Hermeneutics of Metaphor


The theory of metaphor in the Paradigm of Christ is a metaphorical system depicting the integration of life. The frame of the story prompts the emergence of the concept of life. The frame of the story is constituted by the major components of the story; the characters, the setting, and the story line. To look at the myth from this standpoint is a re-description of the story along the invisible being itself. It is therefore a representation of being itself through a particular symbolic system.

To read the myth literally is, in reality, an error and it was not valid even at the time of the first century. The failure of the literal interpretation of the myth leads to the metaphorical interpretation. Despite absurd narratives, our conscience feels the truth hidden beneath the surface of the story. However, in the case of the Gospel, quite different from simple metaphorical discourse, we cannot find so easily what the system as a whole indicates; the resemblance of life's structure. For, it is the resemblance that is made of the structural components of the text. This complex nature of the resemblance corresponds to the concept of life. Here is the difficulty interpreting the Gospel radically, even if we have acknowledged the metaphoricity of the Gospel.

Yet one must find, in one way or another, the resemblance of truth through the myth. Unless one previously form the concept of life along the structure that the metaphorical system assumes, it must be hard to discover the truth hidden beneath the surface. In giving the concrete picture of the intentional structure of life, Paradigm of Christ helps us find the resemblance so that the meaning of the integration of life can be gradually revealed.

According to Ricoeur, a metaphor is a rhetorical process to liberate the capacity of a fiction to re-describe the reality. We must accumulate the experience of life in terms of the distinction of life's impulses so that we can reduce the diversity of experience towards the essence of the impulses. The structure of life's impulses becomes the object of our perception only if one can find its essential resemblance through metaphors.


The metaphorical system of the myth imitates life with the organization of metaphors and the story line. Metaphors imitate it statically and the story dynamically. The metaphorical system makes up the resemblance to the concept of life. Taking advantage of the frame of the story, it enables the emergence of the complex nature of the concept of life. It, beyond the first degree description, re-describe the concept of life through the picture formed by the metaphorical system.

To imitate the concept of life, one must, at first, discover the structural similarity of the referential truth in the chaotic world. The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilar. (Aristotle Poetics 1459 a3-8)

Looking at the Gospel from Aristotle's view point, the existence of the metaphorical system indicates that the imaginative power of the myth writers/editors already reached the level of discovering the resemblance to the integration of life. The writers could somehow clarify the structure of life and form the picture of truth by arranging the mythical figures available to them. The imagination of the Gospel writers penetrated structural similarity between the story and spirit, and arranged a metaphorical system in accordance with the structure of life.

Then how can we approach to the metaphorical system of the spirit that the myth writers/editors assume? How can we discover the agreement between the content of understanding that the myth presupposes and the understanding of life that we assume? In Gadamer's hermeneutics, this context is called "the fusion of horizon". The fusion will occur when the horizon that the text proposes and the understanding of life of the reader are united. If the metaphorical system exists, it must corresponds to the universal image that we gradually form of our life. So the thing is to be successful to determine that understanding of life. In this sense, what we need is, at first, to have an approximate model of life. To have such a model means to have a totality of the understanding of life. The more metaphors in the metaphorical system are arranged within the totality of the spirit through this model, the more other metaphors have opportunity to find their appropriate places in the spirit. In such a process of the hermeneutic circle, the unity of the meaning will be expanded.

We recall the hermeneutical rule that we must understand the whole in terms of the detail and the detail in terms of the whole. This principle stems from the ancient rhetoric, and modern hermeneutics has transferred to it to the art of understanding. It is a circular relationship in both cases. The anticipation in meaning in which the whole is envisaged becomes actual understanding when the parts that are determined by the whole themselves also determine this whole. (Gadamer: Truth and Method p.291)

It is this action of filling the distance (distanciation) from the myth chronologically arranged to the metaphorical system synchronically arranged.


