A Sea of Symbolism

In Scripture, the sea often symbolizes primeval chaos. This doesn’t mean God was writing a book and he needed a good analogy, so he looked around and picked out the sea. It means he created the sea as stormy and chaotic so that when Jesus walks on the water it creates a deeply symbolic historical record of Christ miraculously treading down chaos and evil, ruling over every aspect of his creation.

Many in contemporary biblical scholarship miss this point. Conservatives defend a mere historical narrative and liberals propound a mere literary symbolism. Neither gives God the proper glory as the Author of Scripture and history, who fills the pages of both with overflowing significance. The problem with allegorical interpretations of Scripture is not that they transgress the grammatico-historical method of exegesis – it is that allegories are often too literal to apprehend the semiotics inspired by an infinitely wise, meticulously sovereign God.

Like Peter walking on the water, our hermeneutics will drown in this sea of historical symbolism if we take our eyes off of Christ – focusing on mere history or mere symbol – but if he takes hold of our hermeneutics, as he did Peter’s hand, then we will worship while reading every page saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matt 14:33)

Ben Ben (8 Posts)

Ben is a Christian son, brother, husband, father, friend, philosopher, and theologian. He has a B.S. in Outdoor Education and Intercultural Studies with a minor in Swahili, a professional background in tactical and wilderness emergency medicine, and is in his last semester of seminary. Ben's research interests broadly include discourse analysis of Scripture, canonical intertextuality, analytic theology, and the history of biblical interpretation.

5 Comments A Sea of Symbolism

  1. Brett VadenBrett Vaden

    Ben, thanks for this post on hermeneutics. (Can we have more?!) I think it was Barth who said we must read Christ on every page of Scripture. I like your way of saying it: “…reading every page saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Glorious thought. And, though I’m not sure I agree with Barth (nor that I understand him) on his thinking about Scripture, he hits on a good point–that it is possible to read Scripture wrongly (as a liberal or conservative) and that we must have Christ revealed to us in order to have God’s Word revealed to us.
    More. Give us more, Ben!

  2. Brett VadenBrett Vaden

    Ben, just to be clear. I didn’t mean I want you to write more in each post. I just want more posts on hermeneutics. Whatever you bring is welcome, of course. ; )

  3. BenBen

    Mike, I have to admit that I wrote this during a class lecture (shame shame, I know) and my iPhone doesn’t want to cooperate with the upload images area for some reason. Maybe when I get home from defending ‘Merica this weekend I can get it to work on my computer.

  4. BenBen

    Brett, I took your comment the way you intended it, but thanks for the clarification. I’m not very familiar with Barth as a primary source, mostly with other’s summaries, so I don’t know if I’m qualified to comment on his view. I’m mainly drawing from Goldsworthy, Pennington, Leithart, and my imagination on this one. 🙂


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