How I use the Bible as a teaching aid

It’s amazing how the Bible employs different writing techniques to make God’s Word alive to us – narrative, poetry, psalms, letters, prophecy…but the one technique which I really love is the use of figurative language. And this week, five of them caught my eye as I read the book of Jude, where Jude likens false teachers to “hidden reefs, waterless clouds, fruitless autumn trees, crashing waves, and wandering stars”. When I teach GP, one of the literary devices that I teach my students to observe and interpret is exactly this use of vivid imagery. And the beautiful thing about these metaphors in Jude is that all draw from the world of nature – in divergent realms, but all pointing to one unifying theme. Can you pick out what this theme is?

But firstly, what are metaphors? And this is how I draw from  the Bible at times to be an aid for my teaching. Metaphors are word pictures. Technically speaking, a metaphor is a form of figurative language in which a word denoting one subject or activity is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them. We use metaphors all the time in speaking. Metaphors are so woven into the English language that we usually use them without even realizing it. There! We just used a metaphor. “Woven,” used in reference to the activity of putting words together, is a metaphor which comes from the activity of weaving thread into cloth. Occasionally we consciously use a metaphor to more vividly convey a thought or point we want to make. At those times we carefully select the best word picture to convey our message. Such is the case of five metaphors in the book of Jude.

1. ‘Hidden Reefs’

The imagery of a hidden reef is quite graphic. Think of a sailboat clipping along in open waters where there is no indication of the danger of a hidden reef ahead. It looks like smooth sailing, but suddenly and without warning disaster strikes, with major damage and destruction.

2. “Waterless clouds”

This metaphor is very descriptive, especially if you live in the Middle East. After the dry season, the thirsty land craves the coming of the rains. How disappointing, then, when fast-moving clouds arrive without water. They give every impression of promise, but they produce no rain.

3. “Fruitless trees in autumn”

In the Middle East, if a fruit tree hasn’t produced fruit by autumn, it’s obvious that something is wrong with that tree. If a further examination shows that the tree has no root system, the evidence is that the tree is dead. In fact, it’s doubly dead–no fruit and no root.

4. “Crashing waves”

There is a good possibility that the waves Jude has in mind are those that crash against a rocky coast sending their spray up in all directions. Such violent confrontation is typical of the strident unbeliever who is constantly dashing against divinely ordained barriers. The result, then, would be a shameful exposure of the froth and spume of unbelief.

5. “Wandering stars”

In the ancient world, mariners and desert travelers used the stars for guidance. Navigation by stars is possible because certain stars, such as the North Star, remain fixed in the sky and can be depended on for guidance. Other stars and the planets do not remain stationary in the sky but “wander” as the earth makes its annual journey around the sun.


~ by irwin on January 23, 2012.

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