Gary Simmons said in his comment on the previous post: this use of μωραίνω could be an example of blurring between what is literally stated (salt) and what is metaphorically referenced (wisdom). Is this what is meant by the phrase “live metaphor?”
Yes, I would say so. A live metaphor is the use of a word or a phrase in an unusual and striking way. If the expression catches on and is thereafter used frequently with the same meaning it eventually dies and becomes an idiom.
Gary also mentioned the example of “circumcision of the heart” which was a live metaphor. I doubt if anyone had ever said that before. It catches the crucial idea that initiation into the people of God is not an outward, visible reality but an inward transformation. Of course, it involves an idiomatic usage of “heart” which does not work in all languages, but it happens to work in English.
Jesus spoke many new parables and live metaphors. The tradition of speaking in parables was not new with Jesus, but the way he spoke and what he said was radically new. He did not speak like other Jewish rabbis. His disciples often did not understand him, at least the first time round. Jesus often chose words that would straddle or provide a bridge between the literal plane and the metaphorical plane. Translators talk about three things in relation to metaphors:
1. The illustration
2. The topic
3. The point(s) of similarity, the bridge between 1 and 2.
Some words or phrases in a parable or an extended metaphor belong to the illustration, others belong to the topic while others straddle between the two. It is difficult to handle this kind of straddling in translation.
I wrote an article on this topic entitled: Walking in the light. It can be read on-line here: http://www.ubs-translations.org/tbt/1986/04/TBT198604.html
Let me briefly summarize the main points. In John 11:9 Jesus asked his disciples: “Are there not twelve hours of the day?” It is a rhetorical question and the impact is to say: “We still have time to do a work of God (raising Lazarus from the dead). I am still around, am I not?” The word “day” straddles the literal and metaphorical. Of course, there are 12 hours in the literal day (if you are not too far from the equator). But that is the illustration, not the topic. In John 9:4-5 Jesus introduced the metaphorical sense of “day” and “night”: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Immediately after that, Jesus did a miracle, making a blind man see. So the metaphorical sense of “day” is “opportunity to do the works of God.”
Jesus continued in John 11:9-10: “If anyone walks around in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks around in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
Almost all these words are “straddling” words:
1. Walk around can be literal, but it often refers to how you live your life and what decisions you make, as it does here.
2. Day can mean literally the hours of daylight, but it can also be a situation where you look at things in the spiritual light from Jesus or God and walk around (make decisions) in the light of that light.
3. Stumble can mean literally to stumble over a stone, but often it refers to making the wrong choice and because of that you have a spiritual fall.
4. The light of this/the world could refer to the Sun that provides daylight, but it also refers to Jesus who provides spiritual light.
5. The night could refer to literal darkness, but also to spiritual darkness, the absence of light/guidance from Jesus.
6. The light is not in him can only be understood in the metaphorical sense. It could be translated: “he does not have (access to) the light.” It means that he is not following the spiritual light and guidance that Jesus provides.
Now, how do you translate this kind of speech? RSV is quite literal, and in this case RSV is better than any and all of the so-called meaning-based versions. Even the NIV didn’t see the light clearly and the translation has “become foolish”. It has lost the power, “salt”, and “taste” (inspired wisdom) of the original saying. I am normally in favour of meaning-based versions, but not when the translators have failed to understand the meaning of the original text and its impact. However, IF the translators have understood the text, it is possible to produce a meaning-based version that is clearer and more understandable than the RSV. I assume all English translators have read the RSV, and still they did not seem to understand the text.