The Unifying Effect of Archetypes in the Bible

“(Archetypes) make up the groundwork of the human psyche. It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them.”— Carl Jung, Psychological Reflections

Archetypes are recurrent patterns in literature and life.  They are the building blocks of the literary imagination — the stuff that stories and poems are made of.  Archetypes fall into three categories:  plot motifs, character types, and images.

Archetypal plot motifs are story patterns that reappear throughout all literature.  One common story pattern is the hero’s journey (a journey is almost synonymous with storytelling itself).  Within the journey motif, we can discern popular variations, such as the quest or initiation story.  Other famous archetypal plots are the fall from innocence, and crime and punishment.

Character types also fall into familiar archetypal pattern.  Most common are the hero/heroine and the villain.  The list is ever expanding — the trickster, the outcast, the ideal ruler, the tyrant, and many others.

Images, symbols, and settings also constitute archetypes. Light and darkness are classic archetypal images. The earthly paradise is an idealized archetypal setting that appears throughout literature, as is the desert or wasteland (a common negative archetype).

Writers cannot avoid archetypes if they tried.  They are simply the basic materials from which literature is built.  You will find them wherever you look, in novels, in movies and throughout the Bible.  (For a 1,000-page survey of archetypes and motifs in the Bible, see A Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited by Leland Ryken and others.)  We find an abundance of archetypes on every page of the Bible, and these recurrent images and motifs therefore emerge as a unifying element in the Bible as a whole.