God The Illeist: Third-Person Self-References And Trinitarian Hints In The Old Testament -- By: Andrew S. Malone

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 52:3 (Sep 2009)
Article: God The Illeist: Third-Person Self-References And Trinitarian Hints In The Old Testament
Author: Andrew S. Malone


God The Illeist: Third-Person Self-References And Trinitarian Hints In The Old Testament

Andrew S. Malone*

* Andrew Malone is a doctoral candidate at Ridley Melbourne Mission & Ministry College, 170 The Avenue, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia.

Elmo has become Public Enemy #1. Internet discussions over the last few years have started to blame the shrill red Muppet for teaching children how to refer to themselves in the third person. Just as Elmo can announce, “Elmo has a question,” so children around the world are declaiming of themselves, “Johnny hurt his finger.” Parental concern is so prevalent that the Sesame Workshop website even carries a response to it.

It transpires that Elmo is not to blame. Children have referred to themselves in the third person for generations—typically copying their parents’ own simplification of speech. But the topic has linguists once again talking about this phenomenon. Indeed, such third-person self-reference has undergone a resurgence in prominence in recent decades. Analysts recognize its widespread propagation through use by politicians (notably Richard Nixon and Bob Dole), by sports stars, and by prominent fictional characters (in influential literature/cinema such as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, and famous television shows such as Seinfeld and The Simpsons). Such discussion is currently taking place under the formal label “illeism.”1

This technical title is attributed to Coleridge in 1809.2 The phenomenon itself can be found in written English centuries prior to that. The same syntax even occurs in the Greek of the NT and the Hebrew and Aramaic of the OT. Since the first generations of NT believers it has been employed as a significant tool for divining OT hints of the trinitarian plurality of God. It continues to be promulgated by contemporary evangelical systematicians, particularly in the influential textbooks of the last hundred years.

Given the theological weight attributed by theologians to this syntactic phenomenon, coupled with renewed interest in it in the contemporary media, it is appropriate for us to critique how illeism has been used—and misused— in identifying the Trinity in OT texts. I propose that the various rhetorical uses identified by biblical and secular commentators offer a more responsible

hermeneutic than do the revelatory claims made by many Christian apologists and theologians.

I. Problem Texts And Their Interpreters

The texts scrutinized in this article are...

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