The Art of The Dangling Conversation - Part 2

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Nearly a half century ago, Simon and Garfunkel released their now classic hit, The Dangling Conversation. Paul Simon's poignant lyrics painted the sorrowful picture of a love with nothing left to give. We examined those lyrics in Part 1 as a means to determine figurative speech from literal meaning here in Part 2. So get ready!

Figurative vs. Literal

Obviously, literal speech is not the same as figurative speech. The best way to tell the difference is to examine the context. Take for example, Simon's line "Like a poem poorly written; We are verses out of rhythm; Couplets out of rhyme; In syncopated time." He is not saying the couple have become a literal poem, but uses the metaphor to make a powerful comparison.

In the opening verse, he uses the simile, "And we sit and drink our coffee; Couched in our indifference; Like shells upon the shore . . . ." He is not suggesting that the two partners have turned themselves into actual shells stranded on a beach. He merely is making a comparison, and it is obvious.

In the last verse of the song, Simon penned these words - "Yes, we speak of thing that matter; With words that must be said; Can analysis be worthwhile?”; β€œIs the theater really dead?” Taking the context of the piece into consideration we can establish that this was probably meant to be a real conversation to be taken literally.


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So What's the Point?

The point is we must be careful to distinguish the figurative from the literal, or we most likely will end up with an errant interpretation. This is so important when it comes to interpreting the Bible. We must go beyond an actual Bible verse to the context surrounding it to get the proper meaning. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible can be understood easily with the help of the Holy Spirit, but it must be taken as a whole, not pulling out a verse here and adding one there.

What is Hermeneutics?

Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. Although it may apply to other works, it is most commonly applied to the Bible. To simplify things there are many different slants on Bible interpretation, but basically, we interpret the Bible either as allegory or literal.

When we interpret the Bible allegorically, our interpretation becomes subjective. Any one verse can mean anything we choose. Thefreedictionary.com gives this definition for allegory - 1. "The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form. 2. A symbolic representation: The blindfolded figure with scales is an allegory of justice." We may get the general meaning, as in The Dangling Conversation, but misconstrue the specifics because we allegorize parts that were meant to be taken literally.

A literal interpretation calls for us to accept the meaning at face value. The Bible certainly contains figurative speech including allegory, but a literal interpretation would have us understand the difference between the figurative and literal. Jesus spoke in parables, or allegory. This is clearly given in the context so we understand the correct meaning. We know in these instances that Jesus is speaking figuratively, and not literally. We must interpret those passages as such. But when literal speech is used we must take it as literal.

I Am the Door
I Am the Door | Source

Here is an example of figurative speech found in John 10:9. "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." We understand from the context that Jesus was not claiming to be an actual door with a doorknob which can be opened, but rather that He is the way to eternal life. Later He says in John 14:6, " I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." We would do interpretive injustice to this portion of Scripture to say that Jesus became a literal door. That is not what He is saying, and the context bears that out.

On the other hand,we would be just as wrong to allegorize a passage that is meant to be taken literally.

Allegory or Literal

A few weeks ago I received an email from an individual insisting that I follow allegorical interpretation. There can be no question that disagreement on interpretation followed. The foundations we were building upon were different which necessitates a different finished structure altogether.

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Consider the following example. I was asked if when observing the Lord's Table (Communion), did I use water, wine or grape juice. Here is what the Bible says in Matthew 26:27-29 - "And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

The Apostle Paul gives this account in I Corinthians 11:24-26 -"And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come."

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What can we learn from these passages? We can know that the cup was not literally filled with the blood of Christ, but rather was a representation of His blood. How do I know? He tells us it was filled with the fruit of the vine, that being grapes. He stood bodily before His disciples; His physical heart pumping blood all the while. Of course we cannot drink grapes, bur we can drink the juice. Pure grape juice is a deep reddish purple - a color resembling blood,Further we see that this observance is in remembrance of Christ. At no time are the elements meant to be taken literally since it was only a remembrance, a memorial. The bread and cup were only representative as physically He was not present in the elements.

What about wine? Without getting into a long dissertation on the use of alcoholic wine at this time, the Bible often refers to new wine - the pure, unfermented frjuit of the vine. Jesus Himself refers to it as new. In these passages we have both literal and figurative phrases. It is the context which decides the interpretation.

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So what about water? Honestly, there is absolutely no Biblical basis whatsoever to consider.water as the drink that Jesus directed His followers to use in His remembrance. The allegorist would approach the subject this way. John 15:1 says, "I [Jesus] am the true vine. . . ." John 19:34 gives the information that when Jesus was executed, the witnessing soldier pierced His side, and blood and water came forth. Therefore we should use water for Communion since water came out of "the true vine". That is just bad exegesis, as well as a poor application of hermeneutics.

When Jesus refers to Himself as the Vine, He is not talking about the observance of His table. That statement is taken totally out of context. Further if one wants to allegorize the Lord's Table in this way, why not use grape juice since blood also came forth? Certainly we would not want to drink actual blood, but Jesus pictured the blood in His description given above. Water is not a good likeness of blood, and it is the blood we are to be remembering; the precious blood of Christ that was shed for your and my sin.

