The Purposes of Human Language

From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission. Read the series so far.

Dispensationalism & the Literal Interpretation of the Bible, Part 3

Human language had a disruption at the incident of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-10). There was an initial unity of human language; there was “the same language and the same words” (Gen. 11:1). (The KJV has “of one language, and of one speech,” Gen. 11:1. The NIV has “one language and a common speech,” Gen. 11:1.) There was an organic unity of speech. Vocabulary and syntax were a comprehensible unit understood by all.  Communication was swift. Philologists and linguists fairly agree that there was a parent language to all the languages of the world, based on similarities of vocabulary, grammar and syntax. No one knows what the original language was, although until the 19th century the theory that it was Hebrew was practically unquestioned.

There was a miraculous disruption of the linguistic unity and the immediate formation of different language groups. God moved miraculously into the situation and confused the one language system into different language systems. This caused a series of mutually unintelligible language groups to arise instantaneously with all its resultant confusion. God thereby caused immediate internal barriers within the people themselves, which frustrated their original intent of a monolithic political unity. Their intention to create an imperialistic one-world power and to “make … a name” (Gen. 11:4) failed.

While the confusion and fragmentation of the unified language system was miraculous, the dispersion or migration of the people from the region of Babel was a providential one. God used all manner of secondary causation. The scattering probably took the form of isolated family groups. All others would be suspect because of the inability to communicate. The scattering caused distinct racial or ethnic groups to appear. The latent genetic variations in the human race had a chance to appear in the various isolated groups. Languages began to evolve or change and develop, as they are doing today. New words would appear in vocabularies, new expressions arose, and whole new language systems developed.

Note that it seems evidently not God’s will for the human race to engage in “one-worldism,” which leads to monolithic totalitarianism or authoritarianism and repression of human rights. It also causes the rapid spread of iniquity. Sin reaches unparalleled proportions in its ultimate expressions in such a society.  One-worldism will eventually pave the way for Antichrist, who will have such a universal government. Nationalism restrains and reduces sin.

False Theories About the Origin of Human Language

The theories listed below, among others, are based on some kind of instinctive, non-rational, imitative notions.

The Evolution Theory

This says that human language is no more than the evolving of the sounds of animals such as the chirps of birds, the barks of dogs or the grunts of pigs. Sounds came to be attached to objects over the millennia.

The Automatic Theory

According to Milton Terry, this theory says that there was such a sympathy between soul and body, and such a dependence of the one upon the other, that every object which in any way affected the senses produced a corresponding echo in the soul and found automatic expression through the vocal chords.* Language was a kind of physico-chemical reaction caused by the environment.

The Anomatopoetic Theory

This says that words are an imitation of natural sounds such as the sounds of animals, noises caused by the wind and waters, and so on. These simple words were the germ of the first language. This may account for some individual words but cannot account for a language system. The sounds are not descriptive of anything.  In language, a word is a sign or symbol of a concept.

The Purposes of Human Language

Language was for God to communicate with man in His image and vice versa. It was given to man by God for the purpose of receiving a verbal revelation from Him and for mankind to approach Him in prayer and worship. Language was also for persons in the image of God to communicate with each other. It was so that people could converse with other people about God and spiritual/theological matters, which—before the entrance of sin—was all there was to talk about.

* Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zondervon Reprint, 1977 ), p. 70.

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Bert Perry's picture

I was led to Christ by a linguistics major (and a history major), and the linguist noted that he couldn't identify any linguistic theory that adequately explained language.  Except for Scripture.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Rolland McCune's picture


You are correct, and it is obviously quite difficult, if not impossible, to deal with the subject adequately even from Scripture.


It is along the lines that Bert mentioned that I find your post virtually incomprehensible. I do not discern your ultimate authority for reasoning, but it is not a biblical/theological one. And invoking the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth, is a mystery.  Jesus' physical-psychological structure as a divine-human person is miraculous and thus truly incomprehensible. In trying to understand His person, the only tools we have at hand are the boundaries of the Chalcedonian rubric that we must neither divide the person nor confound the natures of Christ. I don't see where any "moments" apply here. Because of the hypostatic union He came forth with the same body that went into the tomb, molecule for molecule; no decomposition whatever (Ps 16:10; Acts 13:35; Lk 24:36-40). His bodily condition in the intermediate state of death was still united inseparably with the eternal Logos. All of this, and much more, makes His case infinitely different from ordinary human beings, immune from moments and other tedious theoretical postulations, and in the end seemingly irrelevant to the question of the essential monism of human beings.


