Grace Theological Journal 9.1 (1988) 21-43
[Copyright © 1988 Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission;
digitally prepared for
use at Gordon and
THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN
LANGUAGE: A VEHICLE FOR
Doubts have arisen about the adequacy of human language to
convey inerrant truth from God to man. These doubts are rooted in
an empirical epistemology, as elaborated by Hume, Kant, Heidegger
and others. Many theologians adopted such an empirical view and
found themselves unable to defend a biblical view of divine, inerrant
revelation. Barth was slightly more successful, but in the end he
failed. The problem is the empirical epistemology that first analyzes
man's relationship with creation. Biblically, the starting point should
be an analysis of man's relationship with his Creator. When ap-
proached this way, creation (especially the creation of man in God's
image) and the incarnation show that God and man possess an
adequate, shared communication system that enables God to com-
municate intelligibly and inerrantly with man. Furthermore, the
Bible's insistence on written revelation shows that inerrant divine
communication carries the same authority whether written or spoken.
* * *
As a result of the materialistic, empirical scepticism of the last two
centuries, many theologians entertain doubts about the ade-
quacy of human language to convey divine truth (or, in some cases,
to convey truth of any kind). This review of the philosophical and
theological origins of the current doubts about language lays a
foundation for a biblical view of language.
THE CONTEMPORARY PROBLEM
One recent writer stated the problem of the adequacy of religious
language in these words:
The problem of religious knowledge, in the context of contemporary
philosophical analysis, is basically this: no one has any. The problem of
22 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
religious language, in the same context, is this: can we find an excuse
for uttering these sentences we apparently have no business saying?1
The writer highlights two important aspects of the debate on the
adequacy of language. First, the problems of religious knowledge and
language arise primarily in the context of contemporary philosophical
analysis. Second, the problem of religious language is inherent in the
current skeptical view of religious knowledge: if we have no knowl-
edge of transcendent realities, how could we speak about them in any
meaningful way?2 What philosophical currents have led to such a
bleak view of the possibility of religious knowledge and language?
David Hume (1711-1776) believed that all knowledge is derived
from our sensations, referring to vision, hearing, feeling, smelling,
and tasting. Experience alone is the key to understanding one's
environment. Hume elevated experience as the measure of truth and
held that ideas or thoughts could be valid only if they have their roots
This premise has important implications for our understanding
of intangible concepts such as cause and effect, theistic arguments, or
ethics. For instance, no one has ever seen a cause or an effect. All we
have seen is a succession of events that has been repeated several
times so that in our minds we come to connect them as cause and
effect. Since nobody can observe cause or effect in a literal sense, it is
impossible to know whether such concepts are true. One may only
suggest or speculate that such concepts are true about his experience.
Knowledge is thus strictly limited to experience. It does not
include speculation about experience. Concepts like cause and effect
are thereby relegated to the realm of speculation rather than to the
realm of knowledge.
Hume applies the same argument to Christianity, theistic proofs,
ethics (especially when dealing with absolute standards), and other
If we take in our hand any volume--of divinity or school metaphysics,
for instance--let us ask Does it contain any abstract reasoning con-
cerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental
1 D. R. Broi1es, "Linguistic Analysis of Religious Language," Religious Language
and Knowledge (ed. R. H. Ayers and W.
Georgia Press, 1981) 135.
2 Cf. L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (trans. O. F. Pears and B. F.
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 23
reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then
to the flames: for it can contain nothing except sophistry and illusion.3
This position is called "empirical skepticism": any concept that
does not immediately rest on experience cannot be the subject of our
knowledge. Hume would not actually deny such intangible concepts.
Cause and effect are helpful categories in discussing our experience,
but the closest we come to knowledge is to assert that such categories
are probable.4 And while the concept of probability can be helpful, it
cannot be described as settled knowledge. Though it may be helpful
to digest the weatherman's nightly predictions, one grants them little
status above that of informed speculation.
Kant's Metaphysical Dualism
The problem with Hume's philosophy is that knowledge is not
just limited; it is, in fact, impossible. How could knowledge arise
from sensations? Our perception of a chair is no more than various
impressions like the color brown, a particular shape, and a hard or
soft feeling. These impressions are combined into the image of a
chair. But what makes us select only those sensations that pertain to
our perception of the chair rather than one of the dozens of other
impressions we are receiving, such as the room being stuffy, the smell
of food, the phone ringing, etc.? It would seem that the mind has an
important part in arranging all these sensations so that our world
becomes intelligible. "Knowledge presupposes the recognition and
comparison of causal, spatial and temporal relations, and much
more. None of this, however, is provided by the senses. They give
only tastes, odors, color patches and so on.5
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) attempted to resolve this difficulty
by appealing both to the human intellect and our experiences. His
basic conclusion was that the mind had certain innate categories, such
as space and time, by which the sensory data could be organized and
arranged, and which thus made knowledge possible.6
This theory does not escape all of the difficulties of Hume's
empiricism. Concepts like causality and necessity are now part of the
mind's makeup and help us to explain our world. But Kant's cate-
gories of the mind only help to organize and arrange the sensory
data; they are of no help in thinking about the metaphysical world.
3 D. Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (
Merrill, 1962), sec. 12, pt. 3, quoted in G. R. Habermas, "Skepticism: Hume," Biblical
Errancy: An Analysis of its Philosophical Roots (ed. N. L. Geisler;
Zondervan, 1981) 32.
4 Habermas, "Skepticism: Hume," 32.
5 D. W. Beck, "Agnosticism: Kant," in Geisler, Biblical Errancy, 57.
6 Ibid., 59.
24 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Consequently, a concept of God is beyond our sensations and ex-
periences as well as beyond our mind's makeup. Even though knowl-
edge of experience is now possible, we are still unable to have
knowledge of metaphysical realities.
