The Use Of Language And Biblical Interpretation -- By: George Huttar
BETS 5:4 (Fall 1962) p. 116
The Use Of Language And Biblical Interpretation
“And if ‘god’ is a metaphysical term, then it cannot be even probable that a god exists. For to say that ‘God exists’ is to make a metaphysical utterance which cannot be either true or false. And by the same criterion, no sentence which purports to describe the nature of a transcendent god can possess any literal significance.”1Whatever departures A. J. Ayer may later have made from his position in the Language, Truth and Logic of 1935, the above statement still presses home the need for Biblical theology to take into account the recent developments in linguistic philosophy. For if such a notion is correct, the entire uniqueness of the Bible’s message as at least a partial revelation of “the nature of a transcendent god” is lost. And granted that such theological expressions do have some significance, the contributions of logico-interpretational analysis are not only valuable but indispensable for exegesis and existential application of Biblical truth (if such there be) which is adequate and faithful to what was intended by the author(s).
Ayer’s extreme suggestions concerning the place of metaphysics, ethics, and theology have already been thoroughly and repeatedly criticized2, and Ayer himself has somewhat modified his earlier thought. Rather than whip again a dying horse, let us assume that the logical positivist school has offered no sufficient grounds for holding that theological statements are “meaningless”. Yet assuming that the Biblical statements concerning God have some significance for men, we are still left with the problem of determining how these statements are to be taken. If Christian theism is to reap the full benefit of its supernatural revelation, a safe course must be steered between the Scylla of complete literalism and the Charybdis of a symbolism which not only divests all Biblical statements of any precise, literal intention, but also denies the possibility of any direct knowledge concerning God. It is in the plotting of such a course that an analysis of the way in which that revelation uses language is needed.
Reacting against the early extremes of the Vienna Circle and its following, the ordinary language school of philosophy insisted that words were to be interpreted according to their usual meaning in ordinary usage. (“Ordinary” here is used not in the sense of “lay” as opposed to “technical”, but as “stock”, standard, as opposed to “non-stock”3). In its most radical form some principles of this type of philosophical method could be pushed to conclude that such words, f...
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