Monday, February 20, 2012

Some Insights on Metaphorical Language from Dr. Clark

From a Reply to the Metaphorical Dr. Macky

[Peter Macky] seems to think – seems because it looks as if he is inconsistent – that the Bible is entirely metaphorical and that literal language has been imposed on it by later theologians. For example, in reporting my views he says, "The metaphor of the lamb is not what God was communicating. Instead it was . . . a surrogate for the real meaning, which Clark believes he can state literally and precisely. Thus a certain theological tradition is the truth . . . while the Bible's metaphors are only pointers to the truth" (pp. 241, 242). This gives me the impression that the literal statements of Biblical truth have come only in a later theological tradition. On the contrary, the metaphor of the lamb is explained literally by Paul in Romans and elsewhere. It is also based on the literal directions of the Levitical Law. And it could not be correctly understood without them.

Christ is like a lamb – in some respects, of course. They both have a head, two ears and two eyes. Christ remained speechless, as a lamb is dumb when being shorn. There are always dozens of similarities in any metaphor, simile or analogy. The figure of speech does not of itself indicate which similarity is intended. Without Romans and Leviticus we would have no basis for understanding what John the Baptist meant. And our base is not a later theological tradition but the Bible itself. . . .

Macky . . . asserts that the Bible is a "tasting of the reality of God." Does God taste like chocolate or salt? Tasting is a metaphor, but what is it a metaphor of? . . .

Macky at least seems to hold that the term "justice," as used in the doctrine of the atonement, is metaphorical also (p. 249), and he at least comes close to concluding that all words are metaphorical. He even criticizes me as inconsistently using the phrase "clear thinking." Perhaps I should have used the phrase "intelligible thinking" or "correct thinking." Are the words "intelligible," "correct" and "thinking" metaphorical? Indeed several language philosophers in the recent past have maintained that all words are metaphorical. This view is suicidal because if all words were metaphors, there could be no metaphors. The term "metaphorical" has a meaning only in relation to the term "literal." Neither is intelligible without the other – otherwise the dispute could not begin. Therefore if all of Macky’s words are metaphorical, no one can have the least idea of what he is talking about because the word "metaphorical" is metaphorical. [JETS 25/2 (June 1982) 201-203, italics mine]

From a Surrejoinder to Peter Macky

If a reply is often proper and if a rejoinder sometimes is, a surrejoinder is usually superfluous. This one seems to me an exception because Professor Macky’s rejoinder strikes me as a subterfuge.

Macky’s rejoinder discusses the value of metaphorical language and in particular C. S. Lewis’ own individual slant on the subject. Macky says, "Clark . . . clearly is not familiar with the particular theory of metaphor that Lewis presents." Now in the first place I am not interested in Lewis’ theory as such nor in any other author’s modification of the general position. My objections are directed against the common core of them all. Basically a metaphor states that X is like Y. But it never states what that likeness is, for if it did the metaphor would be superseded by literal language. Since there is always a number of likenesses between any two objects, the reader without additional information cannot logically determine what likeness is intended. Hence the value of metaphor is either aesthetic or it is a device to avoid making one's opinion public.

However, Macky’s rejoinder is a subterfuge because my reply’s main point had little to do with any theory of metaphor. Since some or even many readers of JETS may have seen few or even none of my publications, my main purpose was to warn them that Macky had seriously misrepresented my views. He assigned to me certain opinions that my writings explicitly and repeatedly contradict. I will with pleasure argue any day and with anyone concerning metaphors, or I will with pleasure compete with him in chess. But he must not say that I used the King's Gambit when I began with the English Opening. This is not a metaphor. It is a literal example. [JETS 25/2 (June 1982) 213, italics mine]

To read the full exchange:

The Role of Metaphor in Christian Thought and Experience as Understood by Gordon Clark and C. S. Lewis by Peter W. Macky: JETS 24/3 (September 1981) 239-250 

Reply to the Metaphorical Dr. Macky by Gordon H. Clark: JETS 25/2 (June 1982) 201-203 

The Theory of Essential Metaphor: A Rejoinder by Peter W. Macky: JETS 25/2 (June 1982) 205-211 

Surrejoinder to Peter Macky by Gordon H. Clark: JETS 25/2 (June 1982) 213

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