July 7th, 2010
Poythress, Vern. In the Beginning was the Word: Language- A God-Centered Approach. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009. 416 pp. $25.00. Purchase at Westminster Books.
Dr. Poythress is professor New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. He has taught for longer than 25 years. You can find more of his works here. This particular book looks to God’s use of language to communicate to us about Himself.
Divided into six parts with thirty-six chapters, Dr. Poythress expertly shows the importance of both the spoken and written languages. He begins in section one looking at God’s involvement with language. I love that he begins with a discourse on language and the Trinity. We talk of the fellowship within the Trinity but have you ever really thought of Their use of language in that fellowship? He concludes this section with our understanding of how God has communicated His Law to us through written language.
Part two looks at the use of language in the context of history…both good and bad uses. The third part details discourse and how we interpret the Bible. Part four takes a specific look at storytelling with a very important chapter on the story of redemption.
Sentences and words are the subject of part five. Here, Poythress traces how words have meaning and how the meanings of those words form our perspectives. The final chapter looks to how we are to apply our understanding of God’s use of language. The book concludes with many appendices discussing philosophical approaches to language.
We use language every day and never really give it a second thought except when we are attempting to communicate with someone who cannot understand what we are saying. Poythress does a huge favor by showing how our use of language is (and ought to be) rooted in the Triune God.
Each chapter is short yet extremely thought provoking. Poythress moves logically from a prolegomena of God as Triune through to the history of language in humanity. It all begins, as Poythress rightly shows over and over, with God and ends with humanity. To think that God would actually condescend to be able to speak with and to us through His Word, the Bible is more than my brain can handle. Seriously, think about how we try to communicate to a frog or a hamster or a duck but to quickly realize that we cannot begin to communicate to them other than trying to throw something at them or chasing them down. Now, think of how much more difficult it was for God, an infinite and all-powerful being, to actually communicate to us. You are now beginning to get the picture of what Poythress is communicating.
While I realize that not everyone will find this subject as fascinating as I did, I do recommend this book openly to all. Throughout the pages of In the Beginning was the Word, the reader will be shown over and over the glory of God through His communication with us–the Bible. If you are philosophically minded, then you will devour the contents found between the covers of this book.