This is just one example of how the Bible can be misinterpreted. We are told in II Timothy 2:15 we are to rightly divide the word of truth. We must be very careful when we handle the Word of God. I must be careful. i will give an account to God Himself for every word I have taught or preached, whether behind a pulpit, on Hubpages, or in the street. I do not take my responsibility lightly. If I am to share Scripture with you I must know and understand what it is saying. You need to do the same. There is no conversation left dangling in the Scripture.

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." II Timothy 2:15

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Comments 12 comments

lambservant profile image

lambservant 14 months ago from Pacific Northwest

This was very good Bill. When I was a new Christian I sometimes had difficulty understanding a concept or principle in the Bible because I didn't recognize it wasn't literal. For example, Mark 11:23 where it says "For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith."

I think your point about context is extremely important and I am surprised at people who have been believers and students of the Bible for years who will take things out of context, especially one's that are pretty clear and easy to understand. One I am thinking of is from Matthew 18:15-19 where it talks about binding and loosing. People pluck out verse 18 as distinct from the rest of the passage:

" Assuredly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

Many take this to mean we are to bind and loose Satan. I scratch my head because even without context, nowhere do you see the words Satan, the devil, the enemy or any other name for Satan.

If you read verses 15-17 leading up to verses 18-19 you realize the context is instruction on how to deal with a brother who has sinned against you. It's about church discipline. Specifically it means if the erring saint does not repent he is bound (forbidden) according to God's already settled mandate to be in the fellowship. If they do repent, they are loosed (allowed) to return.

I love how you honor God and His word by taking very seriously Paul's exhortation to rightly divide the word of truth.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 14 months ago from Olympia, WA

Looking back, that song could have been written about Simon and Garfunkel themselves. They did seem to have some communication problems over the years. :)

Always an interesting and thought-provoking read, Bill.


lifegate profile image

lifegate 14 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA Author

Hi Lori,

Thanks for the added thoughts, and you are so right. There is a right way, and a wrong way. If the foundation is wrong, the rest of the building will be wrong. Have a wonderful Lord's Day tomorrow!


lifegate profile image

lifegate 14 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA Author

That's a good point, Bill. Simon also wrote a song called, Old Friends. I think the picture at the top is a promotional picture for that particular song - old friends, but bickering all the while. Thanks for stopping by. It's always good to see you!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 14 months ago from The Caribbean

Thanks for your insight on Bible Hermeneutics--a very controversial issue on which we need to listen more (to the Holy Spirit) than speak. Totally in agreement with your conclusion.


lifegate profile image

lifegate 14 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA Author

Yes MsDora, the Holy Spirit must be involved in every aspect of the interpretation. After all, He's the author, and who better than the author to explain the text - Good point, Dora! As always, thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting.


Tamarajo profile image

Tamarajo 14 months ago from Southern Minnesota

Hi Bill

"There is no conversation left dangling in the Scripture."

this thought occurred to me as well in reference to the lyrics of the song. When it comes to our relationship with the Lord, the only dangling part of the conversation, or superficial sighs are coming from our end not God's or His Word.

I also really like lambservants comment based on complete context. It makes the passage make so much more sense. When we literalize what is symbolic and symbolize what is literal the scriptures can appear a bit schizophrenic or random but when illuminated by the Holy Spirit and read in correct context it makes so much more sense.

It really does speak also to the reading of scripture in it's entirety and not just one time. The consistent themes, patterns, and lessons become so much more clear and solidified. Scripture interprets itself if we will only but read the whole thing we will begin to see that all the smaller parts and pieces fit into, and are in agreement with the much larger picture as a whole.

A thought provoking read

God Bless!


lifegate profile image

lifegate 14 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA Author

Welcome back Tammy,

You do as good a job as any when it comes to gaining the whole context and blending it together to make the sense God planned for it. I love your articles for the fact that you dig and compare and come up with the truth. If only more would do that same thing. Thanks again for stopping by to read and comment.


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 14 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

Bill

Something I am always aware of is that no matter what we say about the scriptures and how hard we try to faithfully show what they say there will always be those who see things differently!

Sometimes its that they genuinely are trying to understand things, but others are just trying to misrepresent them. Stay faithful to what the Lord has shown you and always 'take a second look' to get tge context!

Great encouragement to look for the context and take the word of God the way he intended us to.

Blessings

Lawrence


lifegate profile image

lifegate 14 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA Author

Hi Lawrence,

You're so right! Sometimes we forget these things so thanks for the reminder. Still God's Word is black and white. He means what He says, and says what He means. It's up to the individual to the make the call. As always, it's good to hear from you!


lawrence01 profile image

lawrence01 14 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

I so agree with you. 'God says what he means and means what he says!'

Have a good weekend

Lawrence


lifegate profile image

lifegate 14 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA Author

Thanks Lawrence. You too!

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