Back to issue

Erin Heim, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, and herself a recipient of adoption, takes aim at Paul’s adoption metaphors in this revision of her doctoral dissertation. The first part of her study (chs. 1–3) marks a distinct contribution to metaphor studies in constructing an exegetical method that integrates philosophical approaches to metaphor with practical approaches (e.g., cognitive linguistics and anthropology). In chapter 2, Heim eschews comparison theories of metaphor (e.g., X is a metaphor for Y, or “justification is a metaphor for salvation,” which problematically assume that metaphors can be readily substituted by a literal paraphrase or a univocal referent). Relying on Janet Soskice’s interanimation theory, she preserves space for a plurality of models (and backgrounds) to inform the metaphor in question, based on the textual features of the whole metaphorical utterance and the receptive potential of the author’s historical and cultural context.

In chapter 3, Heim draws attention to the extra-textual features of metaphorical imagery, emphasizing the insights of cognitive linguistics and sociolinguistics (drawing largely from the work of Kövecses, and to a lesser extent, Lakoff/Johnson and Fauconnier/Turner. Here Heim explores the ways in which metaphors evoke emotion, deepen relational “intimacy” between author and audience, and foster group solidarity and identity. It should be observed in passing that while Heim lays considerable store in her method upon the relationship between metaphor and intertextuality, the necessary relationship between the two subjects has not been sufficiently established from the standpoint of metaphor theory (and I grant that I may have misread her on this point).

Having laid out her theoretical method, the second part of her study (chs. 4–8) applies this apparatus to the occurrences of υἱοθεσία [adoption] in Galatians and Romans respectively (the occurrences in Ephesians 1 are not considered). Heim demonstrates how careful attention to metaphor can clarify previous debates about υἱοθεσία, which have tended to stall at the battle of backgrounds. Heim avoids overdetermining any one background behind the metaphor (whether dominantly Jewish, Greek, or Roman) proposing instead that attending to the manner in which each particular metaphor is presented can push one background closer to the surface and push others further under submersion, while preserving the ability of the deeper layers to reach different hearers (p. 323).

Heim finds that Paul’s υἱοθεσία imagery shares in common a characterization of the reception of the Spirit (particularly Gal 4 and Rom 8), but resists an overbroad synthesis of “what the metaphor means,” focusing instead on the way each occurrence emphasizes its own distinct features. So in chapter 5, Heim (among other findings) deems the Galatians 4 adoption imagery to be informed largely by its Greco-Roman background and regards the metaphor as emphasizing the vertical dimension of the believer’s standing in Trinitarian terms (initiated by the Father, carried out by the mission of the Son, and attested to by the Spirit). In chapter 6, Heim views the two υἱοθεσία metaphors of Romans 8 (vv. 15, 23) primarily as a “diptych” that dramatizes the temporal, eschatological tension of the churches in Rome as both children of God and co-sufferers in Christ. Unlike Galatians, Romans emphasizes the more horizontal dimension of adoption as something shared among believers, but like Galatians, Paul’s use of key terms (πατήρ and κληρονόμοι) suggests Roman adoption as the dominant background shaping cognition of the metaphor. In chapter 7, Heim finds the brief υἱοθεσία allusion in Romans 9 to resonate intertextually in its Jewish frame not only with Romans 8, but also with other sonship passages in Jewish Scripture (a difficult task given the lack of any parallel designation of Israel as “adopted” in the relevant Jewish literature).

Heim’s study is richly researched, fairly conservative in its theological conclusions, and generously informative (if, at times, repetitive). As a point of minor critique, Heim’s adroitness as an exegete and the breadth of her task in applying both theory and practice make it difficult at times to isolate whether her conclusions are driven by her specific, theoretical method on metaphors or by mere historical exegesis. The point is important because Heim at times appears to over-credit metaphor theory as that which can bypass some of the troubles of prior exegetical quandaries (p. 209) even when some of her conclusions are themselves historically determined. Others may be disappointed at the lack of historical engagement with metaphors in ancient texts more contemporary to Paul (i.e., Aristotle, Quintilian, et al). Such minor reservations aside, future studies of biblical metaphors will undoubtedly benefit from the sophistication of Heim’s analysis and her main points remain persuasive: metaphors in scripture are not mere literary embroidery, subordinate to literal statements of theological truth, but are themselves non-substitutable forms of communication for diverse audiences, uniquely capable of conveying theological truth in ways that evoke emotion, relational identity, and solidarity (p. 2). She goes far in correcting unreflective evaluation of Pauline metaphors in prior scholarship and her working method lays the groundwork for future studies that can benefit from the insights of rigorous metaphorical analysis (e.g., justification, redemption, slavery—assuming such concepts can be demonstrated to be “live” metaphors at the time of their use).

Kris Song
Talbot School of Theology, Biola University
La Mirada, California, USA

comments powered by Disqus