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God and Language:

Exploring the Role of Language in the Mission of God

About the Book

What is language? “Language is more than syntax and morphology; it is the vehicle for assuming the weight of a culture,” writes John Pobee, quoted in Michel Kenmogne’s Foreword to this volume. More than that: language is a theological category, for God speaks. It is the mission of God to make himself known, and he chooses to reveal himself by speaking, by using language. It is because we are made in the image of God that we also speak, that we have the capacity to use language.

“This book,” writes Michel Kenmogne in his Foreword, “aims to establish the value of language as a theological and missiological category.” It is more than a means of communication. It is central to human flourishing and is a key instrument in the mission of God. “What if language is not just a rough instrument in the hands of clumsy people, not just something useful and occasionally poetic, but something that can be divine, sacred, expressive of the very image of God?” writes Chip Sanders in chapter 11.

Most chapters of this book began life as papers presented at SIL’s God and Language Forum in September 2020. The 30 authors explore different aspects of the role of language in the mission of God, including exegesis of key biblical narratives, studies of language in the Bible, examinations of how language relates to some contemporary social and development issues, the role of oral communication, and the translation of language.

Note the word “exploring” in the title of this book. Consider these chapters “working papers” and as such they need further work and refinement through the process of peer review. We welcome readers’ reviews.

Please send your reviews and other feedback to us at godandlanguage@sil.org

About the publisher

The vision of SIL International is to see people flourishing in community using the languages they value most. To this end, inspired by God’s love, we advocate, build capacity, and work with local communities to apply language expertise which advances meaningful development, education, and engagement with Scripture.

