God, Language and Scripture

By Mois├ęs Silva
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1990). 160 Pages.

Reviewed by
4.2 (Fall 1993) : 239-240

The author, professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary, is also general editor of the Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation series of which this book is a part. His readable, often anecdotal style makes the theoretical issues he discusses approachable for the linguistically uninitiated. His primary aim in the book is "to provide guidance in the use of biblical languages" (back cover).

The book abounds with correctives that concern the misuse of words. One example is, "In short, the range of meaning, and therefore the potential sentence use, of a word is established by its opposition to semantically neighboring words" (91). Another of his proposed remedies is, "There is nothing exotic or artificial about New Testament Greek. The Apostles were primarily interested in communicating their message clearly and vigorously. And under God's guidance they succeeded" (75).

Because the book stresses a linguistic approach to biblical interpretation, one might expect a complete sell-out to linguistic theory and methodology. Silva shows this is not the case by his thoughtful disclaimer regarding linguistics and philology: "Modern linguistics cannot replace the 'common sense' skills of a good interpreter -indeed, it has the potential for an exaggerated formalism that can swallow up those skills- but it can provide new perspectives and methods leading to greater consistency" (122).

The section dealing with lexical semantics provides in places a balanced perspective not found in many grammatical works. Silva's warning regarding the relationship between grammar and lexicology will be particulary helpful to students who are new to the original languages:

In conclusion, we may say that an interpreter is unwise to emphasize an idea that allegedly comes from the use of a tense (or some other subtle grammatical distinction) unless the context as a whole clearly sets forth that idea. Whether the use of the tense contributes to that idea or whether it is the idea that contributes to the use of the tense is perhaps debatable, but no interpretation is worth considering unless it has strong contextual support. If it doesn't, then the use of the grammatical detail becomes irrelevant; if it does, then the grammar is at best a pointer to, not the basis of, the correct interpretation (118).

For the interested reader, an appropriate sequel to the present work might be P. Cotterell and M. Turner, Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation, a volume recommended in Silva's work as well as in his review of it in WTJ 51 (1989):389-90.