Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to header Skip to footer


Discovering the substance behind symbols

From the September 1988 issue of The Christian Science Journal

How often we use symbols and similes, metaphors and analogies, in our effort to communicate specific meanings! All language is symbolic, employing sounds and markings as words, which are themselves symbols of meanings or ideas. Meaning, from the most straightforward to the most delicate nuance, is constantly being revised and extended as words are used in new associations or as fresh words are coined to name or describe new things or actions.

The Bible abounds in symbolic language. In order to grasp the intent of its inspired writers, Bible students sometimes find it necessary to delve deeply for the original meaning of a word or phrase. Of course a meaning is often crystal-clear, having withstood the ravages of time and translation to deliver a clear, crisp comparison which strikes a responsive chord in our mental chambers of imagery. The book of Isaiah conveys such meaning in the following simile-laden prophecy that some have interpreted as promise of the Messiah who is to come: "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Isa. 32:1, 2.

Perhaps the best-known extended metaphor in the Bible is the twenty-third Psalm. The devotion, intelligence, and strength expressed by the shepherd for his flock have comforted multitudes of modern men and women, who may know nothing of sheep-tending! The lives of individual Biblical characters have also come to represent the spiritual qualities they so clearly expressed—for example, the faithfulness of Abraham, the unselfishness of Ruth.

Sign up for unlimited access

You've accessed 1 piece of free Journal content


Subscription aid available

 Try free

No card required

JSH Collections

Hundreds of pamphlets, anthologies, and special issues published over many decades are available to you on JSH-Online. There's a wealth of content to discover.  Explore the Collections archive today.

Browse all collections

More In This Issue / September 1988


Explore Concord—see where it takes you.

Search the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures