Linguistics is one of the most useful domains of knowledge for students and teachers of the Bible, but there remains a large gap between the two fields. One of the reasons is that the benefits of studying linguistics are not immediately apparent. Another reason is that it is difficult to find an accessible introduction written for us biblical folk.
Two previous volumes by Cotterell & Turner (1989) and by David Black (2000) surveyed linguistic concepts and applied them to biblical problems and methods, but they’re a bit dated. I’m now happy to see that a new volume is available from Lexham that introduces the reader to linguistics and demonstrates how linguistic knowledge can improve one’s exegetical abilities.
Linguistics and Biblical Exegesis is an edited volume with five different authors writing or co-writing eight chapters. The book assumes very little knowledge of linguistics and starts with the basics, defining the major sub-fields within linguistics (e.g., semantics, pragmatics, morphology, etc.) and even providing an overview of the major approaches to linguistics. This latter chapter is one of the most valuable in the volume since one is much better equipped to use resources critically if one understands the linguistic methodology applied in the work.
Throughout the book, the authors provide various examples to demonstrate how the linguistic concept being discussed can improve one’s exegesis. This feature of the book eliminates one of the major problems with the distance between biblical studies and linguistics, namely, demonstrating the usefulness of linguistics. The book also eliminates the problem of needing an accessible introduction, but I also appreciated the depth of the book. It is not a bland survey of basic concepts followed by numerous examples or exegetical discussions. Rather, the issues are explained with just the right amount of detail (in my opinion) for those just looking into linguistics.
Two more helpful chapters are those on linguistic issues in biblical Hebrew and biblical Greek. Volumes have appeared on each of these subject in recent years (e.g., Advances in the Study of Greek), but it’s often nice to have a brief introduction to a matter before diving into an entire book. Especially helpful are the linguistic evaluations of popular Greek and Hebrew lexicons and dictionaries. Any student using these resources would benefit from reading these chapters, if only for these sections.
Before you buy the book, let me explain what it will do and what it will not do. It will whet your appetite for linguistics. It will give you an informed and helpful survey of linguistic topics that are especially relevant for biblical studies and exegesis. It will point you to further resources with annotated bibliographies.
It will not make you a linguist. It will not improve your exegetical method simply by reading it. It will not give you any earth-shattering revelations on any specific passages. This book is an entry-point to the field of linguistics, and as such it is commendably executed and worthy of being read by everyone who even thinks of dealing with language.
Preview or buy it here on Amazon.