How Do You Figure?

The other day I heard someone ask another person “Are you born again?”

That strikes me as curious question.

As any Bible student would quickly point out, the Bible uses a wide variety of figures of speech to refer to a person that’s been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. One wonders why some metaphors get used more often than others – and some metphaors never see the light of day. For example, when was the last time you heard a preacher or a poet ask “Have you circumcised the foreskin of your heart?” Yeah – me too. Maybe I should write a song…

There’s not a Sunday that goes by where thousands of pastors across the globe put that question to their congregation (usually with every head is bowed and every eye closed): “Are you born again?” Yet despite its popular use, I wonder how many people know that there is no place in the Bible where that question is put to someone (we’ll also conveniently disregard the fact that no one in the Bible ever asked their listeners to keep their heads bowed and eyes closed). In fact, out of 31,131 verses in the Bible, the phrase “born again” appears only in 2 places: John 3 and 1 Peter 1. It’s certainly not a crime to use the phrase, but it’s a bit curious to me as to why we use this phrase so often when the Bible pretty much never uses it (it’s in 0.0128% of the Bible’s verses). Granted, a statistical approach to studying the Bible is probably not the best way to divine the mind of the Almighty. But occasionally it can be an interesting exercise, especially if we want to see if we dot our “i”s and cross our “t”s the same way the Bible does …and the results can be interesting.

A Few Statistics

So I thought I’d pick a few of the phrases used by Jesus in the Gospel of John and see how they hold up statistically across the Bible.

You must be born again; God caused you to be born again: 4 times, 0.0128%
John 3:3; John 3:7; 1 Pet 1:3; 1 Pet 1:23

As stats go, not terribly impressive. But if we widen the application of the metaphor, we can include phrases like “born of the Spirit”, “born of the will of God”, etc. We then start to approach statistical relevancy. ..a bit.

Born again/of God: 15 times, 0.048%
John 1:13; John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:6; John 3:7; John 3:8; Gal 4:29; 1 Pet 1:3; 1 Pet 1:23; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18

This may or may not be relevant, but we’ll note that despite Jesus expecting Nicodemus to know what it meant, this phrasing only appears in the NT, and is used almost exclusively by St. John. So if this is to be any sort of guideline for us, we might want to consider asking people “Have you been born of God?” I think I might have heard someone ask that once.

Immediately after Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, we see Him chatting with the Samaritan woman at the well. Here, He employs a completely different figure of speech: living water. Let’s see how that tracks in the Bible.

I AM the Source of Living Water; drink/have Living Water, etc: 16 times, 0.051%
Ps 36:9; Song 4:15; Isa 12:3; Isa 49:10; Jer 2:13; Jer 17:13; Zech 14:8; John 4:10; John 4:11; John 4:14; John 7:37; John 7:38; Rev 7:17; Rev 21:6; Rev 22:1; Rev 22:17

This figure of speech gets wider use across more books of the Bible. I guess if we were to formulate it as a question, we could say “Have you tasted Living Water”? Yep – haven’t heard it used much either. Maybe in a couple of songs.

In John 6 is where we see many of Jesus’ disciples flake away because they don’t like Him talking about being the Bread of Life. More specifically, in the same passage, He told people to “eat My flesh and drink My blood.” That was enough for them to hit the door. And that might explain why preachers don’t ask people if they’ve eaten Jesus’ flesh (or eaten manna from heaven, etc):

I AM the Bread of Life; eat manna/flesh of heaven: 24 times, 0.077%
Matt 6:11; Matt 15:26; Matt 16:6; Matt 16:11-12; Matt 26:26; Mark 7:27; Mark 8:15-21; Mark 14:22; Luke 11:3; Luke 14:15; Luke 22:19; John 6:33; John 6:35; John 6:48; John 6:51; John 6:53-58; Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7; Acts 20:11; Acts 27:35; 1 Cor 5:8; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Heb 10:20

Speaking of doors, John’s next metaphor is one that I’ve heard preachers and poets use: “Which side of the door are you on?”

I AM the Door: 11 times, 0.035%
Luke 12:36; Luke 13:24; Luke 13:25; John 10:1; John 10:2; John 10:7; John 10:9; John 14:6; Acts 14:27; Heb 10:19-22; Rev 3:20

Alas – it’s only used 11 times in the Bible. It would seem the preachers and poets prefer the road less traveled.

If you’re going to be talking about going through doors, I guess it only follows that you might also talk about the way to God, or going where One Man has gone Before. Jesus spoke frequently about how He was going someplace and certain people were not, and would therefore die in their sins. He also spoke of Himself as “The Way”. I guess we could phrase this as “Are you on the Way to God?” or “Are you going where Christ has gone?”

