When we allow the Bible to use language in all its normal ways, many, if not all, the difficulties in translation are resolved. It’s the insistence on a “literal” hermeneutic that causes such problems and has brought about so many 11 lay it downdifferent translations. Many groups insist on taking everything in as literal sense as possible. This of course leads to God having the body of a man. Albeit a huge man! The mystery of the incarnation gives us God in the flesh in His Son, Jesus Christ, but God’s essential existence is incorporeal. If we must take everything literally we lose the power of Christ’s words. The “Armor of God” consisting of shield, helmet, boots, breast plate and sword actually become that accoutrements of a crusading army destroying everything in its past at the cost of dealing specifically with the spiritual nature of our warfare. Whereas the Bible is not a metaphor, as many liberal scholars will argue, but it definitely contains metaphor. Metaphor is essential for a human understanding of divine truths. Jesus spoke extended metaphors in the form of parables frequently. His purpose was to open the minds of his listeners to his truth or to hide the truth from the religious literalists of the day.

Literal interpretations of some passages destroy the intended meaning. How do you “gird up the loins of your mind?” (1 Peter 1:13). How can their literally be “an anchor for the soul?” (Hebrews 6:19). Jesus’ and the rest of the bible’s masterful use of this figure of speech make the hearer, as I. Howard Marshal says, “think for himself, often by means of some deliberate ambiguity. It gives us something as a model for something else without making explicit in exactly what way it is supposed to be a model. We could say of metaphor …Its mission is to break through the wall of conventional values that encloses us, to startle us into seeing the world through fresh eyes.” On the other side of Marshall’s observation is the reality that Jesus often spoke in parables in order to conceal truth from unbelieving ears.

Getting back to baptism as a metaphor, consider Jesus words in Luke 12:50. He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” It’s not hard to understand that this is an “immersion” into the sufferings of the crucifixion that Christ has in mind. In Mark 10:38, Jesus says to his disciples, “You cannot drink the cup I am drinking, can you, or be baptized with the baptism into which I am being baptized?” The cup represented Jesus’ appointed destiny. His drinking the cup represents His perfect submission to God’s will for His life. Our baptism, conveying the idea of our identification with Christ, represents our submission to God’s will for our lives. James and John exclaimed “we can!” Jesus acknowledged their claims and fore told that James would be the first of the twelve to be martyred and John would suffer extensive exile.