Double Language in Scripture

Double Language in Scripture

The Bible is full of language that sounds clear, but turns out to have another meaning.  It’s straightforward once you know what the true meaning or meanings are, and we can recognize that the disciples were confused by this at times, but so often we ourselves get confused too, but often we don’t realise that we are.

A great example of double language is in John’s gospel where Jesus tells his disciples “I have food you don’t know about” (John 4:32)  That comment sparked a conversation about his apparent hidden food and how he got it without them knowing.  Preachers often label this type of thing figurative or metaphorical language, and observe that Jesus often had special spiritual meanings behind his use of everyday language.  

Can I suggest to you that Jesus is not trying to use regular words to hide a special meaning, but instead trying to explain a deep and much more real thing, by using something we relate to.  

Imagine someone born blind, and not having any idea of what light was or what the colors were.  If you had the task of explaining it to them you would try to relate something to them they did understand.  So you would perhaps use the volume and types of sounds to explain brightness and the types of colours.  In reality sound and sight are quite different, but to the blind only knowing one of the things, the other is a “greater reality” which we try to convey to them.  We have to use something similar to point to something a bit different but greater and hard to understand.  

God in the Bible, and Jesus in person both used language like this from the very first chapters of the Bible to speak to us.  But rather than seeing it as an attempt to hide meaning, is it an attempt to explain something much greater using earthly analogies.  There are things going on in the mind and heart of God, but we are much to earthly to get a sense of them, and yet there isn’t any way of explaining them except in terms of things we understand.  For this reason the Jews of Christ’s day thought he was coming as a physical king to sit on a physical throne.  But Christ has a different type of kingdom in mind.  Today there are many people who are still waiting for Christ to come and sit on a physical throne, and waiting for a third physical temple to be built, and waiting for a new Jerusalem that they believe is physical and will come out of heaven.  So often we cling to the apparent meaning, and don’t see the thing which is more real.  

In Genesis 2:17, God said to Adam not to eat the fruit of a certain tree, saying “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  In the next chapter both Adam and Eve did eat from that tree, but both continued to live in the way we are accustomed to thinking of living.  So in what way had they died?

It turns out that there is a death worse than the death we are familiar with.  Or there is a death that is more real than the reality of death we know of.  In other words there are two types of death.  Scripture actually does talk about the first death and the second death.  Being thrown into the lake of fire is “the second death.”  (Revelation 20:6)  There are also two resurrections, or two lifes we might say.  The first resurrection is when we are born again and our spirit lives for the first time.  Prior to that we are “dead in our sins.”  The second resurrection is the one that happens on that grand final day when Christ returns.  The first death is the physical death of our bodies, but the second death is the permanent separation from God.  But in a sense many people are already dead with that second death, because they are not alive to God.  

So there is double language used of almost everything in the Bible.  We are told in John 6 to “eat my flesh,” which many have equated to physical things, believing that the communion host actually turns into Jesus body, rather than noting a greater reality at work.  Jesus said he was building another temple, but it is the joining of the lives of his people together… a building not made of hands, which is a supremely more significant thing than another middle-eastern building project.  

The problem with double language is that we think we know what it means, and we settle for the superficial meaning, and don’t find the greater reality of what God is doing.  God is trying to get our attention with big things.