Linguistics And Biblical Language: A Wide-Open Field -- By: Richard J. Erickson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 26:3 (Sep 1983)
Article: Linguistics And Biblical Language: A Wide-Open Field
Author: Richard J. Erickson


Linguistics And Biblical Language:
A Wide-Open Field

Richard J. Erickson*

I. Isolation

“I can scarcely imagine another example of such a lack of communication between related scientific disciplines,” remarks Erhardt Güttgemanns.1 Outlining what he thinks is a deplorable state of affairs, he declares in a remarkable passage that

the exegete who turns from theological hermeneutics to the reading of international linguistics and literary criticism encounters an absolutely puzzling and completely incomprehensible situation: Protestant theology, since Luther’s discovery of the correlation of promissio and fides and above all since the rise of dialectical theology, has understood itself decidedly as a “theology of the Word of God”; but still, right up to today, it has had no adequate understanding of the science of language and linguistic processes, that is, of general linguistics.2

The rhetorical effect is heightened as the passage continues with no fewer than nine more such “right-up-to-today” exclamations, all lamenting the tardiness and reluctance of theologians—especially German theologians:3 —to avail themselves of the advantages of modern linguistic science. Güttgemanns himself has not been slack in doing more than his share to bring modern linguistics and semantics into the theological arena—and not only in Germany. His prolific writing has become well known in Europe, in Britain, and in America as well.4

Nor is it only in theological studies that adequate linguistic methodology is often ignored. Berthe Siertsema has pointed out such shortcomings in the works

* Richard Erickson is pastor of Triumph Lutheran Brethren Church in Moorhead, Minnesota.

of numerous European philosophers who, rightly, reinterpret data they have not themselves observed. But too often they do so on the basis of nonfacts, a situation that among other things produces certain “a-linguistic” (i.e., nonlinguistic) views of language.5 These a-linguistic views of philosophers remarkably parallel similar views found in the works of certain Biblical theologians and criticized by James Barr.6 By Siertsema’s analysis, such a-linguistic views include failure to distinguish between (1) thinking and speaking (i.e., concept and word), (2) thinking and “naming” (i.e., concept and word-meaning), (3) ways of thinking (...

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