Rolland McCune

swalker's picture

Thank you for replying: I accept the Bible as true and authoritative as exhibited by accepting the divinity and resurrection of our Lord Jesus in my illustration. I am with you attempting to understand the biblical data using reason in submission to the Bible, unless you are claiming to understand the biblical data without reason. Of course I can reason poorly about the Bible, but that's rather different than suggesting that I argue without a discernable biblical or theological authority.

Also, I just want to make sure that I understand your statements above: Are you saying that Jesus' human self was different than all other human selves and therefore cannot be used to understand non-Jesus deaths and resurrections? Jesus' humanity is "immune from moments," so he does not experience time? Could you please help me understand how your view of "immune to moments" is biblical and in agreement with the cited creed.  

And you agree that Jesus under the conditions you describe had two bodies--one dead in the grave and one living during the intermediate state? If there were two bodies, was one empty but preserved in the grave and one in heaven with Jesus' person, or was Jesus' humanity fully contained in two separate bodies at the same time, one dead and one living?

I ask not for the purpose of logic chopping but to understand what Jesus meant when he said, "Today, I will be with you in Paradise." To understand what this statement means, I need to know where Jesus' human self was after he died. Was he in the grave with his body, was he in Paradise with the thief, was he in both places at the same time as a human, or is there a fourth option?

Aaron Blumer's picture


OK, I was a bit confused for a while there, but we have discussion happening partly on two different threads.

Dr. McCune has responded in part to this post from swalker in the Part 2 thread.


So if to be human requires in all conditions both body and soul, then when Jesus died he had to have a new body or his whole body did not rest in the grave but only a part of his body did.  If his whole body did not die, he did not die as parts of our bodies die constantly.  If he was given a second body, this new body must be united with the second body at the resurrection or we now have an empty body either on earth in heaven. If when we die there is disembodied moment between our old bodies and new bodies, then there is moment that under the definition of monism we are not human. If there is no moment between death and life then there is no way to distinguish the two states.  I don't think this works at all on rational grounds. And then we need to talk about the souls under the throne, what Paul means about the tent, God animating Adam, and so forth. 

What swalker is referring to is a portion near the beginning of the Part 2 article...

In Biblical thought, beginning in the Old Testament, the body is a necessary ingredient in the human personality. It is the vehicle for the other aspects to function and express themselves, including the use of rational propositional speech. The human is a self composed of a material and an immaterial aspect in a unified, ontological, individual personality. Human beings are not thought of in terms of two or three clearly distinguishable parts but in an essential monism that is only theoretically divisible.

So he's talking about the case of Jesus' nature between death and resurrection as a response to idea of the human being an indivisible union of body and--the rest.

For my part, I would say that human beings are body-spirit unions (man became a living soul... he did not acquire a soul). But I would not personally say that they are "only theoretically" divisible. Perhaps Dr. McCune means theoretically divisible prior to death. Something clearly is "absent from the body" and "present with the Lord" in 2 Corinthians 5:8.

Rolland McCune's picture

I guess I do not understand your use of "moments," nor where you get the notion of "two bodies." Jesus was unlike the rest of humanity in that he had two different natures united in one person. No part of His humanity was deified; He could not have two or two hundred bodies. Ordinarily a person's body is interred in the earth; it is no longer a human personality. But Jesus' situation is nor comparable to yours or mine; He is the God-man. I think you are dividing His person with this two-body and the "moment" between them idea.

Rolland McCune

Aaron Blumer's picture


There are alot of questions there kind of bunched together. Maybe a good place to start would be to clarify what happens at death. If human nature is a body and spirit union in life, what happens to that union at death? (I think swalker is trying to figure out how Jesus could be in the tomb and in paradise at the same time if He has to have a body in both places.... etc.)

swalker's picture

Mr. Blumer—you live up to your name sake in Psalm 133:1-2. 

If the unproven assertion of monism is not used to defend the emerging hermeneutic, I happily withdraw the questions.  

My concern is that Epicurus (341-270 BC) is the first historical defender of an explicit literalism as a privileged hermeneutic that I am aware of. He too was a monist and found the position necessary for his articulation of literalism. If monism does not support the unfolding hermeneutic, I would only ask that the readers consider the arguments of John W. Cooper in “Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate” before accepting monism.  

If monism is necessary to Dr. McCune’s argument, please do consider answering the questions.

In Christ,


Rolland McCune's picture

My last post was produced in some  haste due  to an impending deadline, i.e., dinner. I will take Aaron's suggestion and deal with individual questions. Here I will lay down some introductory theological material and later address the specific questions that seem to be bunched up on the subject. I was not casting aspersions at anyone's belief in the authority of the Bible. But I do think that swalker's posts are deficient in the areas of biblical anthropology and Christology.

