Tag Archives: books

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.

Book Review: Out of the Silent Planet

C. S. Lewis, who is best known for his Chronicles of Narnia series, wrote a trilogy of sci-fi books known simply as “The Space Trilogy.” Science-fiction was what Lewis was famous for before becoming a Christian (and after), and “The Space Trilogy” was his best known work until The Chronicles of Narnia. Published in 1938, more than a decade before Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet was published. I had heard about this book/series many years ago, but I don’t read much fiction and I definitely don’t read science-fiction. However, last year I heard a little more about this first book that raised my curiosity. I do not remember who it was that made the remark, but it was said that Lewis wrote the book, in part, as a push back to the likes of H. G. Wells’ sci-fi. Welles and others like him, would speak of aliens coming to earth from above in order to hurt or enslave the innocent earthlings below. This was a deliberate attempt on Wells and like-writers who were mainly atheists to persuade their readers to start thinking as that which is not earthly/earthy (in other words, that which is heavenly–namely God) is evil, destructive, and to be feared or rejected. To contrast this perception, C. S. Lewis wrote “The Space Trilogy.”

If I were to describe the book in one word, it would be: “Wow!” I absolutely loved the book. It is better than any of the Chronicles of Narnia, by far! If you like Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai, (or the part in Gulliver’s Travels with the Houyhnhnm/horses), you will enjoy this book. It is similar, but takes place in outer-space. To briefly give a synopsis of the book (spoiler-alert; skip this paragraph if you want to read it yourself), a man by the name of Ransom is kidnapped by two men and put into a space-craft. They plan to sacrifice him to the aliens on whatever planet they are headed to (eventually revealed to be Mars, but has its own actual name: Malacandra). Ransom escapes and befriends different aliens (Hross), learns their language, and becomes part of their tribe. Eventually he is summoned by the higher beings (Sorns) on the planet, but his delay is deadly for his best hross friend (Hyoi) on the planet as his former captors shot him with a rifle from a distance. When he eventually gets to the higher plains where the Sorn live he finds his two captors/murderers captured. Though Oyarsa (the leader) does not believe Ransom to be like those who look like him, they are all sent back (at Ransom’s request) to Thulcandra (earth–the silent planet) with Ransom instructed to make sure the bad guys do not return, if they are able to make it back at all or anyone who would do harm to their way of life. What had been a peaceful planet, in which everything works in harmony, had now experienced murder and disruption. Those who were earthly/earthy had brought evil onto another planet rather than have another planet bring evil upon the earth.

The copy of the book I read, published by Scribner, comes in at 158 pages. This is a copyTrilogy 1 that has tiny print and small margins, so expect your copy to be a bit thicker. Even if you are not a sci-fi guy/gal (like me), I do believe you will enjoy this book. There are definite Christian overtones to this book, but not so easily seen as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with an Aslan figure rising from the dead. The overtones could be missed if read by a non-believer (or believer alike). If you’ve read it, let me know your thoughts. I would love to read your comments.