Proceeds from the sale of this book are going towards language projects in which SIL is involved, and which contribute to people’s flourishing. Contributors to the book are being invited to submit proposals. Naming a higher price when you purchase this book is a way of contributing to these projects.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
    • References
  • Introduction
  • Section 1: The Role of Language in the Mission of God
  • 1. Language: the gift of God’s presence
    • Introduction
    • Divine missional goal
    • Divine missional strategy
    • Summation of God’s missional intent
    • God the Word dwells in language
    • The future Word
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 2. Language diversity: curse or blessing?
    • The most iconic story of language in the Bible
    • The most popular reading of the Babel story: Pride and punishment
    • Diversity as the blueprint for creation
    • Another reading of the Babel story: Rebellion and restoration
    • Yet another reading: Domination and deliverance
    • Language diversity as blessing
    • References
  • 3. The way from Babel: the role of language in advancing God’s mission in the world
    • Introduction
    • God commissions us in the unfolding plan of his mission
    • God considerably empowers us for his mission through languages
    • Language axis could be a potential tower of disenfranchisement
    • God symbolized the coming of the Holy Spirit with the speaking of various languages
    • The Pentecost trends of Bible translation
    • The missional impulses of Scriptures in a first language of the people
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 4. The continuum between language and the mission of God
    • The Word and God
    • The Word became flesh, Jesus Christ
    • The Bible testifies about Jesus Christ
    • The Bible is translatable
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 5. God’s inclusive mission through languages
    • God values communication
    • God’s different ways of communicating
    • Language use and contexts
    • Sign Language and God’s mission
    • Case study: Sign Language in Madagascar
    • God’s inclusive mission through languages
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • Section 2: Language in and of the Bible
  • 6. Multilingualism in the Old Testament
    • Introduction
    • Languages before the exile
    • Languages, the Assyrians, and the Jews
    • “All…languages” and how the Babylonian and Persian empires operated
    • “All… languages” and the worship of God
    • Conclusion
  • 7. Multilingualism in the New Testament
    • Introduction
    • Jesus before Pilate (John 18:28-19:22)
    • Peter and the servants in the courtyard (Matt. 26:69-75)
    • The highly multilingual situation of Acts 2:1-13
    • Paul’s testimony before his countrymen and the Roman authorities (Acts 21:37-22:29)
    • The vision of God’s people on earth and in heaven (Rev. 7:1-17)
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 8. Koine Greek and the mission of God
    • Introduction
    • The New Testament in its context
    • Language in the New Testament
    • Koine and the mission of God
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 9. “Talitha koum, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’”
    • Multilingual Jesus
    • Two missiological questions
    • Why did Mark translate Jesus’s words?
    • Four Aramaic phrases
    • Jesus’s home language
    • Talitha koum! Ephphatha!
    • Speech act theory
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 10. Language and the redemptive word of God
    • Introduction - the power of God’s word
    • Order and meaning
    • Disorder and shame
    • The search for identity and meaning
    • Shame to shalom by the power of God’s word
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 11. Judgment and language in the mission of God
    • Introduction – motivation for this unusual topic
    • Coverage of this topic in current standard missiological texts
    • Why judgment may be missing from our missiologies
    • Why language may be missing from our missiologies
    • Biblical examples of the intersection of judgment and language in the mission of God
    • Conclusion: implications and inspiration
    • References
  • Section 3: Language and Social and Development Issues
  • 12. Flourishing and language
    • Introduction
    • Two stories of the denial of language use
    • Language and minority language communities
    • Significance of the refusal to use one’s first language
    • Human flourishing
    • Conclusion: Implications for SIL’s missional engagement
    • References
  • 13. Creation care as communication: the role of ecological actions in communicating the gospel
    • Introduction
    • Creation care as communication
    • Scripture: God communicates through his interactions with creation
    • Our interaction with creation communicates to others
    • Examples in ministry
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 14. Language, justice, and mission
    • Introduction
    • Justice issues in language
    • Missiological implications
    • Conclusion
    • References
    • Appendix A – Terminology
    • Appendix B – Notes on the “global language system”
  • 15. Language and poverty: linguistics applied beyond Bible translation
    • Introduction
    • God and poverty
    • The role of language in addressing social poverty
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 16. Education and language policy development as components of holistic ministry in multilingual contexts
    • Introduction
    • Language policy and planning
    • A missiological framework
    • Language policy and planning in a missional context
    • Integral mission
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 17. A theological reflection on language shift and identity
    • The languages of the patriarchs
    • Pre-exilic period
    • The exile and beyond
    • New Testament times
    • A summary of language shift in biblical times
    • Implications for a theology of language shift
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • Section 4: Linguistic Hospitality
  • 18. Linguistic hospitality and the mission of God
    • Introduction
    • Hospitality – a deeper look
    • Linguistic hospitality and its practices
    • Conclusion and suggested actions
    • References
  • 19. Towards linguistic diversity with linguistic hospitality
    • Introduction
    • Mission of God
    • One speech
    • Linguistic unity is not conformity, but unity in diversity
    • Linguistic hospitality is the key to interconnectedness in linguistic diversity
    • Church and linguistic hospitality
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 20. Linguistic diversity and linguistic hospitality in the mission of God
    • Introduction
    • Who are the Luhyia people?
    • The mission of God
    • Diversity: blessing or hindrance?
    • Linguistic hospitality
    • Benefits of linguistic diversity in sharing hospitality
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • Section 5: Oral Communication
  • 21. God as an oral communicator – a study of orality, epic tales, and oral Bible performances in Siberia
    • God as an oral communicator
    • Orality
    • The influence of orality on missiology
    • Oral communication in the Altai Republic
    • The use of local genres in Scripture engagement
    • Similarities to the biblical oral tradition
    • Biblical Performance Criticism
    • BPC in the context of the Altai Republic
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 22. God, language, and orality in the African context
    • Introduction
    • The primacy and power of oral forms of language and the Bible
    • God and other forms of language use in the Bible and in the African context
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • Section 6: Translating Language
  • 23. Language diversity: a “happy fault” for the church
    • The legacy and challenge of Pentecost
    • Linguistic relativity: a happy fault
    • Canonical exegesis: a help to translators
    • Animal categories in Magar Kham
    • Further directions
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 24. Different paradigms relating to God, language, and translation
    • Introduction
    • Different paradigms related to God, language, and translation
    • God, language, and translation in the Bible
    • The nature of God’s word: divine and human at the same time
    • Some classical and contemporary perspectives on God, language, and translation
    • Case Study: Translating words for “Father” and “Son”
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 25. Communicating Jesus Christ as Mwol to the Yansi people in the mission of God
    • Introduction
    • Contextualization of the gospel message as an urgent need in post-colonial Africa
    • Definition of terms mwol and mfum in the Yansi socio-cultural context
    • Mwol as chief of an extended territory
    • The source and nature of the mwol’s authority
    • Mwol as twins
    • Nine rules regarding twins
    • Evaluation and integration of the concept of Mwol into Christianity by the Yansi Christians
    • Conclusion: challenges and opportunities
    • References
  • Section 7: What is Language?
  • 26. Language, culture, and the image of God: how God revealed himself to me in Papua New Guinea
    • Introduction
    • Culture and language
    • The image of God
    • The intersection of culture and the image of God
    • The image of God in the culture of Papua New Guinea
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 27. The ever-dynamic lexeme
    • Introduction
    • General assumptions about language
    • The ever-dynamic lexeme
    • God invites us to articulate our lexemes
    • Implications of the ever-dynamic lexeme
    • Conclusion
    • References
  • 28. God, a linguistic concept – towards an ethno-linguistic philosophy of thought and conscience
    • Language and thought
    • Language, thought, and conscience
    • Language, thought, and enculturation
    • Language, thought, enculturation and the biblical revelation of God
    • Conclusion
    • References
    • Appendix A
  • Notes

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