Tag Archives: Bible

Book Review: God, Language and Scripture

Moisés Silva’s book, God, Language and Scripture: Reading the Bible in Light of General Linguistics was an interesting read. Rarely was there any part that the writer of this review found boring. What was expected to be a book on Hebrew and Greek ended up being a book on how to understand the writers of Scripture better. That is not to say there wasn’t any Hebrew or Greek (or Aramaic) within the pages; there certainly were. However, most of these were illustrations from Silva that proved his points, the main one being that the translator or interpreter of Scripture must keep linguistics in mind. “Every facet of interpretation must be kept in proper perspective, and the more we know about the nature of language, the more likely we are to ‘handle correctly the word of God’ (2 Tim. 2:15).” (P. 15)

In order to bring about this objective, Silva wrote seven chapters, consisting of 145 pages. The first was simply an introduction, helping the reader get acquainted with what was to come. In his second chapter, one will read the author’s perspective on language from the way the Bible presents it. From the very beginning of the Bible there is language. God speaks the world into existence and so communicated with Adam and Eve. He created them in his own image thus making them people of communication. By the third chapter, the one is reading about the scientific study of language. This chapter involves the evolution of language as well as the various humanity, natural and social science studies.

Once one gets to the fourth chapter, he reads of the history of the biblical languages in more depth. Silva describes how Hebrew and Aramaic are similar—linguistic cousins and why those who read Hebrew do not need vowels. Greek also had its history and much of that history impacted the New Testament writers. The fifth and sixth chapters delve into describing the biblical languages. One aspect that was interesting in this chapter was that of languages’ etymology. This has been discussed somewhat in previous sections, but a greater impact can be read in chapter 5. Silva gives an example that the word gossip comes from the same root as godparent. It was the talk that happened during christenings. Yet, no one brings this up except as a piece of trivia.

[T]here are occasions (as in some poetic passages of the Old Testament) when we come across rare words whose meaning is unclear and for which etymological analysis can provide some help. Most words, however, are widely attested and their meaning can be clearly established from the numerous contexts in which they appear. (P. 88)

Another striking point was that rarely do biblical authors seek to be ambiguous, but at times there seems to be some intentionality in doing just that. Silva explained that if the writer was clearer, it would lead the readers down the wrong path, or as found especially in poetry “the purpose was not to confuse but to impress on our hearts the force of the divine message.” (P. 97). Most ambiguity arises from a distance in time and culture, not in the text itself.

What most grammars do not do, that the author sought to make amends for, is show how words work within sentences and paragraphs. That was the focus of chapter six. In this chapter, Silva gave a handy guide to diagraming clauses (not sentences!) so that the reader could make sense of what was being written. This is helpful with many of Paul’s sentences that seem to be endless clauses rolled into one run-on sentence.

The final chapter was an epilogue. The focus was on continuing to pass the Bible on through textual transmission, translation, and teaching. Surprisingly to this writer, Silva believes that linguistically speaking, dynamic translations are the way to go when it comes to understanding the text better. Literal translations are too rigid and often miss the point of what the biblical writer was saying.

Overall, this book deserves to be read by young and old pastors alike, if for no other reason than the fact that there is an overuse of etymology that is pervasive within churches. To use etymology makes the preacher look smart, but it rarely helps the congregation understand the Word better. That being said, the member who has a proclivity for original languages could benefit from this book as well. The lay-member would benefit from reading the epilogue as they may feel shamed by “more studious” members for having a dynamic translation rather than a more literal one. Having read the book, it helps one to understand the overall use of language within Scripture. However, it does very little with helping one understand vocabulary.

I Must See Jesus!

I was reminded today about two men in the Bible that did whatever they must in order to see Jesus. One was a blind man who lived in Jericho. A crowd had apparently gathered and was walking to get a glimpse of Jesus. Noting the commotion, blind Bartimaeus asked who it was that was coming. Notice how the people spoke of Jesus: “They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,'” (Luke 18:37, ESV). Thrilled to hear the news that Jesus was coming, Bartimaeus could not compose himself. He must see Jesus! Notice how Bartimaeus spoke of Jesus, “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,'” (Luke 18:38, ESV)! To the crowd, Jesus was “of Nazareth,” but to Bartimaeus, Jesus was the “Son of David,” the Messiah that everyone had hoped for.