A metaphor works when the literal meaning is not acceptable, such as that man is a wolf (or fox). This twist of the meaning is called metaphorical twist. The present day may be a time when the literal meaning of the Gospel cannot be acceptable. The text as a whole has a metaphorical twist. As it does not make sense literally, we try to regard the whole text as metaphorical and to inquire into the dimension of the metaphorical reference. Only after we see the Gospel as a whole as metaphor, the referential dimension which is structural but so far hidden is able to arise. This is the intention that the Gospel held from the beginning.

Here, we can distinguish meaning and reference. For example, Jesus Christ is a meaning and the integrated being is its reference. The teacher of Alexander, the student of Plato are meanings and they refer to Aristotle. The morning star and the evening star are meanings, and they indicate Venus. What the metaphorical Christ or the Gospel as a whole indicates is the life's integration that will unite man and God. The Paradigm of Christ is a model of the text and, at the same time, its referential norm. It is a field representing the hermeneutic circle of life on the level of the totality.

The set backs of the literal interpretation leads to the metaphorical interpretation. When we regard the literal meaning as the one that does not make sense as a fact, we have a possibility to discover the metaphorical resemblance. However, even if we stop seeing the text literally, quite different from metaphors on the sentence level, we cannot find the resemblance of life's integration immediately. For, it is the complex resemblance that consists of the frame of the text and that corresponds to the concept of life. Here is the difficulty to radically interpret the Gospel, even though we may acknowledge the metaphoricity of it.

In Paul Ricoeur's The Rule of Metaphor, he employs the term seeing as from Marcus B. Hester's work 'The meaning of poetic metaphor' to look at the metaphorical object by setting a firm view point so that we may discover what it refers to more effectively. In this metaphorical interpretation of the Gospel, we recommend the readers to see the Gospel as the concept of life; to see it as life's integration; to see Jesus Christ as the Gospel as such; to see him as life's integration.

The Gospel is imitating life's integration with all of the discourse that employs. Unless we train our mind to see the Gospel as the concept of life, it is impossible to grasp life's integration with our insight. ''Seeing as' arranges the stream of interpretation and regulates its metaphorical arrangement. It is 'seeing as' that determines the resemblance. It cannot turn the other way around. To discover the complex resemblance to life, we must set our mind to see the Gospel as the concept of life and not yield from this point. (Hence we see the Gospel as the Parable of life's integration, which is as it is the Parable of the kingdom of God, for the kingdom of God is the integrated state of being.)


Metaphors and the story reciprocally determine each other. When metaphors are organized and have possibility to express being, then, the story, integrating metaphors organically, must try to show the figure of being as clearly as possible by following the dialectical process of the movement of being from destruction to integration. On the one hand, the establishment of the metaphors guides the story, on the other, the story clarifies what metaphors refer to. The circular movement between the total and the partial works here again, as we are pursuing the interpretation in that the story relates to the total and the metaphors the partial.

What metaphors virtually indicate are archetypes in the spirit. Metaphors expressed as archetypal representations are those that constitute the movement of life. As the purpose of redemption is to control life's impulses, placing metaphors rightly allows us to realize the correspondence with the archetypes in the spirit that so far existed unconsciously. Therefore, as our deciphering process will show, the characters in the story such as scribes and Pharisees, tax collectors and harlots, and children, etc., are transformed into archetypal representations that constitute personality factors. The anger of Jesus toward scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 is not toward the actual scribes and Pharisees but toward the factor that causes the destruction of our lives within us.

It is the action of the main character that form the story. The action of the main character is Jesus' teaching and healing in Galilee and then his crucifixion in Jerusalem. In such fundamental actions, the story picturize the frame of life and form the movement of life. In this case, the metaphor that unite the whole, Jesus Christ, functions as the center and the whole. This function coincides with Jung's notion of the Self, which is, according to Jung, both the center and the whole in the archetypes of the unconscious. Such a metaphor is called a radical metaphor in Ricoeur's hermeneutics.

