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In the Beginning Was the Word: Language--A God-Centered Approach Paperback – October 27, 2009
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About the Author
Vern S. Poythress (PhD, Harvard University; ThD, University of Stellenbosch) is professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he has taught for nearly four decades. In addition to earning six academic degrees, he is the author of numerous books and articles on biblical interpretation, language, and science.
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I picked up this Kindle book with high expectation after finishing Poythress' excellent and compact commentary on Revelation (the Returning King).
The book covers a lot of ground (416 pages and 36 chapters). The chapters are relatively short and each chapter can be read in less than 30 minutes. The writing style of Prof. Poythress is clear (like his other books). I have however two major difficulties of this book:
1. It is full of assertions and not much explanation.Two examples will suffice:
Chapter 31 "The Father loves the Son. And love is an expression of the activity of the Spirit. The Father is the agent. The Son is the patient. The Spirit is closely related to the "action" or activity of loving. In the clause "The Father loves the Son," the structure of the clause expresses the eternal activity of the persons in relation to one another. Language in this respect is rooted in God's eternal intra-Trinitarian relations. Specifically, the clause structure is related to God's eternal intra-Trinitarian relations". (I can't see how talking about the Father loves the Son eventually leads to the assertion that language ...is rooted in God's eternal intra-Trinitarian relations?).
Chapter 33 "When you use a word, you rely on God. Each word shows God's eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20). Each word comes to you in a situation that depends on God's creation of you and of your environment. In its coinherence of aspects, each word images the coinherence in God's Trinitarian character". (Again, I understand each sentence but the whole paragraph still does not make sense to me?)
2. The second point is related to the first. While there are many chapters and they cover a lot of topics, I found not many connections between the chapters. I don't think Prof. Poythress explained his main arguments in a coherent and connected manner.
These two concerns may not be a problem for trained theologians and linguists. But for interested layman like myself, I find this book unfortunately difficult to understand.
Language is not only the centerpiece of our everyday lives, but it gives significance to all that we do. It also reflects and reveals our all-sustaining Creator, whose providential governance extends to the intricacies of language. Writes Vern Poythress, "God controls and specifies the meaning of each word-not only in English but in Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Italian, and every other language. When, in our modernism or postmodernism, we drop him from our account of language, our words suddenly become a prison that keeps us from the truth rather than opening doors to the truth. But we will use our words more wisely if we come to know God and understand him in relation to our language."
It is such biblically informed insights that make In the Beginning Was the Word especially valuable. Words are important to us all, and this book-written at a level that presupposes no knowledge of linguistics-develops a positive, God-centered view of language. In his interaction with multiple disciplines Poythress offers plenty of application, not just for scholars and church leaders but for any Christian thinking carefully about his speech.
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