“That Book in Your Hand”
As we continue the study on Bibliology (the study of what the Scriptures are, and how they came to us), I want to discuss today something that is often overlooked — God’s work in developing the languages He used to give us the Scriptures.
The first sermon in this series was on the inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16 (summarised discussion with links here). Now, we are looking at how that divine nature came into being, their divine origin. II Peter 1:19-21:
19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Moved by the Spirit
The Holy Spirit “moved” the human authors so that they would write that which He intended — thus, the Scriptures are indeed the Word of God (part one). This original act of God in giving us the Bible is sometimes called “immediate inspiration” or “inscripturation” (definitions). In part two, we see that God’s work in giving the Scriptures extended to placing divine authority in the very choice of words that were used. When we see a word in the Scriptures, we see the word that God Himself wanted to put there to communicate His truth.
The Spirit Moved in the Languages Used
1. God Invented Language. The God who created mankind was called “The Word” in John 1:1-3, and He created language, speaking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He wants us to know Him, and it is by language that He communicates with us so that we can know Him.
In Genesis 11, we learn that everyone spoke the same language, but that God created many languages, thwarting man’s evil plan to band together against God. While languages develop over time, the original idea of languages for communication was God’s. So also it was an act of God to make different languages.
2. God Used Special Language Characteristics. If you haven’t read the last post (part two), you really need to, especially on John 10, if you want to follow this section. If we look at the two main passages mentioned there, we see that there were special characteristics of the languages that God used in communicating truth. John 10:34-35:
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
In Hebrew, the word for “gods” was also the word for “judges,” and so God could use the word in Psalm 82 to confront the children of Israel over their unrighteousness, while the same word could be used by Christ to establish His deity. God used a word with more than one meaning to accomplish His purpose in revealing His truth in both Psalm 82 and John 10.
We see something similar in Galatians 3:
14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
The word “seed” is what is known as a collective noun, so it can be used properly for either one seed or many. Thus, Abraham’s seed (many) can be multiplied as the stars of heaven (Genesis 22:17), and yet through his seed (one) all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
In these two passages, people have suggested that the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul were making false arguments, taking a meaning of the word which differed from the original intent. They say that Christ took a word which meant “judges” (in context) and changed it to mean “gods,” while Paul took a word that meant “seed” (both singular and plural) and argued it was only singular. These accusations miss the point entirely.
If God is sovereign, and He is, then He had a hand in developing the languages. God knew, before it was ever written, what He wanted to convey by the Hebrew word for “seed,” and how He was going to move Paul to use it. God moved in the development of the language so that there would be a perfect word to convey what He wanted to convey. God planned the usage of the Hebrew word Elohim, before He ever made the first man, so that it would have different meanings. His purpose was established from the beginning, so that the language He used would be perfect to convey His truth.
God was not “stuck” with the characteristics and vocabulary of the languages to convey His truth. He sovereignly determined those characteristics and vocabularies. Language was not something that “happened” to God, something that confined Him in communicating His message. Rather, a sovereign God “happened” to the languages, forming them to be exactly what He wanted to use to convey His truth.
3. God Prepared the Geographical Usage of the Languages. The Bible was originally written in three languages. The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew, with some passages in Aramaic (most notably, Daniel 2:4-7:28).
It has been suggested that God chose these languages because of where they were being used. He chose Hebrew for the Old Testament because it described God’s dealings with the children of Israel, and the preparation for the Jewish Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He chose Aramaic because it was the imperial language of Babylon (and the Persian Empire that followed) to record His dealings with the rulers of those empires, and prophecies dealing with the nations and the Greek and Roman Empires to come. He chose Greek because the Greek Empire had spread the Greek language far and wide, and Koine (common) Greek was spoken throughout the known world, even by the common people.
I suggest that this is looking at things somewhat backwards. God did not choose languages because of where they were used, but rather, the God who was sovereignly developing the language characteristics necessary to reveal His truth was also sovereignly choosing where those languages would be used.
Is there any Biblical basis for this? We know that God chose Babylon as the place of captivity for Judah, including Daniel. II Kings 20:16-18:
16 And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of the LORD.
17 Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD.
18 And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.
The prophecies of captivity included references to the language of the captors:
Deuteronomy 28:49 The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand;
Isaiah 28:11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.
Did the Aramaic language just “happen” to God, so that He had to use it in Daniel because it was the one available for His purpose? God was talking about that language 800 years before Nebuchadnezzar gained power. Even Nebuchadnezzar himself learned that “the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:17), so the God who was talking about Nebuchadnezzar’s language 800 years earlier was the God who gave him the kingdom. God caused both a language and an empire to rise, even as He developed that language to be both the language of Empire and a language of His revelation. In every way, He made imperial Aramaic fit for His purpose in revealing His plans for the empires of this world.
The same can be seen with the Greek language. God laid out His plan for the Greek Empire long before it came into existence, describing in Daniel 7-8 the rise of Greece, some 250 years before Alexander the Great. Daniel 8 and 10-11 describe in some detail the wide and long impact of Greek power and influence, through the rise and fall of Alexander to the divided empire and the wars that followed. By the time Rome came to power (also prophesied in Daniel), Greek was spoken from Europe to Egypt to perhaps even India, and Rome adopted the Greek language for administrative purposes in much of their empire.
It was no coincidence that Greece came to power — God said it would happen. It was no accident that the influence of their language spread so widely. Nor was it a surprise to God that Rome came to power and adopted the Greek language so extensively, as the first language in many parts of their empire, the second language in other parts. If we accept that God sovereignly developed the Greek language to be the perfect mechanism for revealing His Word in the New Testament, we should also see His hand in sovereignly spreading the use of that language far and wide. Thus, His Gospel could go without language barriers to much of the known world in the years immediately following Christ.
We should not see the moving of God the Holy Spirit in giving us the Word of God as limited only to the choice of the words by which it was given. Rather, we should see His sovereign working in the languages themselves, so that they were “fit for purpose” in the hand of an Almighty God.
God the Holy Spirit “moved” sovereignly in developing the vocabulary, structure, and geographical acceptance / usage of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages so they would be perfect vehicles for conveying His truth.
Update: Main article.