In his book Creating Stories that Connect (Kregel), D. Bruce Seymour explains, “Allegories (and examples) use figurative language to illustrate information, but we have to possess the information in order to understand the illustration. The information comes first. Without the information, we are not able to participate in the communication event. For example, The Pilgrim’s Progress is a famous allegory, but a reader would have to possess some information about the Christian life to really understand the message that John Bunyan was trying to communicate…Lack of information precludes participation.

“In contrast, a metaphor uses figurative language to create participation. When figurative language is used this way, the participation precedes the information. When Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field’ (Matt. 13:31), all of his listeners could immediately participate in the communication event because they knew about mustard seeds, planting and fields. Jesus used the metaphor, the verbal comparison, to engage his listeners in the communication event.

“Sometimes a metaphor is so powerful, it can communicate nonverbally. When the early church baptized new believers, those being baptized were asked to renounce Satan and all his works. Facing westward, the direction in which the sun went down, the candidates would renounce Satan three times. Then they would deliberately spit three times in the direction of darkness. The spitting was a symbolic (nonverbal) way to communicate complete renunciation. Everyone watching the baptism saw that symbol and participated in the communication event.”

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