Words—Their Use And Abuse In Theology

The Semantics of Biblical Language, by James Barr (Oxford, 1961, 313 pp., 37s 6d), is reviewed by Berkeley Mickelsen, Associate Professor of Bible and Theology, Wheaton College (Illinois).

Here is a book which examines the use of linguistic evidence in theological argument. The investigation is very thorough. More than that, the self-imposed task of the author amounts to an extremely difficult assignment. Professor Barr “takes on singlehanded” biblical theologians, dogmatic theologians, and those linguists whose approach, so far as Professor Barr is concerned, resembles that of biblical theologians. Some very sound judgments are made. At the same time the critic opens himself to criticism by those who would differ from certain of his conclusions. He, like those whom he criticizes, is controlled by certain basic assumptions in theology. All of us are. Were he to write a fresh volume on any of the themes he discusses, he certainly would avoid etymological, atomistic, and artificial generalizations in linguistics. But his own selection and presentation of carefully-tested linguistical data would certainly show the basic assumptions of his own Weltanschauung. However, as a critic, Professor Barr is to be commended for a fine spirit.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. In chapter one the importance of the problem is discussed. The writer proposes “to survey and to criticize certain lines on which modern theological thinking has been assessing and using the linguistic material of the Bible” (p. 4). He makes plain that he is not criticizing biblical or any other kind of theology as such. He has one interest; namely, how does this theologian use linguistical data?

Next the author takes up the ...

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