My thanks to Antony Billington of LICC for flagging up about this book on his Billington’s blog.

Vern Poythress has made his recent book, In the Beginning Was the Word: Language—A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009) available online on his website. It has some interesting stuff on the nature of language within the context of Bible and mission, so is well worth a look.

Here is the contents followed by an excerpt

Chapter 1: The Importance of Language 11

Part 1: God’s Involvement with Language
Chapter 2: Language and the Trinity 17
Chapter 3: God Speaking 23
Chapter 4: God’s Creation of Man 29
Chapter 5: God Sustaining Language 39
Chapter 6: Creativity in Language 42
Chapter 7: Exploring Examples of Language 50
Chapter 8: The Rules of Language 60
Chapter 9: God’s Rule 64
Chapter 10: Responding to God’s Government 78

Part 2: From Big to Small: Language in the Context of History
Chapter 11: Small Pieces of Language within the Big Pieces 85
Chapter 12: Imaging 91
Chapter 13: World History 97
Chapter 14: The Fall into Sin 103
Chapter 15: Redemption through Christ 116
Chapter 16: Peoples, Cultures, and Languages 124
Chapter 17: Principles for Cultural Reconciliation 131
Chapter 18: Good and Bad Kinds of Diversity 138
Chapter 19: Human Action 149

Part 3: Discourse
Chapter 20: Speaking and Writing 163
Chapter 21: Analysis and Verbal Interpretation 170
Chapter 22: Interpreting the Bible 180
Chapter 23: Genre 186

Part 4: Stories
Chapter 24: Storytelling 195
Chapter 25: The Story of Redemption 206
Chapter 26: Many Mini-redemptions 209
Chapter 27: Counterfeit Stories of Redemption 219
Chapter 28: Modern Reinterpretations of Redemptive Stories 229
Chapter 29: Stories about Jesus 234

Part 5: Smaller Packages in Language: Sentences and Words
Chapter 30: Sentences in Use: Foundations in Truth 243
Chapter 31: Foundations for Meaning in Trinitarian Inter-personal Action 251
Chapter 32: Subsystems of Language 259
Chapter 33: Words and Their Meanings 270
Chapter 34: From Words to Perspectives 280

Part 6: Application
Chapter 35: Truth as a Perspective 289
Chapter 36: Living in the Truth 297

Interaction with Other Approaches to Language
Appendix A: Modernism and Postmodernism 303
Appendix B: Doubt within Postmodernism 311
Appendix C: Non-Christian Thinking 320
Appendix D: Platonic Ideas 326
Appendix E: The Contribution of Structural Linguistics 332
Appendix F: Translation Theory 338
Appendix G: Symbolic Logic and Logical Positivism 350
Appendix H: The Theory of Speech Acts 353
Appendix I: Reaching Out to Deconstruction 370

Supplementary Reflections
Appendix J: Special Cases of Human Speech 385
Bibliography 391
General Index 401
Scripture Index 411

Thus, even though the fall has had its effects, the universality of the reach of the gospel confirms that we will still find “language universals,” universal capability throughout all languages that make the gospel expressible in each language. The Bible can be translated into each—and has been translated into many languages, more than any other book. Because the Bible is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16) to address all nations (Luke 24:47), it is true and pertinent to every culture. God so designed it. We know it is universal in its reach, not by intellectual insight that has given us a godlike superiority, but simply because God has told us so, and we trust him. But that universal reach is not worked out in practice without missionaries and translators having to confront surprising knots, complexities, resistances, and rich perspectival diversities.

The Bible is not acultural. It does not owe its universality to rising above cultures into thin, disembodied universal philosophical platitudes (which would actually falsify its very specific message). In the Bible God addresses immediate issues in the first century and in the Hebraic cultures of Old Testament times. Through the apostle Paul God warns the Corinthian church about divisions; he warns the Galatian churches to rely on Christ and not on circumcision. God also speaks universally, by indicating to all nations how he accomplished worldwide salvation precisely in the once-for-all, culturally and historically specific events concerning the descendants of Abraham leading up to Christ. As part of its universal scope, the Bible also contains many general, universal statements: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “The Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). “Righteous are you, O Lord, and right are your rules” (Ps. 119:137). God expects us to believe his universal claims, and not to evaporate them by artificially restricting them to one culture.

The missiologist does not need to “make” the Bible universal. It is already that (Acts 1:8). Rather he needs to help people in each culture take their place as disciples in the Bible’s universal world history. (pp.142-143)

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