Chapter 3 Review

Hon 395-40: Reading the Bible as Literature

Jeanie Crain




Title- Chapter 3: Image, Metaphor, Symbol, and Archetype: A way of Meaning

Author-Jeanie Crain

Place of publication- Cambridge, UK

Publisher- Polity Press

Date of publication- 2010

Number of pages- 43-64



The third chapter of the book Reading the Bible as Literature by Jeanie Crain includes information on how the Bible uses figurative language such as images, metaphors, symbols, and archetypes.  The chapter explains each of these types of figurative language and then gives examples from the Bible to help us better understand how the book uses each one of these. The chapter does a good job of explaining the roles of water, light and darkness, mountains, crucifixion and trees in the Bible. The audience for the book is anyone who is reading the Bible as Literature.



                The chapter begins by defining image, symbol, and archetype. According to the book, “an image is a concrete thing or action and requires the reader to experience literally and connotatively what the image evokes.” The reader must understand the image may not have the literal meaning it usually carries. Symbols and archetypes are both types of images. A symbol is an image that stands for something other than its original meaning. An archetype is a recurring image or pattern representing the universal elements of human experience.

                Light, water, darkness, and fire are master images found throughout the bible. The book says that master images “serve as links between the Jewish Bible and Christian Bible, between creation and new creation, between physical and spiritual reality, and between the real and ideal.” The first time these images are introduced it is in the literal sense in Genesis. These images are used figuratively in Revelation. In the beginning it says God created light and light is meant to represent good. He called it called day and he calls darkness night. God also separates heavens from the earth and land from water. He made these separations to prepare the Earth for how it would be someday.  This makes the images take on a universal meaning.

                Light symbolizes life, goodness, and truth and also God, the messiah, and church. Light is found in the Bible over 200 times. The Gospel of John uses light to speak figuratively of Jesus. Darkness, Light, and fire are used to represent God’s absence and presence. Revelation 21:23-24 says, "And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light..." Light also represents using right actions and behaviors. The Bible describes human reaction in life to light and darkness.

Water appears in the Bible 3 times as much as light does. It appears over 600 times. Water has three meanings: a cosmic force of life that can only be controlled by God, a source of life; and as a cleansing agent. Water can appear in the Bible as springs, wells, rain, floods, carrying of water, and ceremonial cleanings with water.  Water is used to show how humans are subject to eternal forces and are always at risk of an impending extinction. This is shown by God flooding the Earth and only Noah’s family and the animals surviving.  Baptism is an example of a spiritual cleaning. You are submerged underwater and your sins are washed away.

Many metaphors exist for relationships between humans and God. The first is “the king and the subject.”  Kings represent protection, justice, mercy, power, and authority. God can also represent these things. This metaphor shows how God rules over his people and how he is the ultimate leader. The next metaphor is that of the judge and litigant. God will be our final judge and decide where we will spend eternity. Therefore, this metaphor is easy to see, we will stand before God, just a criminal stands before a judge and he will decide our fate. The third metaphor is husband and wife. Marriage represents the ideal unity in a relationship with unconditional love. This is the same relationship every person should have with God. This is an easy metaphor for us because we all are either married or know people who are and we understand the relationship. The next metaphor is “the father and the child.” This metaphor is easy to understand because God created us in his image and also loves and cares for us as a father should. We all also have a father and understand their role in our lives. The last metaphor is “the master and the servant.” There are several characters in the Bible, such as Moses and David, that are known as servants to the Lord, but we are all servants to the Lord. He is our ultimate master and we should live our lives completely for him.

                Mountains and hills are used as an image throughout the Bible. Individuals have encounters with God on mountaintops. There are 2 human-divine encounters that take place in the Bible on Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai. The first is where God appears to Moses and gives him two tablets of the law, one addressing the relationship of human beings to God and one addressing the relationships of humans to other humans. These become the Ten Commandments. On Mount Sinai the Israelites experience God: the encounter contains fire, smoke, and an earthquake. The motif of the Mountain of God unites the New and Old testaments. The mountain’s first form is Mount Sinai and then known as Mount Zion. The have similarities and differences. They are both associated with God’s appearance and dwelling. The two mountains can present a theme of redemption. The importance of the mountains is to establish law and sacrifice. Christians believe that sacrifice is the way through which communion with God is established.

                The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is also very important in the Bible. The cross is an image that represents suffering, commitment, self-denial and the bridging of the gap between humanity and God. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was for all our sins so we could be forgiven for them. All of the sacrifices before Jesus Christ represent the original pattern or the archetype. Blood is also an image that deals with crucifixion. It is viewed as a source of life. Leviticus says the life of the flesh is in the blood.

                The Bible almost always has meaning beyond just that of the literal.  Tress is used a lot for this purpose. Trees are already known for there beauty, but they also have an important significance. Trees symbolize strength, power, glory, wealth, and honor. The tree of life can be found in Genesis and Revelation, but they have different meanings. In Genesis, the tree of life represents life and immortality. Genesis 2:9says,  “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Adam was able to eat of the tree and God had created him to be immortal as long as he didn’t eat of the tree of knowledge. Adam and Eve ended up eating off this tree and then sin entered the world and man was no longer immortal. After this event, the tree of life is taken as an image of loss and sadness. The tree of life has a different meaning in Revelation. Revelation 22:2 states, "On either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manners of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." Revelation also says a new tree will be planted "in the midst of the paradise of God in the new earth which God will create some day.” Revelation uses the tree of life to connect the creation of the world to the re-created world that is to come later.



                I think this chapter did a very good job of describing how images, symbols, and archetypes are used in the Bible. Each term was described well and examples were given to help us better understand why they are used and how they affect the reading of the Bible.  We can look for these important images and archetypes in the Bible and see the roles they play.

Just like chapter 2, this chapter suggests new possibilities of understanding things in the Bible that we never had before.  I hadn’t even thought about how light and water were such important images in the Bible and that they have completely different meanings than just what they are. I had never really considered just how important the meaning of crucifixion is and how the trees of life vary so much in Genesis and Revelation.

                Most of the answers to the questions in the back of the chapter are found within the text and the exercises help us to extend what we have learned in the chapter. I found it quite helpful to do outside research to help answer the questions and also provide examples of different images and archetypes. This chapter had a lot of information and I did find myself getting confused, having to reread, and find more information, but in the end it all makes sense. I found question 19 “What is the symbolic significance of the crucifixion?” and also some of the exercises to be difficult to an extent. They required understanding and also outside research. Research is a good thing though because we can learn more and more from it.



In conclusion, Chapter 3 “Image, Metaphor, Symbol, and Archetype: A way of Meaning” gave a lot of helpful information on many images, symbols, and archetypes used in the Bible. By recognizing these, we can get a better understanding of what we are reading, not just literally but also figuratively.