When everyone sought to shut him up, he would not be silent. He must see Jesus! “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me,'” (Luke 18:39b, ESV)! Jesus stopped and had mercy upon poor, blind Bartimaeus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God, (Luke 18:41-43, ESV).

No amount of shushing would keep this blind man from seeking what he longed for. He must see Jesus! If you haven’t noticed, the word “see” is intentional. In such a way, this story reminds me of Fanny Crosby, the great 20th century hymn-writer. Fanny Crosby went blind just a few weeks after being born. The story is told about a conversation a preacher had upon visiting Ms. Crosby.

“I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you,” remarked one well-meaning preacher.

Fanny Crosby responded at once, as she had heard such comments before. “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind?” said the poet, who had been able to see only for her first six weeks of life. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.” (Christianity Today, emphasis mine)

But there was another man who must see Jesus in Luke’s text. This man is even more famous than blind Bartimaeus. Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He too had heard that Jesus was in Jericho, and something welled up within him a desire to see Jesus. He must see Jesus! But he was short. Too short to see over the crowd that had gathered. Being a tax-collector probably made it even harder on him to scoot through the crowd. Why would a respectable citizen give way for the rift-raft? “So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way,” (Luke 19:4, ESV).

Whatever it took he would see Jesus. A grown man acting like a child, hiking up his robe, he ran and climbed a tree to see Jesus. Who cares if he looked ridiculous? He must see Jesus! “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully,” (Luke 19:5-6, ESV).

Two men: one blind, one a “sinner”–both must see Jesus. Because they sought him out– even at the expense of themselves: their dignity, their self-respect, their reputation (grant it Zacchaeus probably did not have a good reputation)–the saw Jesus! They not only saw Jesus, they experienced Jesus’s life-changing power. Jesus healed Bartimaeus of his blindness and Zacchaeus of his greed. Both of their lives were instantly transformed.

That being said. . . do we believe that we must see Jesus? Are we willing to do whatever it takes to see Him? What are we willing to lay down, sacrifice for the opportunity to see Jesus? To the believer, we will ultimately see Him one day face to face. But what about now? We may not see Him face to face, but we can still experience that life-changing power when we seek him with all our hearts.  While the verse was written to exiled Israel, I think we can still apply it to our lives: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart,” (Jeremiah 29:13, ESV). That’s what we see with blind Bartimaeus: “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,'” (Luke 18:38, ESV)! It is what we saw with Zacchaeus: “So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way,” (Luke 19:4, ESV). Most Christians want to see Jesus, but they do not believe that they must see Jesus. It is not urgent to them and so they do not act in urgency. If we get around to Bible reading, study, and meditation, then great. If not, oh well. If we can squeeze in a few moments for prayer, we’ll be better off probably, but if not, so be it. We allow the shushing of our schedules and daily grind and emotions and busyness to keep us from crying out. We do not run to the Word and climb the tree of contemplation seeking the Lord Jesus. We do not cry out in our prayers, “Jesus, Son of David!” with much urgency or faith that He will hear. If we kind of would like to see Jesus if it isn’t too much trouble, we might not ever get the opportunity. But if we must see Jesus and put such a must into action, we will see Him as He comes upon the way. He will come, but we must keep seeking until He does. It will be a different sight than Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus saw, but we will see Him nonetheless.

’Tis the blessed hour of prayer, when our hearts lowly bend,
And we gather to Jesus, our Savior and Friend;
If we come to Him in faith, His protection to share,
What a balm for the weary! O how sweet to be there!

’Tis the blessed hour of prayer, when the Savior draws near,
With a tender compassion His children to hear;
When He tells us we may cast at His feet every care,
What a balm for the weary, O how sweet to be there! (Chorus)

’Tis the blessed hour of prayer, when the tempted and tried
To the Savior Who loves them their sorrow confide;
With a sympathizing heart He removes every care;
What a balm for the weary! O how sweet to be there! (Chorus)

At the blessed hour of prayer, trusting Him we believe
That the blessing we’re needing we’ll surely receive;
In the fullness of this trust we shall lose every care;
What a balm for the weary! O how sweet to be there!

Blessed hour of prayer,
Blessed hour of prayer:
What a balm for the weary!
O how sweet to be there!

~Fanny Crosby

I must see Jesus!