Questionable Grammar & Theology Statements.

At the core of Israel’s theological grammar are sentences governed by strong verbs of transformation. Such sentences are so familiar to us that we may fail to notice the oddity of their grammar and therefore neglect such a theological beginning point. This focus on sentences signifies that Israel is characteristically concerned with the action of God—the concrete, specific action of God—and not God’s character, nature, being, or attributes, except as those are evidenced in concrete actions. This focus on verbs, moreover, commits us in profound ways to a narrative portrayal of Yahweh, in which Yahweh is the one who is said to have done these deeds.

Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament : Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 145.

I admit that the following discussion examining God as creator, God as promise maker, etc., yet at the same time, to talk about theological grammar, sentences, & verbs in this way is linguistic nonsense. For one, what can anyone say about God that isn’t: God causes X. There’s no other way to talk about something that is inaccessible like God. Fundamentally, God’s acts & deeds are all one can have. The only way that Brueggemann could show such statements as “God creates” to be theologically significant grammar would be to show that Israel and only Israel ever used such semantic-syntactic constructions to describe their divine being.

So again, his following discussion is an excellent one, but to frame the discussion around grammar & syntax is wrongheaded and nonsensical.

3 thoughts on “Questionable Grammar & Theology Statements.

  1. Reminds me of a fascinating book of many moons ago by Thorleif Bomann that’s still available as a paperback, _Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek_. Such stuff as discussion of Heb verb HaYaH and Greek verb EINAI, kinds of similes, etc.

  2. It’s amazing how strong the temptation to theologize grammar is for some writers. I have really enjoyed reading some of Brueggemann’s work, especially his The Prophetic Imagination, but I have not ever noticed such a glaring example of “theological grammar.”

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