Monday, July 16, 2012

Pouring Cats & Dogs - Pet Idioms


Idiom = Figure of Speech = Colloquialism

Or, as Merriam tells us, an idiom is:  
  • the language peculiar to a people or to a district - their dialect
  • an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself
  • a style or form of artistic expression that is characteristic of an individual, a period or movement
For example, here are just a couple of idioms we use in our common, everyday expressions: 

A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush:
Having something that is certain is much better than taking a risk for more, because chances are you might lose everything.


Elvis has left the building:
The show has come to an end. It's all over.
(1)


So it is that I am frequently baffled by those among us who would take hostage the idioms of scripture to make them say something they don't.  Worse ... to make of them a doctrine.  I'm never quite certain if it's the result of bad theology, immature application, taking scripture out of context, ignorance, wishful/magical thinking, or arrogance - or a mixture of these. 

Case in point: 

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” ( ~ Matthew 17:20)

How many of us would come upon Mt. Rainier or Mt. Pinatubo and demand that it move from one place to another - - even in the face of great need (i.e., it's about to erupt & many people/homes destroyed in the process)?  Yet we are clearly & literally told in scripture that such a thing is possible with the right type & measure (a mustard seed's worth) of faith ... 

UNLESS, that is, the saying is actually an idiom. 

Contextually, the mountain must refer to the demon that was afflicting the man’s son. Jesus tells His disciples that if their faith was stronger, they could have commanded the demon to leave the boy, and it would be so. This was clearly the case in Matthew 10 when Jesus sent them out to cure diseases, cast out demons and spread the gospel. Therefore, it is clear from the context that Jesus does not intend to assert that mustard seed sized faith can literally move mountains. Rather, the expression Jesus uses was a common colloquialism (idiom) of that day; to a Jew of Jesus’ day, a mountain is a metaphor signifying a seemingly impossible task. (3)

Here's another ...  

"I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge.  Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (~John 8:49-51)

Can/does Jesus possibly mean that righteous believers will not die in the here-and-now? Or is it the spiritual, eternal context in which He gives us so great & precious a promise? 

Then there's that darned ole camel"...it is easier for an camel to go through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."  ~ Mark 19:22

After all, it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of needle, and that was precisely Jesus’ point. It is impossible for one who trusts in riches to enter the kingdom. It takes a miracle for a rich person to get saved, which is quite the point of what follows: "All things are possible with God." (4)

How many times have we seen that scripture taken hostage to malign prosperity?  (Disclaimer:  I do not mean to imply the opposite, either.  Being poor as opposed to, or better than being prosperous is not the point.  We all know wealthy people who accomplish much for God's kingdom.  We also know plenty of people who have little yet manage to accomplish much for God's kingdom in an altogether different manner from those of means.)

There  is a wide array of scriptural sayings that fall into the idiomatic bucket.  Many of them, like parables, simile or hyperbole are meant to pack a powerful "aha!" for those that grasp the deeper sense behind, or beneath the saying. 

Moreover, I find myself puzzling over those among us who insist upon the use of shifting rules of interpretation - ascribing a literal to this and an idiomatic to that depending on a particular slant, or "pet".  They apply different rules to identical concepts.  Worse are those that insist everything is literal, to be interpreted just as it's stated - ala mountains & camels. 

I confess I'm guilty.  I've done the very same thing myself - - though, hopefully not intentionally. Usually it's because I've overlooked or not fully understood context or linguisitics.  I'd like to think I do it less as I grow, and as I dig much deeper into the meaning of a text before appropriating its meaning. 

It is here that I note a word of caution:  It was, and is Satan's ploy to challenge everything associated with God's word.  "Did He really say _______" harks back to the garden; and can be expected even in 2012 as we ponder this or that verse.  That's not at all my purpose here.  God's word is certain & true.  He says what He means; and He means what He says.  But that's not to say that He doesn't use idioms or parables to drive His points home. 

This I know:  I could have saved myself a lot of grief and/or confusion had I understood the idiomatic of scripture.  I could have spared others the same had I not asked they build a cage for the pets I chose to hoard.

Gotta dash ...  Cuz right now I need to set out some food & a litter box for the dogs & cats that are raining down; then I need to catch Elvis before he actually leaves the building.



SOURCES: 
Biblos (4)
Biblical Studies (5)

7 comments:

Denise said...

You crack me up, lol

Debbie said...

Oh my goodness was this ever good. And soo true. I will confess that I did not know that these references were actually called idimatics, but I do now, haha. But it is soo sad how so many do seem to miss the points that Jesus was trying to make by not looking at the deeper meaning, or by taking it out of context. Did I mention that this was really good? Because it was really good! Hope you had a great day...

Just a little something from Judy said...

Believe me, I have read this very slowly, processing as I read and re-read, and I conclude the bottom line to be(in my simple layman terms:), that the best way to treat each other is with grace heaped upon grace. Standing on the Truth, and yet serving each other with much grace. Did I get it my friend? What a thinker and a writer you are!

manthano said...

It seems that the rules of interpretation today
are quite simple.
"Twist it to mean what you want."

This works real well. That is, until we stand
before the judge of all the earth.

Thanks for the post.

Debbie Petras said...

Good for you Kathleen! Well said and written. Scripture can easily be taken out of context and used to suit what one believes. You made some excellent points. I can always count on you to be so intelligent and share your knowledge with us. I love that about you.

Blessings and love,
Debbie

Cheryl Barker said...

Excellent thoughts and insight, Kathleen, and great examples from scripture. Am glad you included the warning about Satan and his "Did He really say" ploy. Definitely need to watch out for our enemy. Also, love the way you ended your post! :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

The "raining cats and dogs" caught my attention. It was a favorite saying of my grandmother. She also referred heavy rain as "teeming."

Regarding Scripture, I've seen people take an analogy and expand it WAY beyond its context. The analogy becomes so big that the truth it illustrates is lost.