Going Where One Man Has Gone Before: 32 times, 0.103%
Ps 110:1; Matt 22:44; Mark 12:36; Mark 16:19; Luke 20:42; John 7:33; John 8:14; John 8:21; John 8:22; John 13:1; John 13:3; John 13:33; John 13:36; John 14:3; John 14:4; John 14:12; John 14:28; John 16:5; John 16:17; John 16:28; John 17:11; John 17:13; John 21:19; John 21:22; Acts 1:9-11; Acts 2:34; Acts 3:21; 1 Cor 15:20-27; Heb 1:3; Heb 9:24; Heb 10:12-13; 1 John 5:19

Here’s a figure of speech that gets used in a lot of songs. And it’s used a lot in the Bible! Go figure!:

I AM the Light of the World: 38 times, 0.122%
Exod 13:21; 2 Sam 23:4; Esth 8:16; Job 22:28; Job 33:30; Ps 18:28; Ps 19:8; Ps 36:9; Ps 37:6; Ps 84:11; Ps 97:11; Ps 97:11; Ps 112:4; Ps 112:4; Ps 112:4; Prov 4:18; Prov 4:18; Isa 9:2; Isa 42:6; Isa 49:6; Isa 60:1; Isa 60:3; Isa 62:1; Mic 7:8; Mal 4:2; Matt 5:14; Luke 2:32; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 12:35; John 12:36; John 12:46; John 12:46; Acts 26:18; Acts 26:23; Eph 5:14; Heb 1:3; Rev 22:5

Interestingly enough, the figure of speech used most often by John also happens to be used the most in the Bible. It’s where Jesus is depicted as the Shepherd (or the Lamb), and we are His sheep. We could phrase this as “Are you a one of His sheep?”

I AM the Good Shepherd/ Lamb of God: 56 times, 0.180%
Ps 23:1; Ps 28:9; Ps 80:1; Eccl 12:11; Isa 40:11; Isa 49:9; Isa 53:6; Jer 23:4-6; Eze 34:12; Eze 34:23; Eze 37:24; Mic 5:2-5; Mic 5:4; Mic 7:14; Zech 13:7; John 1:29; John 1:36; John 10:11; John 10:14; John 10:27-30; John 21:15; Acts 8:32; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 5:7; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 1:19; 1 Pet 2:25; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 5:6; Rev 5:8; Rev 5:12; Rev 5:13; Rev 6:1; Rev 6:16; Rev 7:9; Rev 7:10; Rev 7:14; Rev 7:17; Rev 8:1; Rev 12:11; Rev 13:8; Rev 13:11; Rev 14:1; Rev 14:4; Rev 14:10; Rev 15:3; Rev 17:14; Rev 19:7; Rev 19:9; Rev 21:9; Rev 21:14; Rev 21:22; Rev 21:23; Rev 21:27; Rev 22:1; Rev 22:3

Revelation is chock-full of this one, so I suspect we might be using this quite a lot when we’re in the hereafter.

To Bleat Or Not To Bleat?

Before we get all excited and start to use this metaphor, we might want to note a very interesting thing: to use this figure of speech the same way Jesus used it, we can’t phrase it like “Would you like to become one of His sheep?” It’s true; and here’s why I say this: In John 10, we see Jesus giving a lengthy monologue using this metaphor. Jesus explains how He is the Shepherd (v2), He knows His sheep by name (v3), His sheep hear His voice and follow Him (v4), they don’t follow strangers (v5,8), He lays down His life for His sheep (v11,15), hired help don’t care about the sheep (v13), He knows His own and they know Him (v14), He has other sheep (v16), The Father loves Him because He lays His life down willfully for His sheep (v17), etc.

After hearing such things from the Lamb of God, one naturally wonders: “What must I do to become a sheep!?” Surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t say! It’s as if you are either born a sheep, or you’re not born a sheep, and you don’t get to become sheep after the fact. And if that weren’t bad enough, Jesus tells the people “You don’t believe because you are not part of My flock (v26). My sheep hear My voice, I know them, they follow Me (v27), and I give them eternal life (v28), and no one can take them from Me (v29).”

Let’s chew on that for a second: Jesus is saying that if you believe, it is because you are already part of His flock. But if you don’t believe it is because you are not part of His flock. That is, you have to first be part of His flock before you can believe. Inquiring minds really want to know: so how does one become His sheep? Jesus doesn’t say. I find that very interesting, to say the least. The answer cannot be “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will become His sheep,” because Jesus said if you believe, you are already His sheep, and if you don’t believe, it’s because you’re not His sheep. So if we’re going to use this metaphor the same way Jesus uses it, we can’t say “Would you like to become a sheep of God?” We could say “Would you like to follow the Good Shepherd?” or “Is Jesus your Good Shepherd?” but if we ask a person if they want to become sheep, we’re not using the metaphor the way the Bible uses it.

Regrettably, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard a preacher or poet say something along the lines of “If you will believe, then you can be one of His sheep.” It makes me scratch my head because Jesus says the reverse: “You must be one of my sheep before you can believe.”

Can someone please tell me how we got that one backwards?

So I’m trying to figure out how we frequently end up using figures of speech the way the Bible doesn’t. And since we seem to be fairly off-kilter statistically speaking, there’s a nerd in me wondering if we fully understand these figures of speech. I’m open to input on this one.

Oh.. and just in case you were wondering about the number of times the Bible refers to circumcising the heart/ear? 18 times, 0.058% – a whole lot more than “born again”
Exod 6:12; Exod 6:30; Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; Deut 30:6; Jer 4:4; Jer 6:10; Jer 6:10; Jer 9:26; Eze 44:7; Eze 44:9; Acts 2:37; Acts 7:51; Rom 2:29; Phil 3:3; Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; Col 2:11

I think I’ll try it in my next sermon.

So… what figures of speech do you use?

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