When we think that the metaphorical system illuminates the structure of life in its resemblant projection, we must, at first, determine the root metaphor and other subordinate metaphors in the concept of the model. There often is a central metaphor that dominates other metaphors in the story. This is a so called root metaphor (or radical metaphor). The inner structure of the root metaphor forms the principle that organizes other subordinate metaphors. The root metaphor is the center and the whole. The subordinate metaphors are the parts that constitute the whole. Through the circulation of the whole and the parts, the inner structure of the root metaphor is gradually clarified. What we call the model is the formularization of the inner structure of the root metaphor. In other words, the model is the systematic relation between the root metaphor and other subordinate metaphors. The model is, therefore, the logical picture of life projected by the systematic resemblance of the metaphors.

Many scholars have already pointed out the similarity between metaphors and the model. To bring metaphors close to the model makes it possible to develop the theory of metaphor in the referential dimension. According to Ricoeur, the central argument (of Max Black's 'Models and Metaphors')is that, with respect to the relation to reality, metaphor is to poetic language what the model is to scientific language. (The Rule of Metaphor p.240) Isomorphism that constitutes the 'rationale' of imagination in the use of models has its equivalent only in one kind of metaphor, which Black calls archetype (hence the title of the article, 'Models and Archetypes'). With the choice of the terms, Black points out two aspects of certain metaphors, their 'radical' character and their 'systematic' character. Furthermore, these two aspects are linked; 'root metaphors,' to borrow the term of Stephen C. Pepper, are also those that organize metaphors into networks (for example, in the work of Kurt Lewin, the network that inter-relates words like field, vector, phase-space, tension, force, boundary, fluidity, etc. - Black 241). By virtue of these two characteristics, the archetype has a less local, less pinpoint existence than does metaphor; it covers an 'area' of experience or of facts. (RM p.244)

The archetype in Black's sense is the root metaphor in Pepper and which is actually Jung's archetype of the Self; the archetype of archetypes.

The model has a heuristic function. Since it is structural, it plays the role of the code in semiology. In comparing with the code of life, the metaphorical messages such as parables or episodes that constitute the components of the Gospel, are decoded into the expressions of the various phases of life's integration and destruction. This kind of comparison with the code contribute to amplify the reference to life.

The meanings of the terms 'model' and 'code' are approximately the same in our inquiry. We will choose model or code to suit the context.

As the inner structure becomes clear, we can establish the model. As first, we may add a kind of modification to the model. After the model becomes stable in the structure, it amplifies the meaning of life according to the model. The temporal model (code) in the chapter 5 and the decipherment using that model (code) are the typical examples of this case.


What is expressed by metaphors is a resemblance of truth of life. It is the resemblance of the integration of life. Myth writers/editors indicated the resemblance with the structure of the story. Hence, the readers are required to discover its systematic resemblance. The hermeneutics of the Paradigm of Christ offers a model to discover the resemblance of life. It is a device to encourage us to discover the resemblance within us. The referential world that the metaphorical system describes is basically the law of life in its integration and destruction. In essence, it describes the feedback movement of life. Taking advantage of the major components of the story: characters, settings, and the story line, the Gospel depicts it as a systematic resemblance of reality.

What is, then, the systematic resemblance of life? The systematic resemblance formed by characters, the setting, and the story indicates respectively constituents, the field, and life's movement. The systematic resemblance organized by the major components of the story opens the possibility for us to penetrate what life's integration is. Here is a correspondent relation between the structure of the story and that of life. If the systematic resemblance from the side of the story corresponds to life itself, it is a logical form of life. ('Logical form is a term used by Wittgenstein to express the minimum identity between the language and the reality described by the language.) That the resemblance shares the logical form with life means that the resemblance properly describes the reality. The resemblance becomes the true picture that satisfies the logical form.

Just as a metaphor is a device to discover a resemblance of a thing, so the structure of the story is a device to discover the systematic resemblance of life. What this device describe is nothing but the imitation of life. Among the three components, it is the story that integrates characters and the setting and imitates the corresponding movement of life. This understanding results in the proposition "The story imitates human action and life." in the Poetics of Aristotle. We will discuss later how Aristotle's Poetics can help understand the meaning of the Paradigm of Christ.