Kant, however, pursued the issue further. Being a religious man,
he wished to establish a rational place for God in his system. For
ethics, this insistence on rationality meant that any acceptable ab-
solute standards had to be derived from the following maxim: "Act
only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will
that it should be a universal law"; that is, you should do as you want
everyone else to do. This is called the "categorical imperative." From
this kind of reasoning, Kant envisaged that one could arrive at all
other great metaphysical ideas, like freedom, God, and immortality.7
These concepts, though, cannot be known; they are speculations in
considering the practical way of life.8
For Kant, then, reason was sufficient to discover all the vital
truths that orthodox Christianity derived from revelation. Revelation
became superfluous. Kant's insistence upon the rationality of ethics
and religion left no place for divine revelation. Even so, reason could
only speculate about metaphysical realities, but it could not attain
absolute knowledge in this area.
Kant's philosophy, like Hume's, has no room for religious knowl-
edge beyond that of speculation. But Kant, unlike Hume, found a
place for religion in his system through his categorical imperative. His
religion is not a revered religion, but an ethical one.9
Nineteenth Century Liberalism
Many nineteenth century theologians, following Hume's skeptical
views, rejected the supernatural. God, Christ, angels and many other
concepts of the supernatural are not immediately subject to our
senses of hearing, vision, touch, taste or smell. Therefore, so these
theologians reasoned, we cannot really know anything about the
supernatural; all we have is speculation. These men came to see the
world as a closed continuum without any supernatural beings or
Naturally, the idea followed that we have no divine revelation. In
a closed continuum God could not have intervened to create any
7 Ibid., 6l.
8 Cf. C. van Til, The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture (N.p.: den Bulk Christian
Foundation, 1967) 54.
9 In biblical exegesis a corresponding shift has been noticed, "from Luther's explicit
christocentrism to ethicocentrism" (Beck, "Agnosticism: Kant," 67).
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 25
written, revealed record. "In a closed system. . . any idea of revela-
tion becomes nonsense."10 The emphasis shifted accordingly from
God's Word to human witness. The Bible became only a record of
man's experiences of the divine; and rather than revealing God, the
Bible dealt with man's reactions to what he perceived to be divine.
Although man's experience with the divine is important, it is inade-
quate to serve as the basis of a theistic worldview.
The next logical step was to forsake the Bible altogether. How-
ever, theologians generally avoided this radical step by rejecting as
authoritative any human influences in the Bible while holding on to
what traces of divine influence they could find. The Historical-Critical
school represents this movement. The focus of exegesis became God's
activity in history rather than his word about these activities. Doc-
trine was inferred from the historical record rather than being derived
from God's statements about that record. Although God was not
conceived of as intervening directly in history (as witnessed by the
denial of miracles11) he apparently could still have some effect.12
It seems that one of Karl Barth's main concerns has been to
recover a biblical concept of God. In order to do so, he returned to
some concept of revelation; although it was not in agreement with the
biblical concept. He also recovered a sense of God, in that God was
supposed to speak through the Bible.
Yet, his effort was crippled from the beginning, because he
founded his theology on the Kantian and Humean premise that
knowledge is derived from experience.
We cannot conceive God because we cannot even contemplate him. He
cannot be the object of one of those perceptions to which our concepts,
our thought forms and finally our words and sentences are related.13
Furthermore, under the ban of Kantian metaphysical dualism, he
stated: "God cannot be compared to anyone or anything. He is only
like himself."14 That is, God is wholly Other, totally different from
10 F. A. Schaeffer, He Is There And He Is Not Silent (
11 Habermas, "Skepticism: Hume," 31.
12 S. Obitts, "The Meaning and Use of Religious Language," Tensions of Con-
temporary Theology (ed. S. N. Gundry and
A. F. Johnson;
13 K. Barth, Church Dogmatics
references to Barth's Church Dogmatics as given are cited in G. H. Clark, Karl Barth's
Theological Method (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963). The number in
parentheses refers to this work.
14 Ibid., II, 1:376 (146).
26 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
ourselves. He is completely removed from the sphere of sensory
experience. Consequently, man cannot attain to a true knowledge of
Barth's view of language proceeds from this emphasis on experi-
ence. Language, he argues, as sinful and perverted man uses it, is
limited to this world.16 Any attempt and intention to speak of God is
impossible, because "God does not belong to the world. Therefore he
does not belong to the series of objects for which we have categories
and words."17 And, of course, without concepts and words, we
cannot speak of God.
Despite his heavy emphasis on the limitations of language, Barth
makes a desperate attempt to allow language to speak of God.
Theological language, "whatever the cost, must always speak and
believe that it can speak contrary to the natural capacity of this
language, as theological language of God's revelation.18 How can
language on the one hand be so limited that it cannot possibly speak
of God, while on the other hand the theologian must believe that,
"whatever the cost," this language can speak of God? The answer
seems to lie in a mystical view of language. In its normal use,
language refers to the objects of our experience; but in its theological
use, it points to some greater reality beyond itself. A dogma seems to
refer to an inner meaning that is not itself a proposition, although
this inner meaning is referred to by a proposition. Barth most
emphatically refuses to identify the inner meaning of a dogma with
the plain meaning of the proposition, which is considered merely an
impersonal, objective truth-in-itself.19 The Bible no longer contains
propositional truth, but rather becomes the vehicle through which
"the prophets and apostles and he of whom they testify rise up and
meet the Church in a living way.20
Barth's attempt to move toward a more biblical religion than
what liberal theology offered was noble. However, by granting some
of the premises of liberalism, he compromised his position from the
very beginning. What we have left is not a biblical religion of
15 0n this basis Barth later denied that man was created in the image of God (G. H.
16 Barth, Church Dogmatics, I, 1 :390 (119).
l7 Ibid., I, 2:750 (117).
18 Ibid., I, 1:390 (120).
19 Ibid., I, 1:313 (135). See also
logical Method, 129.
20 Ibid., I, 2:582. See also J. W. Montgomery, "Inspiration and Inerrancy: A New
Departure," Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 8:2 (1965) 63-66. Note the
similarity to Kierkegaard's rejection of objective divine truth in favor of subjectivity,
discussed by N. L. Geisler, "Philosophical Presuppositions of Biblical Errancy," in
Inerrancy (ed. N. L. Geisler;
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 27
revelation, but a system of religious beliefs that contrasts to an
extreme degree man's finitude and God's transcendence. As a con-
sequence, man cannot really know God in the traditional sense, so
Barth takes recourse to existentialism; rather than choosing for
revealed religion, he chooses the path of irrationalism.21
Some Twentieth Century Developments
Barth's idea of revelation is closely related to Kierkegaard's idea
of truth as subjectivity instead of objective knowledge.22 It is the idea
that there can be "no absolute expression of truth in propositional
form.23 In contemporary theology this idea takes various forms.
Some would hold that revelation is not incompatible with proposi-
tional truth but that the most important aspect of revelation is "God
giving himself to us in Jesus Christ.24 But for most writers the choice
is between the person of God and propositions about him.25 Yet
others, repulsed by the idea that our speech makes God into an
object, hold that any speech about God is illegitimate.26
The separation of the subjective understanding of truth from the
objective reality to be understood gives rise to a similar dichotomy
between God's words and his acts. God's words, we are told, do not
convey information either about the world or about himself, pri-
marily because supernatural words cannot occur in an experiential
type of knowledge.27 The attractive suggestion is made that the Bible
is "not propositional and static, but dynamic and active; its focus is
on acts, not assertions.28 While there is an element of truth here
(that the Bible is dynamic, cf. Heb ), it would be wrong to
21"It is not surprising that Dr. Karl Barth's slogan Finitum non capax infiniti [the
finite cannot comprehend the infinite] went together with a denial. . . of any rational
understanding of revelation" (E. Mascall, Words and Images: A Study in Theological
22G. H. Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (
Reformed, 1961) 76.
24 J. H. Gill, "Talk About Religions Talk," New Theology No. 4 (ed. M. E. Marty
D. G. Peerman;
25 See Geisler, "Philosophical Presuppositions of Biblical Errancy," 330.
26 H. Ott, "Language and Understanding," in Marty and Peerman, New Theology
No. 4, 142. Yet another form of the objection is that language cannot express absolute
because it is "conditioned by its historical development and usage"
gomery, "Inspiration and Inerrancy," 53; see our discussion later in this article).
27 See. C. F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority (6 vols.;
the influence of this thinking when he states, "At the core of the biblical conception is
revelation as divine activity" (Biblical Revelation [Chicago: Moody, 1971] 31).
28 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
minimize God's statements while exclusively emphasizing his acts in
Bultmann and Brunner have further developed Barth's mystical
view of theological language. Language about God is not merely
propositional truth but is instead symbolic of the greater reality to
which it refers.30 Their program of demythologizing biblical language
would presumably bring one closer to God.31
Heidegger's Irrational Mysticism
Heidegger takes the concept of knowledge based on experience
to its logical extreme. For him, any kind of language is mystical, not
just theological language. Kant had argued that knowledge of reality
was only possible through the categories of the mind. Since we
cannot know things apart from these categories, Heidegger maintains
that we cannot know things as they are "in-themselves." So no true
knowledge of reality as it is "in-itself" is possible.
The result of Heidegger's philosophy is that not only are meta-
physical realities beyond the scope of our knowledge, but so are
physical realities. Earlier, divine realities constituted the ineffable
reality that is encountered rather than heard or understood, but now
everything we see and experience is really ineffable. To put it in more
language becomes mystical message from the ineffable voice of Being.
The unsayable cannot be said, only felt.32
Or, according to Van Til's interpretation, "there is a kernel of
thingness in every concrete fact that utterly escapes all possibility of
expression.33 Thus, all of language, not merely theological language,
is reduced to a function other than conveying cognitive knowledge.
At least two important corollaries of this philosophy should be
mentioned. First, as we hinted, knowledge is no longer the organiza-
tion of empirical data into true propositions. This would only amount
to "substituting a small segment of verbalization for experiential
29 R. K. Curtis, "Language and Theology: Some Basic Considerations," GordRev
1:3 (1955) 102.
30 See N. L. Geisler, Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974) 230.
31 A. Dulles, "Symbol, Myth, and the Biblical Revelation," in Marty and Peerman,
New Theology No.4, 41.
32 See H. M. Ducharme, Jr., "Mysticism: Heidegger," in Geisler, Biblical Er-
33 C. van Til, "Introduction," in B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of
the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1948) 19.
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 29
knowledge.34 So, while propositional knowledge may be public since
many people can agree with it, the new concept of experiential
knowledge is private since each person's experiences differ, if ever so
slightly, from the experiences of others. "No two people see anything
alike in every respect.35
A second corollary of this thoroughgoing relativity in language is
that the study of a text no longer needs to be a consideration of the
intentions of the author as expressed in the affirmations of the text;
rather the text is one object among many in our environment. The
text now becomes autonomous and its meaning depends on the needs
of human existence at any particular time.36 A multiplicity of mean-
ings results which cannot be checked except by the existential truth
each meaning carries for a particular person.37
Following empirical philosophies, theologians have often con-
sidered truth more and more as a subjective event. This has dan-
gerous consequences. If propositions merely point to some greater
reality which itself cannot be expressed in propositions, then how can
we know anything about that reality? If we can have a genuine
experience of that reality, it would seem that we could assert at least a
few objective truths about it in propositional form.
A more serious problem is this: since experience cannot be
expressed in propositions, how can we know whether it is true or
false? This seems impossible to determine.38 We seem to have no
means by which to distinguish an experience with a greater, evil
reality from a similar experience with a good reality. Clearly, the
theory that knowledge is based on experience is not a very satis-
factory solution to the philosophical problem of knowledge.
With regard to theological language, the proposed choice be-
tween the person of God and propositions about him is a false
dilemma. It is not a question of either/or but rather of both/and.
Revelation is God revealing himself--sometimes in propositional
34 Curtis, "Language and Theology," 99.
35 Ibid., 100.
36 Ducharme, "Mysticism: Heidegger," 212. Note the similarity with the distinction
sometimes made between devotional Bible reading and biblical exegesis.
37 At this point a brief analysis of Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic and some of
Wittgenstein's writings could be helpful, but it exceeds the scope of this article. Suffice
it to mention that the basic problem remains the same, an epistemology that wants to
derive all knowledge from experience alone.
30 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
truth, sometimes in personal acts (e.g., Isa 6:l-8)--but always for the
purpose of our trusting the person of God.
The disjunction between faith in a person and belief in a creed is a
delusion. . . . Trust in a person is a knowledge of a person; it is a
matter of assenting to certain propositions.39
As long as propositions take us beyond dry creedal conformity into a
relationship with a living person, there is no real person/proposition
One may well conclude, then, that the attempt to explain theo-
logical language in terms of empirical knowledge theory is an utter
failure. Without reference to the biblical concept of divine revelation,
theological language will either crash on the rocks of rationalism or
evaporate in the mysteries of irrationalism.
TOWARD A BIBLICAL PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE:
The failure of modern philosophy to defend even the possibility
of theological language reinforces an important principle: that "Chris-
tianity is based on revelation, not experience.40 Therefore, instead of
refuting sceptics on their own grounds or building a philosophy of
language on their philosophical premises (as theologians have tried
and failed), biblical data will be used to paint a biblical picture of
It may be objected that such a presuppositional approach in-
volves circular reasoning.41 But the choice is not between one ap-
proach that is circular in its reasoning and another that is not. It
should be evident from this review of modern philosophy that once
one assumes knowledge to be exclusively experiential, he will not be
able to defend propositional revelation. This in turn implies that
knowledge is only experiential--which is circular reasoning. The
choice is, rather, between sets of presuppositions.
EXPLORING BIBLICAL DATA
The Bible never directly addresses the question of whether God
can meaningfully speak to man. It is assumed as self-evident that God
39 Ibid., 102. Notice also that the Bible rules out the concept of existential or
subjective truth, because it frequently refers to "hearing" or "understanding terms
which would be irrelevant on the modern view, according to W. J. Martin, Special
as Objective," in C. F. H. Henry, Revelation
and the Bible (
Baker, 1958) 66.
41 M. E. Taber, "Fundamentalist
Logic," The Christian Century,
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 31
can intelligibly communicate with the human beings he created.
Likewise it is assumed that man can understand and interact with the
God who made him.42 As these assumptions are uncovered exegeti-
cally, we will address the issues often discussed under the heading of
"philosophy of language. "
The Starting Point of a Biblical Philosophy of Language
As has been suggested, one of the Bible's assumptions is that
God can speak to man because he created him. In other words, God
must have endowed man with adequate faculties to respond to and
interact with his Creator. One of the most prominent features of the
creation of mankind is that God created them "in his own image"
(Gen 1:27). This text (and related ones) brings out some important
guidelines for a doctrine of the image of God in man without directly
Gen , "Let us make man in our image, according to our
likeness," uses the two terms Ml,c, and tUmD;. It appears that both refer
to a visible image or at least something that can be visualized, while
tUmD is the more abstract of the two.43 The Hebrew construction is
most likely a hendiadys and would therefore function as a form of
parallelism,44 so it is best to take the latter term as intensifying the
former. Thus, we should not distinguish rigidly between the two
terms.45 The resultant meaning is that "man, the end point, can be
recognized as being an adequate copy of the God who made him, the
It would be hard to make much of the different prepositions
used, - B and - K. While the clause in Gen 1:26 reads vntvmdk vnmlcb it
reads vmlck vtvmdb, in Gen 5:3; the prepositions remain in place, but
the nouns have changed positions. The difference in the use of these
42 See J. I. Packer, "The Adequacy of Human Language," in Geisler, Inerrancy,
208-11 for a brief analysis of the kind of language the Bible uses. He shows that
biblical language is a normal language, no different from daily speech except in the
topics it deals with.
43 T. Craigen, "Selem and Demut: An Exegetical Interaction" (unpublished term
paper, Grace Theological Seminary, 1980) 5, 11.
44 P. F. Taylor, "Man: His Image and Dominion" (unpublished Th.D. dissertation,
Grace Theological Seminary, 1974) 62-63.
45 L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (8 vols.;
2:161; C. L. Feinberg, "The Image of God," BSac 129 (June-August 1972) 237; C. F.
Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, vol. I (trans. J. Martin, in Biblical Commentary
the Old Testament;
Genesis, vol. I (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1942); and Taylor, "Man: His Image and
46 Craigen, "Selem and Demut: An Exegetical Interaction," 24.
32 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
prepositions is negligible.47 Both of these prepositions can mean
"after," but it would be clumsy to interpret this as if man is the copy
of an image of God, "after our image and likeness." Rather we should
take this to mean that man himself constitutes the image of God.48
Furthermore, Gen mentions the image of God in man and
man's dominion in one single breath. This should not, however, lead
us to conclude that dominion is part of this image:
Man must exist before dominion can be invested in him and. . . man
has authority because of the truth that he is made in the image or
likeness of God. The authority is not the cause of the image or likeness,
but the image or likeness is the ground of authority.49
The next two verses (vv 27-28) identify the image as part of man's
essential makeup, whereas dominion is an office conferred upon him;
the image is created, the dominion is commanded. The image is the
foundation of man's dominion.50
Thus, according to Gen 1:26-28, man himself is the image of
God in the sense that God is the pattern after which man was made;
God is the archetype and man the ectype. As a result man has been
granted dominion over the earth.
In light of this, it would be erroneous to follow the common
procedure of determining the content of the image of God by
discerning what characteristics differentiate man from animals. If
God is the archetype, then a more biblical approach is to examine the
divine image in relation to God, not in relation to the rest of
Accordingly, a biblical philosophy of language (as well as a bib-
lical epistemology) should begin by analyzing the Creator-creature
relationship and only secondarily the relationships between creatures
and with the rest of creation.52 This is strikingly different from the
philosophies of Hume and Kant which began by analyzing man's
relationship with created things and sought to explain any relation-
ship with the supernatural in terms of the observable relationships
between man and things.
47 Ibid., 19. Cf. also L. Berkhof, Systematic
1941) 204; J. Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (trans.
ed. J. King, reprint ed.;
Pentateuch; and Leupold, Exposition of Genesis.
49 Chafer, Systematic Theology, 2:162.
50 Feinberg, "The Image of God," 239; Keil and Delitzsch, The Pentateuch;
J. Piper, "The Image of God," Studia Biblica et Theologica 1 (March 1971) 20.
51 Cf. D.
52 Even then man's relationship with his fellows is more important than his
relationship with the rest of creation (cf. Gen ).
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 33
It may be objected that, in a fallen world, God no longer serves
as an archetype to whom man is reliably comparable. The human
capacity for a relationship with God has been crippled by the effects
of the fall. Sin obviously hinders our relationship with God. So how
could we base a philosophy of language on this doctrine of the image
of God and analyze a Creator-creature relationship marred by sin?
This admittedly is a difficult task. But the continuing importance
of the doctrine in several areas of human conduct must not be
The first human birth in history is recorded with the words,
"Adam. . . had a son in his own likeness, in his own image" (Gen
5:3). The terminology used in this verse is almost equivalent to Gen
(which may have been what Luke had in mind when he wrote,
"Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God," Luke ). This passage
establishes the fact that the pattern for the creation of man is
perpetuated in human procreation.53 Many expositors hold that this
passage teaches that fallen human nature is transmitted from one
generation to the next.54 Although one may agree with this statement
in the light of further revelation (e.g., Romans 5), the passage itself
does not address this issue. The repetition of the terminology of Gen
in 5:3 refers the first human birth back to the creation process
and shows that the image of God in Adam is recreated in Seth
through human procreation.
A second passage in Genesis is more problematic:
(1) Whoever sheds the blood of man,
(2) by man shall his blood be shed;
(3) for in the image of God has God made man (Gen 9:6).
The first and most debated question is whether phrase (2) refers to the
institution of human government or to a designated avenger of blood.
The context, however, does not decide this issue, so "the argument. . .
is based on silence.55
A second question, often overlooked, is whether phrase (3) refers
to phrase (1) or (2) or both. If it is taken as referring to the second
phrase, then the conclusion would be that man has the right to punish
murder, because man as the one who punishes is made in God's
image and is therefore clothed "with the judicial function appertain-
ing to kingly office.56 It is unlikely, however, that the image of God
53 Chafer, Systematic Theology, 2:167.
54 Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses; Keil and Delitzsch, The
Pentateuch; Harold G. Stigers, A Commentary
on Genesis (
55 J. J.
56 M. G. Kline, "Creation in the Image of the Glory-Spirit," WTJ 39 (Spring
34 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
is the foundation of man as judge. The imago dei is usually men-
tioned in contexts that are concerned with personal ethics and not
with judgment per se.
In verse 5b God demands an accounting from each man "for the
life of his fellow man." The manner of this accounting is indicated in
verse 6, phrases (1) and (2), while the reason for God's demand is
given in verse 6, phrase (3). Thus, God's demand for an account of
human life is based on the divine image in man: murder destroys this
Capital punishment is not, in essence, retaliation for life de-
stroyed or harm done; it is the punishment for one who blasphemes
God by destroying what God expressly made in his image. Man's
possession of the image of God continues to have profound moral
implications even in a fallen world.
Similar moral implications are evident in Jas 3:9. Hiebert points
out that the perfect tense used in "men, who have been made in God's
likeness" indicates a present result of a past event.58 "The connection
is simply that one cannot pretend to bless the person (God) and
logically curse the representation of that person (a human).59
1 Cor 11:7 is somewhat more difficult. Paul identifies the man as
"the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man." It
is not immediately clear why only the man is identified as the image
of God. Paul has been explaining that Christ is the head of every man
who, in turn, is the head of the woman (v 3). In vv 8-9 he refers back
to Gen -24 and "uses the mode of Creation to prove simply that
God intended men and women to be different.60 The difference is not
whether both men and women are created in God's image (the text is
silent about women in this respect), but rather whose glory men and
In our context, it is best to take do<ca in the objective sense of
that which "honors and magnifies" God.61 Thus, the passage teaches
that "a man, who is the image of God, reveals how beautiful a being
57 Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses; Keil and Delitzsch, The
Pentateuch; Leupold, Exposition of Genesis.
58 D. E. Hiebert,
The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith
59 P. H. Davids, The Epistle of James, A Commentary on the Greek Text, in The
New International Greek Text Commentary (ed. I. H. Marshall and W. W. Gasque;
60 J. Murphy-O'Connor, "Sex and Logic in 1 Cor 11:2-16," CBQ 42 (1980) 496.
61 F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in New
Commentary on the New Testament (ed. F. F. Bruce;
Eerdmans, 1953). See also A. Feuillet, "L 'Homme 'Gloire de Dieu' et la Femme 'Gloire
de l'Homme,'" RevBib 81 (1974) 172, and F. Godet, Commentary on the First Epistle
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 35
God could create, which makes him the crown of creation, the glory
of God. A woman, on the other hand, reveals how beautiful a being
God could create from a man.62
Paul highlights a man's relationship to God by mentioning not
only glory but also the image. But when he discusses a woman's
relationship to a man, he cannot simply repeat that "she is the image
and glory of man" because a woman is not made in the image of man.
Yet he does not want to say that "a woman is the image of God and
the glory of man," because he is singling out a woman's relationship
to a man. Thus Paul drops the concept of image and only states that
"the woman is the glory of man." He leaves understood that a woman
is in the image of God, while he points out man's close relationship to
God by expressly referring to the image.
Clearly, the doctrine of the image of God is far from irrelevant in
a fallen world. It adds significantly to our understanding of human
procreation (Gen 5:3), capital punishment (Gen 9:6), human relation-
ships (Jas 3:9) and orderly conduct in the church (1 Cor 11:7). These
observations certainly allow the doctrine to play a significant role in a
biblical philosophy of language.
Human Language Legitimately Refers to the Supernatural
Inquiring into the doctrine of the image of God points to the
primacy of the Creator-creature relationship. Therefore, man's exis-
tence in the image of God is first of all to be seen in light of God's
presence. Man's existence takes on a moral dimension and is first of
all a theological fact, only secondarily an existential reality. The fact
that man exists is secondary to the fact that God has created him.
The Genesis account itself supports this concept. God on several
occasions pronounced his creation good. On the sixth day, after
creating man in the image of himself, he pronounced it "very good"
(Gen 1:31). This establishes a "profound moral significance to man's
1957). R. C. H. Lenski (The Interpretation of Paul's First and Second Epistles to the
little support from other sources (see Feuillet, 163). Others have taken the term as
indicating "supremacy" (J. Moffat, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, in The
Moffat New Testament
is also unlikely, since the term either carries a subjective meaning, such as "opinion,
belief, conjecture," or refers to the objective reality of "reputation, glory, honor"
(Feuillet, 163). In addition, the Hebrew word dvbk corresponds to the Greek do<ca,
which also indicates a meaning other than reflection of supremacy (Ibid., 164).
62 Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Cf. D. R.
DeLacey, "Image and Incarnation in Pauline Christology-A Search for Origins,"
TynBul 30 (1979) 18-19, and Feuillet, "L'Homme 'Gloire de Dieu' et la Femme 'Gloire
de i'Homme,'" 178.
36 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
appearance as the divine imago-bearer.63 Before the creation of the
world the persons of the Trinity "communicated with each other,
and loved each other (John 17:5-8, 21-24).64 With creation, God
broadened the circle of communication to include mankind. This
communication implies "a human capacity to grasp and respond to
His [God's] verbal address.65 If man utilizes his capacity for com-
munication in "articulately and intelligently responding" to God's
call, he brings glory to God in his own unique way.66
Any attempt to define the content of the divine image must take
account of these facts. "The ability to know and love God must stand
forth prominently in any attempt to ascertain precisely what the
image of God is.67 The role of reason in this matter is hotly debated.
fellowship both require the use of reason.68 This, however, would
only necessitate that reason is part, or at least a precondition, of the
Whatever else may be said about the exact content of the image,
it certainly implies a capacity for fellowship and communication with
God. As such it underlies all of revelation.69 The image implies
that "the communication system of God and that of man are not
disjoint.70 This assures us of the intelligibility of God's revelation:
By dependence upon and fidelity to divine revelation, the surviving
imago assures the human intelligibility of divine disclosure . . . It
qualifies man not only as a carrier of objective metaphysical truth
about God's nature and ways, but more particularly as a receiver of the
special revelational truth of redemption.71
We must add that this is valid only if reason submits to and
fellowships with God, which presupposes a regenerate state (1 Cor
63 Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 2:126. See also Chafer, Systematic
Theology, 2:162, and Borkhof, Systematic Theology, 204.
64 Schaeffer, He Is There And He Is Not Silent, 16,65.
65 Packer, "The Adequacy of Human Language," 214.
66 T. A. Hoble, "Our Knowledge of God According to John Calvin," EvQuar 54
(January-March 1982) 8. Perhaps the fact that "God created man in His own
image. . . ; male and female He created them" (Gen ) indicates that communi-
cation between a man and his wife is to be a reflection of the fellowship and
communication in the Trinity, especially since marriage joins a man and a woman, two
individuals, into one whole.
67 Feinberg, "The Image of God," 246.
69 ISBE, s.v. "God, the Image of," J. Orr,2:1264.
70 K. L. Pike, "The Linguist and Axioms Concerning the Language of Scripture,"
JASA 26 (1974) 48.
71 Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 2:130. See also Packer, "The Adequacy
of Human Language," 215-16.
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 37
-12). Does this mean we understand God's language, the vehicle
of his revelation to us? Although God can certainly communicate
without language (e.g., through natural revelation, dreams, visions,
etc.), his saving communication to the non-apostolic, non-prophetic
believer takes the form of written revelation and thus involves God's
use of language. Although man is certainly different from God (he is
a sinner, he is finite, he is time-and-space-bound), his possession of
the image of God seems to ensure that God and man share enough
crucial attributes (the ability to reason, the capacity for relationship,
etc.) to make a shared language possible. Thus, not only is general
revelation possible, but also a special revelation involving language
that is intelligible to man. The basic likeness of intellect between the
divine and the human seems to provide for divine-to-human intelligi-
bility through language as well as other vehicles of revelation.
Empirical knowledge theory held that human language does not
naturally speak of God; that it cannot speak legitimately of the
supernatural. The Bible, on the other hand, paints a different picture.
Man is truly man as he responds to and fellowships with God. The
doctrine of the divine image in man implies that creature and Creator
can relate together and possess an adequate shared communication
system for that purpose. There can be little doubt, then, contrary to
much contemporary thinking, that human language legitimately com-
municates about the supernatural.72 Consequently, to speak about
God is not to "stretch" ordinary language as many linguists today
would aver. "What is unnatural is the 'shrinking' of language reflected
in the supposition that it can talk easily and naturally only of physical
Human Language Originated with God
One of the problems for modern philosophy and evolutionary
thinking is the origin of language. If words originated as conventional
signs for ideas or impressions that arose from human experience, then
it remains incomprehensible how the first of these conventional signs
could be understood.
The Biblical Adam and Eve, or the first two evolutionary savages,
would not have talked to one another. Adam would have selected a
72 This does not, of course, imply that man can exhaustively understand any
supernatural concept. All that is claimed is that God can use human language as an
adequate vehicle of divine truth; and man, in the image of God, has been created as a
moral agent, accountable to act on this truth which he is capable of understanding, See
also R. Nicole, "A Reply to 'Language and Theology,'" GordRev 1:4 (December
73 Packer, "The Adequacy of Human Language," 214.
38 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
sound for tree, sun, or air, and Eve would have had no idea what it
If evolutionary theory were true, then, it is likely that Eve had no idea
what Adam was trying to communicate.
The problem is only further complicated when the biblical
account is fully considered. Some of the words in the Genesis account
may have been derived by abstraction from experience (though that is
hard to imagine), but to expect Adam to accomplish all this in one
day would be too taxing even for his superior capacities.75
Further analysis of the Genesis record yields important data
about the origin of human language. Genesis describes God as the
first language user, and "shows us that human thought and speech
have their counterparts and archetypes in Him.76 God instituted
language as the vehicle of communication between man and himself.
Appropriately, the first experience of man described in Genesis is the
hearing of God's blessing and his command to fill the earth and
subdue it (Gen ). Human language, then, originated not with
man's observation of creation but with man hearing God's voice.
