Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Dispensationalists: Hyperbole and Metaphor are now legitimate Figures of Speech

Posted by NT Wrong on October 29, 2008

'Did you hear the joke about the Mid-Trib Pre-Millennialist, the Pre-Trib Post-Millennialist, and the Amillenialist?' Rob Lightner asks Chuck Ryrie.

'Did you hear the joke about the Mid-Trib Pre-Millennialist, the Pre-Trib Post-Millennialist, and the Amillenialist?' Rob Lightner asks Chuck Ryrie.

For those of you who were unable to attend, you will be relieved to know that the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, which met last month in Clarks Summit, PA, declared each of hyperbole and metaphor as “a legitimate figure of speech”. The declaration was gratefully received internationally by anxiously awaiting linguists, who could breathe a collective sigh of relief that the dark shadow of possible illigitimacy, which for so long had hung over these language forms, has now been lifted.

“I’m so happy, I could leap over Noam Chomsky in a single bound,” exclaimed Semiotician Umberto Eco. “Well, not literally,” he added sheepishly.

Article 1
“We affirm that hyperbole is a legitimate figure of speech that uses exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis or impact.” …

Article 3
“We affirm that an extended metaphor is a legitimate figure of speech (used in multiple genres) when it can be determined contextually that the author intended it to be understood as such.”
Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics

The Council’s Statement also makes it clear that, just because they’re recognizing the existence of metaphor and hyperbole, this is no excuse to go all crazy and interpret everything in the Bible as though it has no real reference — like those licentious liberals do. I’m not quite sure who they mean by such liberals, and I guess they have some nineteenth-century ghosts in mind. For as everyone knows, liberals these days are even more scriptural than the conservatives.

… I’d comment further, but the statement reads as badly as a Tim LaHaye novel – and that’s no exaggeration.

8 Responses to “Dispensationalists: Hyperbole and Metaphor are now legitimate Figures of Speech”

  1. Ken Brown said

    I was sure you were joking. Wow…

  2. ntwrong said

    The Declaration is worded really badly, and who knows what they really intended to say, but that’s what it does say.

  3. As if any further proof was needed that “Classical” and “Revised” Dispensationalists (proud fundamentalists all, don’t you know!) live in a parallel universe…

  4. Bryan said

    Does that mean that Dispensationalists will finally admit that Amillers like myself believe the bible, as opposed to just allegorizing everything?

    No… I didn’t think so. 😦

  5. I assume this post is something of a spoof. I recall being taught explicitly (40 years ago) in my hermeneutics class at a dispensational Bible school that recognition of metaphors and other figures of speech very much needed to be part of our interpretational process. All of my work as a linguist, of course, screams at me that much of language is metaphorical. We even live by metaphors, as George Lakoff has so properly written.

  6. ntwrong said

    The joke in this post is on the wording of the Declaration itself, which (read literally!) in fact says that these figures of speech are ‘legitimate’. What exactly can that mean? Legitimate by whose standards? When? It’s awful wording, quite meaningless. The definition of extended metaphor is a nonsense, involving the banal statement that two different things don’t have ‘identity’.

    Have a look to see what I mean. Maybe you could redraft it for them, Wayne.

  7. I hope I haven’t worn out my welcome among all stripes of conservatives and liberals with my editorial draftiness. Some drafts are like a bad smell that keeps hanging around, at least until some fresh air clears things out.

    Your point about legitimate by whose standards is well taken. Their point, I think, is that figures of speech are language forms which must be taken into account during the hermeneutical process. No interpretation, no matter how literal or allegorical, can have any legitimate claim to meaningfulness unless it recognizes that figures of speech, metaphors, hyperbole, etc., are a real part of language. Even Biblical literalists recognize this, at least many of them do.

  8. ntwrong said

    Yes, Wayne – I agree that biblical literalists have always recognized tropes. In fact, as James Barr writes in ‘On Fundamentalism’ (pp. 40ff), fundamentalist interpretation switches between metaphorical and literal interpretation in order to ‘save’ the inerrancy of the text.

    And you’re always welcome to comment here.

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