It is a decisive step for us to determine a standard pictorialization so that the structure of the story can be seen as the resemblance of life's movement. To discover the systematic resemblance of life is, as it is, to see the truth. But such a resemblance cannot be found from mere messages of the myth. We must set up a view point where we can discover the resemblance of life. What regulates the discovery of the resemblance is the structure of the story. That is to say, when we see life in terms of the structure of the story, the metaphorical system organized by the structure expresses the resemblance of life.@We must, then, determine the concrete shape of the picture that can show the resemblance of life.

In Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigation, there is an ambiguous picture that can be seen both as a rabbit and as a duck depending on our preconceived image. So Wittgenstein distinguishes between 'I see this.' and 'I see this as ---.' And he insists that "to see this as ---" is "to have an image of this". Out of this example, Ricoeur develops the following view.

It is true that the transfer from Wittgenstein's analysis to metaphor introduces an important change. In the case of ambiguous figure, there is a Gestalt B that allows a figure A or another figure C to be seen. Thus the problem is, given B, to construct A or C. In the case of metaphor, A and C are given in reading --- they are the tenor (underlying idea) and vehicle (the sign by which the idea is apprehend). What must be constructed is the common element B, the Gestalt, namely, the point of view in which A and C are similar.@(RM p.212-213)

Let us apply this insight to the Paradigm of Christ. Even if we know intuitively that the Gospel proclaims the truth and that the truth is hidden by metaphorical discourses, unless we have the common 'Gestalt' B that unites A and C, it is impossible to discover the resemblance of life. What is equivalent to A is the structure of life, C represents the Gospel as a whole, B is the Paradigm of Christ. The Paradigm of Christ is, then, the Gestalt B that mediates the structure of life A and the Gospel C.

It is necessary to ask for the assistance of such a iconic diagram to discover the resemblance of life. It is the structure of the story that determines the norm of this Gestalt. If we think that the Gospel is the complete cipher system, this must be quite plausible. Conveniently enough, the Gestalt mentioned here will be completely applicable to Merleau-Ponty's gestalt, which also embodies the intention of integration.

Now we discuss how the Aristotle's proposition in Poetics that 'the story is an imitation of action' illuminates the Paradigm of Christ. Although Plato gives a negative evaluation to the mimesis (imitation) of the poet, as the mimesis of an Idea cannot reach Idea itself, yet Aristotle gives it a positive evaluation. Even if it is a mimesis of Idea, a poet tells it as it might happen universally, while a historian can only tell what actually happened.

From what we have said it will be seen that the poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind of thing that might happen, i.e. what is possible as being probable or necessary. The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse --- you might put the work of Herodotus into verse, and it would still be a species of history; it consists really in this , that the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver important than history, since its statement are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. (Poetics 1451b1-5)

For Aristotle, tragedy is a description of human action. While comedy is a description of the inferior person, tragedy is a description of the superior person. Mimesis means not merely a description of a fact, but that of superior life. Consequently it indicates the imitation of life's integration, because the superior action is caused by life's integration. The poet describes superior life through the story of the tragedy. Here, the creation of the story and the imitation of life are simultaneously progressing. Hence his contradictory proposition: 'mimesis (imitation) is poiesis (creation)'.

He lists up the elements of tragedy, namely, plot, character, diction, thought, spectacles, and melody. Here, the plot is the combination of the incidents or things done in the story. The most important of the six is the combination of the incidents of the story. Tragedy is essentially an imitation not of persons but of action and life.@(Poetics 1450a15-16)

If we apply Aristotle's Poetics to the Paradigm of Christ, its major thought is that the story imitates life's integration. The story is the imitation of what human existence ought to be. It, in turn, imitates Being itself, the central entity called the son of God, the most genuine. It doubly imitates life's integration, through the mythical representation, by the utterance and the action of Jesus and then in the metaphysical representation by the metaphorical system.