Eternal Truth in Changing Human Language
The basis for today's linguistic and cultural diversity resides in
judgment at the
man's language and as a result the people scattered over the whole
earth (Gen 11:7-9; cf. also ). Since then, of course, languages
have continued. to diversify and develop, according to the degree of
isolation of people groups.
Observing the relationship between language and culture, some
have advanced the idea that language, as it changes and develops
within any given culture, cannot be the vehicle of eternal, unchanging
truth. Propositional revelation is not seen as absolute, universal truth,
but as relative to culture. Curtis supports this position by the obser-
vations that every language offers its "speakers and interpreters a
ready-made interpretation of the world" and that every language
changes over time.77 But Curtis supposes that once universal and
unchanging truth has become embedded in human language, this
truth must change along with the language.
75 It is true that one can distinguish a great variety in the levels of communication
of different species, from chemical to instinctive to cognitive. These levels, though, do
not necessarily imply evolutionary progress. They merely show that the various species
have an adequate communication system that enables its members to interact with one
76 Packer, "The Adequacy of Human Language," 214.
77 Curtis , "Language and Theology," 104.
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 39
But it is wrong to assume that a vehicle must alter its contents.
Our language is quite different from that spoken in biblical times, and
this certainly implies the need for sound exegesis to uncover the truth
couched in ancient language. But the biblical writers seem not to
consider this an insurmountable problem. Paul states in Rom 15:4
that the whole OT is relevant for our instruction. Even in Paul's day
that document was centuries old. Yet he did not see the slightest need
to adjust his claim about the usefulness of the OT.78
God's judgment at
It is God who is responsible for the linguistic diversity springing from
"stream of true prophetic interpretation" which he introduced into the
world. (emphasis original).79
God evidently expects us to grasp and action his word. Therefore,
from the divine perspective, there is no great trouble in communicat-
ing divine eternal truth in changing human language.
God's Perfect Accommodation to Human Language
Some theologians suggest that, in order to communicate with
man, God had to accommodate himself to man to such an extent that
his communication manifests the inevitable error and mutability of
human language. After all, we may argue that God originated lan-
guage, but he also allowed sinful man to be (sinfully) creative in
language.80 So is it not necessary for God to indulge this corruption?
Obviously not! When Moses asked to see God's glory (Exod
33:18ff.), he only saw God's back (v 23). The problem was not God's
ability to show his glory to sinful man, but man's capacity to behold
God's glory in full. God could not communicate his full glory to frail
creatures like man, because it would mean instant death. Similarly,
God condescends in his verbal communication with man by accom-
modating to man's finite capacity for understanding. The problem lies
not only with the limits of language, but also with the limits of the
Later in history God showed his glory to mankind through
Christ in the incarnation (John ). This involved some measure
accommodation without setting aside his divinity (Phil 2:6-8). But if
78 See J. M. Frame, "Scripture Speaks For Itself," in God's Inerrant Word (ed.
79 D. B. Farrow, "The Inerrancy Issue in Methodological and Linguistic Per-
spective" (unpublished M.Div. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1980), 130. See also
V. S. Poythress, "Adequacy of Language and Accommodation" (paper delivered at the
Council on Biblical Inerrancy
80 See Martin, "Special Revelation as Objective," 70.
40 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
Christ is truly the Word of God become flesh, then he did not
accommodate himself to human form in any of its sinfulness.81 Christ
did not sin (l Pet ) and therefore his accommodation to man in
the incarnation is perfect, without sin, yet realistic since he was truly
a man.82 Similarly, God can accommodate to human language and
communicate eternal truth without admixture of error or corruption
as commonly happens when man uses the same language.
The Validity of Revealed Propositional Truth
Christ's incarnation has further relevance to a biblical philosophy
of language. Christ wholly accepted the truth of the OT. He fre-
quently referred to it with the phrase "It is written," indicating its
authority. "He relied on propositional statements to convey truth in
and of themselves and to convey it accurately.83 Christ submitted to
the authority of the Scripture, interpreting it in terms of propositional
truth: "Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter
his glory?" (Luke 24:26). Thus, Scripture imposed a necessity upon
Christ also demonstrated his stronger view of Scripture when he
rebuked the Pharisees for their unbelief, since they did not believe the
things Moses had written about him (John -47). Christ's attitude
toward the OT was one of complete trust. He did not doubt that God
had spoken, and that he had spoken intelligibly. He believed that the
OT itself was God's word. His insistence upon the authority of even a
form of a word (Matt ; ) showed that he believed it to be
true down to the very words it employed.
In spite of this evidence, some believe that God could not
address us in terms of propositions that are true. But note further
that Jesus did speak in intelligible language:85 "the common people
heard Him gladly" (Mark ). Clearly, several contemporary views
of religious language become problematic on the basis of the incarna-
Still others argue86 that to concentrate on Jesus' teaching is to
miss the point, because we are to be concerned with Jesus as a
person. Yet, our Lord himself emphasized repeatedly the necessity of
81 See Clark, Karl Barth's Theological Method, 120.
82 "Any linguistic theory that impoverishes language so as to separate man from
divine discourse must attack the authenticity of the person and work of Christ himself"
(Farrow, "The Inerrancy Issue in Methodological and Linguistic Perspective," 126).
83 C. Ryrie, What You Should Know About Inerrancy (Chicago: Moody, 1981) 77.
84 Frame, "Scripture Speaks For Itself," 188.
85 Clark, Karl Barth's Theological Method, 132.
86 See our earlier analysis of philosophical trends involved in this issue.
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 41
accepting his words if we love him.87 The criterion by which one
knows whether the person of Christ is accepted is to see whether his
words are accepted and obeyed. There is an intimate relationship
between propositions and the person of Christ: both are necessary for
true discipleship. Propositions are the impetus for discipleship. A
relationship with the person of Christ is the essence of discipleship.
Christ evidently never doubted that supernatural truth could be
conveyed by means of propositions. He believed that God uses
language to convey information, even about the supernatural world.
