Linguistics article

I was reading the lastest ASA journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, and glanced up to see who wrote the article to see a familiar name and face! Congratulations Christy on an article well done! I’ll need to reread it a few times to grasp some of the concepts, but is quite interesting.


Why, thank you!It was inspired by all the conversations here where I have argued with people about how arguing about the meaning of the word ‘day’ in Genesis is irrelevant. (But this time, with citations. :wink: )

And now with this under my belt, hopefully all the cool ASA kids will let me sit at their lunch table at the next BioLogos conference. :sandwich: :nerd_face:


Congratulations. More justification of my high esteem for your skills and insight.

But who are those ASA kids and why won’t they let you sit with them? Surely they’re not all members of the American Society of Anesthesiologists?

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In this context, the ASA is the American Scientific Affiliation, which is a professional organization of scientists who are Christians. I’m sure at least a couple are anesthesiologists too.

That makes much more sense. The other is the first thing google showed me.

If anybody else wants to partake but doesn’t get the PSCF journal [Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith - the ASA publication], you can access Christy’s article online here.

[Sorry - I guess that link was just a 1st page teaser - you do need an ASA account to see the whole article.]

Not until you get a website. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Great piece! Finally, we can reference you every time someone brings up “yom” for the thousandth time.

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Enjoyed learning about “conceptual metaphors.” It really makes sense that God is speaking to us in Genesis 1 in a way that we can relate. The ideal of “creation is (God’s) work” would be interesting to explore. We often speak of the “works” of God, and talk of God “working” in our life," but to consider God “going to work” is probably a bit difficult to grasp as our view is sullied by the curse of sin, making work seem less noble, though we see work as something God values and encourages throughout scripture. We allow work to be an means to an end, and the end is often more associated with consumerism, power and advancement in worldly terms than laboring in the vineyard for the Lord.

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Me too! Sometimes I am well-aware that the things that are interesting to me are not all that interesting to other people, but I think with this one, there is some mass appeal. I wrote this ASA article because I got distracted while writing a different paper on conceptual metaphors for the Bible translation conference in Dallas in October. Once you start thinking about them, they are everywhere and a very useful tool for talking about figurative meaning. @Jay313 found a cool one in Genesis 2-3, something along the lines of MORAL AWARENESS is COMING OF AGE.

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I like how you put it! Of course, I didn’t realize that “conceptual metaphor” was even a thing until you shared an early version of your paper with me. Doh! I suppose now is as good a time as any to let people take a look at where I’m going with it. My long-rumored website is now live! This week is a “soft opening” for friends and family, since I’m still waiting on Apple Tunes to approve my podcast feed. Thanks for all your assistance and encouragement! Above and beyond as always, my friend.


My stepson just sent me a link to a Fb page called Writing About Writing that might be of interest while thinking about metaphors. There is a post there on malaphors, defined as a blending of idioms or cliches, that is a riot. Some favorites:

Common but still fun: “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it” and “It’s not rocket surgery.”

Simple but fun: “Not the sharpest egg in the drawer” and “Until the cows freeze over.”

And one which could be of use to this site’s moderators: “You’ve opened that can of worms, now lie in it.”


Love that one. I’m sure someone could write a nerdy linguistic paper on the mental processing of mixed metaphors using Eve Sweetser’s research on mental space and conceptual blending and the construction of non-compositional meaning.

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We could even turn it around to suggest “some worms are better left canned”.

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Does anyone besides us ol’ folk know about Tom Swifties? There is a good massive collection at Writing about Writing!

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Now that I’ve finally read your article too (thanks, @Christy), I’m starting to see conceptual metaphors everywhere! [or at least I think I am - I may still need practice distinguishing them from the more traditional image metaphors.] Just the other day in casual conversation, I mention something as being “the smoking gun” - which may itself be a conceptual metaphor? It would rely on the comparison between the thing so identified, and the whole “mystery-solving detective” genre where some piece of evidence clearly and unequivocally identifies a culprit.

