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Metaphors in the Gospel of John

By Karen Austin

John’s gospel bears testimony of the divinity of Jesus the Christ.

The manner of his writing shows Greek influences in the use of concepts and principles. John’s writing also makes ample use of metaphors.  In the gospel of John, Jesus declares to His followers that He (Jesus) is the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, the Door, the True Vine, the Light of the World.  Metaphors about Jesus that are recorded in the Gospel of John that are less concrete are these: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life.

These metaphors are not negligible literary adornments.  They convey information that is literally vital.

They are also not simile, which is an indirect comparison. Jesus does not say that He is like a loaf of bread or that he is like life. He says that He is life.  At first blush this metaphor appears to be more abstract than His being the water, bread, or a vine. However, Jesus is Life.  How?

As the Savior and as the first resurrected and as the Creator of the World (as we learn in the Book of Moses), Jesus is literally the means for life on earth from 1. birth through 2. spiritual rebirth 3. To our foretold resurrection, culminating with 4. life eternal via the plan of salvation.  Jesus. Is. The. Life.

Again, these metaphors are not decorative. They are substantive.

The metaphors are the focus of many passages in the Gospel of John and central for conveying doctrine about Jesus’ character and his role as the Savior of the world

John begins his gospel with 18 verses demonstrating how he has written the most Hellenic of the four gospels: Yes, these verses are metaphorical. They are also abstract, philosophical, and lyrical.  Scholars have labeled these opening verses the Logos Hymn.  It is poetry.

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

OK. I admit it. The first half of John, chapter 1 is strange. Why bother with this strangeness?

Remember how “I am the Life” looked a little strange, but it ended up being a revelation about the means for literal life?  These verses in John Chapter 1 verses 1 through 5 invite us to meditate on how Jesus is the Word.

The poetic and philosophical language of these five verses invite meditation. They invite revelation.  Consequently, they invite us to spend our time and attention studying them. There is no way that I can amplify these 5 verses adequately. I can only gesture to some the truths conveyed in the Logos Hymn.

(See this slideshow by Eric Huntsman about the opening verses of the Gospel of John, Chapter 1 and listen to the two episodes of this podcast where Huntsman discusses the Gospel of John, Chapter 1 in detail.)

We can connect these five verses to other passages of scripture so that we can better understand the nature of God the Father and the nature of Jesus the Christ as Creator as well as the source of truth and light.  I suggest going through John 1, Genesis 1, and Moses 2 and 3, looking for insights about the Creation.

But back to the first metaphor in John 1.

In Greek, Logos is the word translated in the KJV as “Word.”

Logos is related to the word logic, and the suffix in fields of study such as biology, psychology, etc.  It has a wide range of meanings that include statement, argument, logic, framework, system, and schemata.  Jesus is the means by which the world is organized and not in a state of chaos.  He precedes the creation of the world, because he is the light that helped dispel the darkness, that helps enlighten the world to the truth of the gospel, centered within Jesus–the Word, The Way, The Truth, The Light–as John testifies throughout his gospel.

The word is also spoken through breath, and through that breath Adam (which means earth or soil) was created.  John continues to tell us in verse 14 “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”  There is a prophesy in Mosiah 3:5 that explains how Jesus “shall come down from heaven among the children of men and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay….”  The word for breath in Hebrew is also translated as spirit.  In one of the last chapters in the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection and says, “Peace be unto you” (John 20:19). Furthermore, Jesus “breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.”  Here we have a combination of the image of Adam receiving the breath of life, Christ being the Word who gives life, and the spoken words “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” communicating a Spirit or holy breath.

Again, John is a little strange, but thus is the ways of God to humans trying to comprehend eternal things. It can take a while for us to receive this information. John 1:10 observes: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”

I can see how creation, divinity, language, and the Spirit are all connected in the role of Christ Jesus as our Savior.

I don’t pretend to understand all the truths offered in John, Chapter 1.  John gives us much to think about and invites us to work not just on knowing, but on acting in divine ways so that we can become more divine. We cannot understand our own nature without an understanding of Godhead.  We can become more effective disciples, more effective saints, more sanctified by knowing Jesus–through study, through faith, and through actions becoming of a saint.


About Karen Austin

After living in UT, HI, CA, VA, DC, WI, WV & KS, Karen now lives in Newburgh, IN with her husband and two children. She's been a BYU writing tutor, an English teacher, technical writer, director of academic support services, and aging studies adjunct. She's reinventing herself--again. New role still pending, but mature athlete, thrift store fashionista, and court jester are strong candidates. She maintains the blog The Generation Above Me.

2 thoughts on “Metaphors in the Gospel of John”

  1. This is exquisite- thank you. In Nephi’s interpretation of Lego’s dream, he is told that the iron rod is the “Word”. Typical LDS interpretation is word means the scriptures – and it well may be.
    I’ve chosen to view it from John – it’s holding onto the Savior.


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