A while back I posted a blog entitled “Beowulf & Moses” where I compared the language evolution of Biblical Hebrew to English. However, a friend of mine wrote me an email about how this probably isn’t a proper comparison. She is a well-educated teacher and Jewish, so I thought I should listen. Here is what she said:
Anyway, about Biblical Hebrew and Old English, there is a vast difference in purpose and culture here. We believe that the Beowulf poem was written in the vernacular or vulgar tongue of the Anglo-Saxons. There you already have the melding of two people groups, cultures and languages. We also think the original poem may have been recited in Old Norse, a very similar language to modern Icelandic. Even though Britain and Iceland are two island nations, Britain’s culture and its language suffered many invasions by other European peoples, the Danes the Norse, the Norman French. Its original languages have not fared well because of this.
Several of the old languages of the Celts, most notably Cornish and Manx are no longer spoken as a first language by anyone, though that may be changing thanks to Cornish radio and TV. They are following the Welsh strategy to reintroduce the language. The only reason I know this is because I am a member of the International Reading Association and attended one of their World Congresses in July of 2002 in Edinburgh. There I met teachers from these areas who told me how they were trying to revive speaking, reading and writing in the ancient languages.
English, as Leah likes to say, is a Creole, a mixture of many languages and cultures. Because of politics and trade, the language seems to be constantly changing for the last 1,000 years. England has never had an isolated culture. According to Robin McNeill, Iceland has a very different history. It traded almost exclusively with Norse peoples for several hundred years. It also has never been invaded like England. Its language has changed very little in all that time. This point was made in a recent indie film named “Beowulf and Grendel.” The writers and producers of the film were mainly Icelandic, and in an interview I read, said they could read the old English pretty easily, unlike us.
So, the point is well taken. How much a language changes really does depend on its exposure to other cultures and languages, whether through invasion or trade. In any case, I found this information very interesting.
This is what I want to warn against. When we begin to exalt a space, we forget that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, not any building. Working with the youth group I often hear the term “you can’t do that in church!” But by saying such things, we are saying that there are things that are okay outside the church but not okay inside, as though the building somehow is where God dwells, instead of seeing that it’s within us that God dwells. We can’t get away from “the sacred space”, it is always with us because it is us. If our conscience says not to wear a hat inside a church because it’s somehow “sacred” we should never wear a hat because we ourselves are a sort of “sacred space”. Is this not what Paul means when he says (albeit in response to sexual immorality but applies here), “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Cor 6:19-20)?Of course there are many issues that offshoot from this but my main point is that instead of bringing our idea of “church” down to the level of our daily lives, we should exalt our daily lives to the level of “church”, since that is who we are.
We have all heard it said, “The church isn’t the building but the people”. As much as we “know” that, we still have the “building” concept still embedded in our thinking. Just look at the words we use on a weekly basis.
“In the application to the N.T. the philological perspective, which isolates every text of every writer, and the dogmatic perspective, which regards the N.T. as One work of One writer, are opposed” (52, #22).
Now Schleiermacher will go on to posit that these are in a dialectical relationship (mutually dependent although in opposition). He does however say that the philological explanation must precede approaching the N.T. as a whole.
Translation (while running the risk of nuancing and oversimplifying): We cannot lose sight of the individual writers in the New Testament (with all their idiosyncrasies and different ‘theologies’ if you will) by saying that it is all written by the Holy Spirit in some way. In fact, we must first start with understanding what Paul meant (not just broader theologies, but also individual words) and take that seriously before we broaden out to understanding a general “NT theology”.
This also seems to play into our understanding of the role of Systematic Theology. Most scholars would agree that if a Systematic Theology is even possible (which many in the non-conservative camp deny) it has to rest on a good grammtico-historical exegesis of the text. In the words of Richard Gaffin, “Systematics rests on good exegesis”.
My problem is when these lines are blurred. When we talk of things like a “Two-Adam Christology” in Paul or a Kline-ian reading of the “theophanic glory-cloud” or possibly even an “abeyance of eschatological judgment” found in Genesis 3 (although this is a little different in my mind), how much can we call this reading “Pauline”? When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 did he in fact have in mind a 2-Adam Christology that he was trying to get across to a new and morally immature church in Corinth? I am not in any way denying the validity of such a reading, I am only saying it falls under the realm of a dogmatic reading rather than a philological one and by calling such a system “Pauline” we might be blurring the distinction.