Monday, February 22, 2010

Is Paul being metaphorical when he uses cultic language?

If a metaphor says both 'it is not' and 'it is like', as Ricoeur claims, we have to ask , is Paul speaking metaphorically when he uses cultic language? My first reaction is to say that, of course he is! If we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, we don't actually take up a knife, pop ourselves on the altar and light the fire.

The danger I see in jumping straight to metaphor, is that we have an underlying assumption about the universe that it is not organised cultically. We don't (generally) see the universe as a big temple. Yet the OT sacrifices were always an expression of a larger cosmic/cultic view of the world.
While Paul certainly isn't arguing for the ongoing upkeep of the Jerusalem Temple, I don't know that he is an acultic modernist either. His description of the church as the Temple of God, the one true place of worship, the collection money being an act of cultic worship, make me wonder whether Paul thought what was going on was 'actually' cultic sacrifice, not simply 'like' the sacrifice of the Jerusalem temple. That is, the point of the Temple has been fulfilled rather than done away with.

This is important. If Paul is simply using metaphor to describe Christian activity that is like the cult, then we could describe that activity in other terms and still understand it, by simply mapping the similarities and abstracting them conceptually.

But if Paul is describing what is actually the case, then abstracting it away from cultic language obscures what is actually going on.

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