I enjoyed yesterday’s discussion of the expression “gird the loins of your mind” in 1 Peter 1. I’ve been wondering whether “gird your loins” was a live metaphor or a dead metaphor. My first inclination was that it was a dead metaphor. Much like the metaphorical language in the title of this post it is possible to use a metaphor without necessarily calling to mind a very active image represented by that metaphor. “Rack your brain” is one such case in English. It has its origins in medieval torture chambers but I don’t think most people necessarily have an image of a person or a brain stretched out on a torture rack every time they use that expression. Still, the meaning exists somewhere in the background and gives a little oompf to our speech. Otherwise we would just say something like, “I’ve been trying without success to think of something.” Now on one hand this illustrates the danger of reading a dead metaphor in the original language as being alive. I suspect that “gird the loins of your mind” in Peter’s Greek is an analogous situation to “rack your brains” in modern English. It was a metaphor that over time became semantically bleached until it added just a bit of literary color to speech without necessarily calling to mind the image itself.
However, and this is a biggie, we shouldn’t make the opposite error of assuming that the metaphor was essentially dead and there is no need to worry about it at all. One option is to replace the metaphor with a metaphor having a similar meaning in English and call that good. While it’s a good option, I don’t think it’s the best option simply for the reason that the metaphor Peter uses here is part of an extended metaphor or at the very least a leitmotif that is threaded throughout this letter. I noticed it this morning while listening to 1 Peter in NIV. Chapter 4 begins with these words:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.
(1 Peter 4:1, NIV)
The phrase ὑμεῖς τὴν αὐτὴν ἔννοιαν ὁπλίσασθε, seems to have a close affinity with the phrase in 1 Peter 1:13 and indicates to me that Peter was possibly using military imagery from the Roman empire in his letter in an intentional way. In fact imagery from Roman culture permeates this book. And it is contrasted with very homely images from the Galilean countryside. Shepherds. Grass. Flowers. Rocks. The collision of these two cultures, urban vs. rural, hierarchical vs. pastoral create an extended meditation by Peter on the difference between Roman authoritianism and Christian humility.
If we accept the proposition that the two images in 1 Peter are consciously related it would be a mistake to explain away the metaphors or to replace them with equivalent metaphors in English that do not reinforce the militaristic theme that Peter seems to be playing with here.
Reading 1 Peter 1:13 in the context of the whole letter suggests interconnections between this verse and others in the letter and also guides me in how I might choose to translate this verse in the light of the overall themes that Peter is developing.
I’d like to pick your brains now and see what other examples of extended metaphors you can cook up in 1 Peter. But as for myself I need to put my nose to the grindstone before I’m accused of being a lame brain by my slave driver boss. If I’ve made any glaring errors I’ll accept the tongue-lashing I have earned. [This paragraph is dedicated with affection to our resident punster, Wayne!]