explain how God was in reality the father of Jesus in a way that was different from God’s being the father of everyone.” He writes, “Trying to come up with a logical explanation of how Jesus could have been both a human being and God caused great controversy among the church leaders, ultimately leading to a major split in the church.”

    Writing of the contemporary relevance of the use of the metaphor, Adams states that the church “is similarly divided today over the question: Is calling Jesus the Son of God stating a presumed fact or employing a useful metaphor? For those in the first camp, being a Christian is a matter of believing. For those in the second, being a follower of Jesus is more a matter of experience. . . Using the metaphor Son of God helps them express the depth of their experience, which they cannot describe adequately using ordinary language in ordinary ways.”

    Indexes to the Hebrew and Greek words and to Bible Citations used are provided. Now that the book is available I cannot imagine being without it.

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