Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hyperbole or Allegory

In the HCSB Study Bible’s notes on Matthew 5:29-30, Chuck Quarles writes the following:
“Jesus here uses hyperbole (intentional exaggeration for the sake of making a point) and allegory (in which the eye represents a lustful perspective and the hand represents an immoral deed) in order to convey a vital requirement of discipleship.”
I think it’s better to say that Jesus is using either hyperbole or allegory.

1. Quarles obviously wants to guard against the error of interpreting this passage in terms of literal self-mutilation, which is certainly a good thing to guard against. But an appeal to either hyperbole or allegory will do that job just fine. You don’t need both.

2. Furthermore, if Jesus is actually using both hyperbole and allegory, it would effectively and significantly undermine the point that he’s making. If we assume Jesus is speaking allegorically, then, as Quarles recognizes, the eye represents “a lustful perspective” and the hand “an immoral deed,” both of which should be cut out of the Christian’s life. But if Jesus is also speaking hyperbolically, then it means that he is rhetorically exaggerating when he makes this point – in which case, the Christian need not actually cut lust and immoral deeds out of his life.

So it’s one or the other, but not both.

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