The Authority of Revealed Propositional Truth
Many have tried to divorce the authority of God's word from its
truthfulness. Barth, for instance, maintained that Scripture still had -
authority over the Christian's life, even though its propositions were
not regarded as inerrant. However, "Biblical authority is an empty
notion unless we know how to determine what the Bible means.88
God cannot impose absolute demands on us without clearly stating
these demands. Therefore, the marriage of absolute authority with
propositional truth is unavoidable if one is to maintain a clear
perception of the nature of Christianity.89
Historically, Christianity has well understood these things. It has
always pointed to its written revelation as the authoritative source for
faith and practice. Paul (2 Tim ) and Peter (2 Pet -21)
proclaimed the divine origin of these writings.90 If this record is
Indeed God's record, then It carries his truth, his authority, and his
But more than that, when one considers the biblical data it
becomes plain that the Bible itself never makes a distinction between
truthfulness and authority. Whenever God's authority is expressed, it
is connected with his word, whether spoken or written. A sampling of
some biblical statements will suffice to demonstrate the point.
Gen 26:5 says that God blessed Abraham "'because Abraham
obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and
my laws.'" What are these requirements, commands, decrees and
87 Matt 7:24-29; Luke 8:21; 9:26; John 5:21, 38; 8:31, 37, 47, 51, 55; 10:27; 12:47-
50; 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:7, 10, 14; 17:6, 8, 17; 18:37. Cf. also I John 2:3-5; ; 5:2-3;
2 John 6; 2 Tim 6:3; ; 14:12. See Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority,
3:484, and Frame, "Scripture Speaks For Itself," 184.
88 Farrow, "The Inerrancy Issue in Methodological and Linguistic Perspective," 132.
89 P. D. Feinberg, "The Meaning of Inerrancy," in Geisler, Inerrancy, 285.
90 N. B. Stonehouse, "The Authority of the New Testament," in The Infallible
Word (ed. N. B. Stonehouse and P. Woolley;
Reformed, 1.978) 107.
91 Frame, "Scripture Speaks For Itself," 195.
42 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
laws? It would seem that they refer to God's promises as in Genesis
12, 15, 17 and other places. Abraham, therefore, accepted God's
words and obeyed him.
Exod 24:7, "Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it
to the people. They responded, 'We will do everything the Lord has
said; we will obey.'" But notice that they had not heard the Lord
speak; they had only heard Moses read from a book. Yet the people
obeyed, because they knew that these written words carried no less
authority than if the Lord himself had spoken to them.92
Exod 24:12, . . . the law and commands I have written for
their instruction.'" The instruction again is concerned with written
words. In this case, the Lord himself did the writing!93
Exod 31:11, "'They are to make them just as I commanded
you.'" Bezalel and Oholiab were to manufacture the appliances that
were to be placed in the Tent of Meeting. The plan according to
which they were to be made was given by God. If this plan was not in
plain, ordinary language, how could the workers have known what to
make? This kind of plan had to be fairly precise; otherwise there
would have been no plan at all.
Another important concept is the covenant. This was a written
document setting forth the terms of a treaty between a suzerain and
against the Israelites (Deut 31:26). Other passages warn against
subtracting from this covenant.94 The emphasis is again on the
written word and its authority.
Deut admonishes, "Be sure to keep the commands of the
Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees He has given you."
Here we see that God's people are called back to his written word.95
In Matt our Lord said, "'I tell you the truth, until heaven
and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the
pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is
accomplished." "The indissolubility of the law extends to its every
jot and tittle,96 and is clearly interwoven with a written document.
Matt , " . . . 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob?' He is not the God of the dead but of the
living." The argument here depends on the very form of the verb "to
be." So God's word is clearly identified with the written record.
92 Frame, "Scripture Speaks for Itself," 186.
93 Ibid. See Exod 31:18; 32:10; 34:1; Deut 4:1; 9:10f.;. 10:2-4.
94 Deut 4:2; . Cf. Prov 30:6; . See Frame, "Scripture Speaks For
Itself," 187 and E. J. Young, "The Authority of the Old Testament," in The Infallible
95 Frame, "Scripture Speaks For Itself," 188. See Deut 4:1-8; -33; 6:24f.; 7:9-
11; ; etc.
BARENTSEN: THE VALIDITY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE 43
References can of course be multiplied, but the point is clear.
God's word is identified with the written record, and this written
record carries God's authority. To obey the record is to obey God; to
disobey the record is to disobey God.97 God's authority cannot be
divorced from his written revelation. This written revelation must be
clear to be authoritative. Hence, revealed propositions carry the same
authority as if God had spoken directly in an audible voice.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
At the outset it was observed that the debate concerning the
adequacy of human language arose in the context of contemporary
philosophical analysis. The problem of religious language was in-
timately bound up with a skeptical view of religious knowledge. Our
discussion of Hume, Kant, Barth and others yielded the insight that
doubts about the adequacy of religious language were rooted in an
empirical theory of knowledge. This empirical basis of epistemology
did not leave room for meaningful religious language. Even Kant's
and Barth's attempts to restore some validity to religious language
essentially failed. Therefore, most philosophers and even many theo-
logians rejected religious language as an adequate vehicle of divine,
inerrant truth; they rejected the biblical view of revelation. However,
they were operating in the arena of philosophical analysis, not in the
arena of biblical reflection.
Operating within the biblical arena we uncovered no objection to
religious language. Instead, we found that without a doubt biblical
data supported inerrant, divine communication to man by way of
human language. God created man in his own image, so man has the
necessary faculties to communicate intelligibly with his Creator.
Language, therefore, can legitimately speak about the supernatural.
Moreover, God originated human language, even in all its diversity,
and uses those languages to communicate unchanging eternal truth.
God's accommodation to human language does not involve error and
so the truth and authority of propositional revelation are upheld,
whether the communication is verbal or written.
The Bible therefore, teaches that human language is an adequate
vehicle to communicate divine truth. As long as one submits to the
framework of biblical revelation, there is an adequate foundation
for biblical thinking about the role of language in communication
between God and man. In the face of the evidence discussed above,
only unbelief would turn from propositional revelation to some other
view of language, perhaps as dictated by currents in contemporary
97 Young, "The Authority of the Old Testament," 67.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: firstname.lastname@example.org