“Does the Bible ever mention a butterfly?”
That was the question on my mind as I sat in the black rocking chair on my front porch in my quaint little town as friends and neighbors walked up and down the quiet streets. I often like to meditate on the words of Scripture on my porch as rays of sunshine bursts down through the mighty oaks that line the sidewalk in front of my white colonial home which was constructed in 1850. The beauty of God’s creation all around me is both a marvelous sight and a source of peaceful serenity.
On this particular day, red-breasted robins and proud blue jays twirped a happy song in the pink cottonwood tree that cast its shade over the corner of the porch where I was sitting. A pair of squirrels chattered and scampered across the lawn, tossing between them an acorn that had fallen from their nest. Several butterflies were fluttering back and forth from the purple blooms of the geraniums to the bright yellow lilies in the mulched flower beds which prompted my question:
What is the biblical meaning of the butterfly in the holy scriptures? Does a butterfly symbolize some spiritual truth? What does the Bible say about butterflies?
“Surely the Bible describes a similar scene of dancing butterflies, fragrant flora, and the melodious sounds of summer as a depiction of God’s majestic creation,” I thought. Did God mention the butterfly when He looked down upon His creation and described it as good? Can one find within the psalms of David, or the poems of Asaph, or in the wisdom of Solomon who understood the wonders of botany and biology a description of the butterfly’s lepidopterous wings? Perhaps the Book of Job mentions the Monarch, the Fritillary, the Viceroy, or the Painted Lady alongside the ostrich and the eagle when describing the wonders of God’s creation. Did Jesus ever compare the kingdom of God or the beauty of the angels to the delicate feltlike wings of the butterfly in one of His parables?
Butterfly meaning in the Bible: What does the Bible say about butterflies?
Surprisingly, there is no mention within the pages of the Bible of the lovely, winged insect we call a butterfly. Ancient mythology and cultural legends often equate the butterfly with a person’s soul. Yet, the Bible never specifically uses a similar symbolism. So, why then is the Bible silent about the butterfly?
While the creature itself is never referenced by name, the Greek word for metamorphosis (μεταμορφόω) that occurs in its transformation from a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly is used to describe the change that occurs within the heart of someone who has a spiritual encounter with God. For example, 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed (μεταμορφόω) into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” In other words, as we engage in a spiritual relationship with God, our hearts and minds are transformed to reflect the glory of God. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 that one must “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (μεταμορφόω) by the renewing of your mind.”
Perhaps the ancient legends of the various cultures of the world which connect the butterfly to the soul find their roots in the concept taught in the Bible of the transformation that will occur to our physical bodies at the resurrection. According to Philippians 3:20-21, our “lowly earthbound bodies” (like the caterpillar) will be changed (μεταμορφόω) into glorious heavenly bodies (like a butterfly): But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. The earthbound caterpillar enters into the hardened chrysalis just like the earthly bodies of believers in Jesus enter into rigor mortis in the grave, only to emerge into eternity like the transformed butterfly, free to fly in the heavenly realms.
What does butterfly mean biblically? (other biblical parallels)
Besides the bible verses about butterfly transformation, there is also one other biblical parallel with the butterfly worth considering: a spiritual concept known by modern science as the “butterfly effect.”
In 1961, while conducting a weather experiment at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), an American mathematician and meteorologist named Edward Lorenz, discovered that ultimately even the smallest variables can create substantial and significantly different outcomes.
When describing the phenomenon, Lorenz noted that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could contribute to the formation of a tornado thousands of miles away. His theory came to be known as the Butterfly Effect – the idea that seemingly insignificant events will later result in much greater substantial consequences. His conclusions have been applied in multiple disciplines including predicting the weather, financial forecasting, interpreting societal trends, and even spirituality. The butterfly effect claims that non-unilateral and unrelated actions can have an effect upon future non-linear reactions. For example, a butterfly flapping its wings on one continent can contribute to the movement of wind that could ultimately form a tornado on another continent.
Within the world of human experiences, even the smallest choices you make today can have a huge impact upon the rest of your life. The decisions you previously have made reverberate across the spectrum of time, and each little decision has had an impact upon your future. These minuscule decisions and their subsequent actions or consequences, (like that small flow of disruption in the air caused by the flapping wings of a butterfly), can have an effect on your overall life, your relationships, your career, and on your future. Hosea 8:7 says, “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind,” a direct reference to the butterfly effect in which their decisions had far greater consequences.
The butterfly effect is actually a biblical truth – what you do today has a direct effect on tomorrow. Galatians 6:7-8 puts it this way, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” (New Living Translation).
As tragic and as difficult as it may seem – even the smallest choices have the potential to create some very unwanted and unpleasant consequences in our lives. We bear the scars and the pain of sinful actions. A wrong word spoken here, a sinful heart there, an attitude out of line, an action that we know displeases God, and the consequences can have a damaging impact on our future. The effects of our decisions even continue to be felt forward in time upon our children, grandchildren, and their children after them. The Bible teaches that the consequences of the sins of the parents will be passed down to the third and fourth generations. Yet, the Scripture verse above also says that when we choose to honor God with our lives, we will experience the joy and blessings of God.
So, the next time you see a butterfly remember the effect its wings have upon the wind and reflect upon your own choices. Will you allow God to transform (μεταμορφόω) your life? Deuteronomy 30:19-20 says “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! Choose to love the Lord your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for He is your life.”