Sunday, 17 September 2017
The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment,
Brent A, Strawn, Baker Academic, 2017, page 231
Brent Strawn makes the case, borne out my own observation of the way the Bible is used in churches and study contexts, that the Old Testament is dying. He waxes lyrical to prove his point from much linguistic theory. The book is well worth reading.
One of his early points is that there are two (really three, but that is perhaps too much detail) languages involved in the Old Testament. One is the language in which it was written - in this case Hebrew (or a little Aramaic). The other is the concepts, metaphors, images and vocabulary of its message. Strawn argues that both are dying. Firstly, biblical Hebrew is nearly always only an optional set of classes in Bible colleges, therefore having to compete with other perhaps more practical classes in the student's choices. Clergy knowledge and familiarity with the Old Testament in its own language is therefore falling away, with English not far behind. Secondly, most Christians don't speak Old Testament and the churches don't teach, read or preach from it. Together, Strawn proposes, these indicate that the Old Testament is in the advanced stages of language death.
Urging that the survival of the Old Testament depends on incessant teaching of this language to the next generation, whatever their biological age, he points out that another critical factor of language survival is that real - by this he means 'alive' - languages change through the course of time and repeated use.
First and foremost, one must always remember that real, living, vibrant languages do in fact change. Living languages are languages that are spoken and practised, which means they are spoken and practised diachronically, and the passage of time involves linguistic change by necessity and as a matter of course. Old English is not the same as Middle English, which is not the same as modern English, let alone the various idiomatic vernaculars, peppered with slang, loan words, dialectical differences and the like, running from New Jersey to Southern California. The language that is the Old Testament (or Christian Scripture) is no different on this point. This is why, in the Christian canon,we have not only the Old Testament but also the New and why Christian theology has not only Holy Scripture but also creeds and councils and so forth - up to and including present-day performances of Scripture. Such things are signs of linguistic life, signs that the language is being practised and so is not only living but also developing and changing. Languages that do not change are, by definition, dead. So linguistic change is automatic, something that is entirely natural and to be expected, and can be celebrated as a vibrant sign of linguistic halth and life.
Can we see this life at work, this linguistic change occuring, anywhere in the churches and synagogues today? Is there a direct correlation between real life and growth and change?