The Bible seems full of these things too - and many of them we feel we already have a good handle on. The body of Christ with all its diverse members? The armor that we put on … breastplate of righteousness and so forth? I wonder if we understand those metaphors so well because we share them with those previous cultures; or (as seems more likely to me) did we inherit and import those metaphors because of our western immersion and history with scriptures?

One possible conceptual metaphor that I suspect we did not inherit so well is another one that occurred to me this morning as I was reading in Daniel 3. As Nebuchadnezzar is astonished to see four (instead of the expected three) walking around unharmed in the fiery furnace, he observes “and the fourth has the appearance of a god!” (NRSV). I also see that the translators footnoted that verse to admit that it could have been translated as “…has the appearance of a son of the gods.” Christy already mentioned seed and fertility and a conceptual metaphor for human reproduction that was abundantly used in those times. I think this may be another related one: that just as it was known that human seed begets humans, so it was also thought that the seed of a god would beget more gods. Hence the easy and obvious conclusions people made in that time that to claim to be a “Son of God” was exactly to be claiming nothing less than godhood. Some make much today over trinitarian distinctions between Son and Father. But the Jews described by John back in Jesus day had this conceptual metaphoric language firmly entrenched as they picked up stones to punish Jesus for claiming God as his Father. Today some get their undies in a twist (conceptual metaphor?) about the distinctions between"son" and “father” while the culture back then was busy hearing the equivalence implied in that same claim.

I have a new respect for the difficulties translators face when sorting through this stuff for other radically different cultures than ours (not to mention our own remove from the original home culture of the scriptures themselves.)

The Bible is full of metaphors of both kinds. Conceptual metaphors are not usually explicitly stated, which is what makes them difficult for translation.

That’s the passage I was writing my original paper on, before I got distracted by Genesis. The conceptual metaphor in the armor of God passage is that preparation is getting dressed. I was trying to show that when you treat all the references to things you put on or take up as image metaphors (salvation is a helmet, readiness to preach the gospel is shoes, the word of God is a sword, etc.) you end up with a skewed translation because the intent of the passage is not to describe individual aspects of spiritual preparation by comparing them to armor and weapons. The figurative language is there to exhort people to be completely prepared spiritually, not lacking any spiritual resource, just as a soldier gets completely dressed, not lacking any piece of equipment. In English we have lots of figures of speech related to the metaphor preparation is getting dressed (sleep with your boots on, have things all buttoned up, etc.) so we can understand a fairly literal rendering of the passage. But in other cultures where that underlying conceptual metaphor isn’t used (like the language group we work in), a direct translation of the passage won’t make sense, especially since there aren’t any abstract nouns like salvation. You end up with opaque sentences like “God saving people is a helmet. Put it on.”

So is my example of “descent = equivalence” (gods beget gods) an example of a conceptual metaphor? Or am I still confusing things? I guess that could be seen more as a direct assumption of theirs that may not even be a metaphor at all.

Another possible metaphor that may be doing us significant disservice today is our own comparison (conceptual metaphor?) of God’s methods and processes being equivalent to human engineering with its attention to efficiencies.

I don’t think so because conceptual metaphors usually link something abstract with something concrete and experiential. Anger is a hot liquid. Important is up/high. Future is forward. I think that passage has word that could be translated both ways because like you said the semantic range is bigger in Hebrew, and we just don’t know which one is the best in English. “Son of” had a much wider semantic range in the Bible than just implying biological descendence. Sons of Thunder, Son of Man, Son of Abraham. The semantic range of ‘son’ definitely does relate to how well “divine familial terms” can be translated in other languages, and there has been a lot of blood and tears spilled in my organization over how to translate “Son of God” in Muslim background contexts in languages where the available word for son definitely does imply sex and reproduction.

So many challenges. I had no idea.

Yes. For sure.

I listened to a guy give a paper a couple years ago on all the unhelpful metaphors we have for getting truth from Bible. Like decoding a secret message, or unpacking a box, or mining for gold. It is true that the way we understand things affects what we understand.

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