1. A major premise for biblical studies is the understanding that the Bible is written from the Hebrew mind, beginning in the OT and carried throughout. Hebrew thought tends to be holistic vis-a-vis other thought patterns. Therefore it resists the theoretical probes of the scholastic mind used to understand and/or explain its content. RE the human personality, Scripture treats the human in his creation, structural make up, treatment, actions and the like, as a holistic self in an "essential" monism rather than searching for his philosophical, physical, psychological constitution. These latter might be of first interest to theologians, philosophers, logicians, et al, but biblical (Hebrew) thought is first of all practical even though there is enormous content available for coordinated study if one has the correct propaedeutic to approach it. For NT studies there is truth in the statement that the writers wrote in Greek but they thought in Hebrew.

In a later post I will address the unique person of the God-man and its contribution to theological  anthropology, the necessity of a bodily existence for the human personality, the status of a human corpse in this understanding, the status of the human personality in the intermediate state between death and resurrection, and probably more.

Rolland McCune

Kevin Miller's picture

Rolland McCune wrote:

1. A major premise for biblical studies is the understanding that the Bible is written from the Hebrew mind, beginning in the OT and carried throughout. Hebrew thought tends to be holistic vis-a-vis other thought patterns. Therefore it resists the theoretical probes of the scholastic mind used to understand and/or explain its content.

These sentences here make me think of a question about "literalness," especially since the topic of the whole series is "Dispensationalism & the literal interpretation of the Bible." One of the arguments I have heard for taking the first chapters of Genesis figuratively is that the Hebrew frame of thinking had very much a "story-telling" framework. The story relayed a truth, like a parable does, but the individual elements of the story were not necessarily literally true. Is there any validity at all to taking the story-telling nature of Hebrew culture into account when understanding the Scriptures?

Rolland McCune's picture

Kevin:  The OT Hebrew mind-set did include the generous use of parable and narrative in various parts.  But conservative thought has almost uniformly refrained from invoking such in Gen 1. Usually in the interests of old-earth, uniformitarian, if not evolutionary, presuppositions, Gen 1 has been called "exalted Hebrew" and such designations. By "holistic" I mean that the OT quite often, if not more commonly, will omit secondary causation and like details in the interests of a larger perspective. Cf Ps 29:3--"The God of glory thunders ...", et al. Holistic does not mean elastic. 

Rolland McCune

Rolland McCune's picture

The original idea was this: Human language requires a rational human self for its use. A self is derived from a creative act of the person of God in His own image. The biblical idea of the image of God in humans must be a transcendental given for the argument, otherwise human communication can never be accounted for.   Looking at Gen 2:7, Adam was the image of God by a creative act on Day 6 of earth history (cf 1 Cor 11:7), consisting of material and immaterial facets.  The image is depicted as a unified, ontological, holistic personal self in what might be called an "essential" monism without any reprehensible  overtones or nuances. Speculation beyond that was not contemplated. 

2. The person of Jesus of Nazareth is unique. He is the God-man, the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14), having a nature of total and genuine humanity and one of total and genuine deity--100% man and 100% God. This is because of the inseparable union of the eternal Logos with the humanity inherited from His mother Mary. He is neither more nor less human than we are, and vice versa. But the single personality thus effected is to an infinite degree unlike ordinary humans. He is not two persons nor two selves. The Logos is confined to, but not limited to, His physical body. Scholastic speculation irrisistibly leads to the Chalcedonian prohibition of dividing His person. Thus I don't consider it an apt tool here.

3. The status of a human corpse during the intermediate state between death and resurrection is that of non-being. It is no longer personal and should not be accorded any personal properties. It is inert, dirt, dust or ground returning to such (Gen 3:19). Linguistic convention refers to a corpse by its earthly name or nickname and such, but it is not a unified self in any biblical/theological sense. The body by metonymy may in various ways be a reminder of the deceased.The living survivors still connect the body in their pictures, thoughts and emotions. But for those knowing biblical truth the resolution will come in time.

A  common word for a person in OT thought is nephesh, a somewhat malleable word often translated soul (Gen 2:7). In my  opinion in this and other contexts it stresses man's distinct individuality as a human being, composed of a material and an immaterial aspect. Nephesh can be used , probably most commonly, as meaning a person (Gen 36:6; Prov 19:15; Ezek 18:20; Deut12:20-21), even as a reflexive pronoun  because of its former unification (Job 9:21). A corpse may be called a nephesh because  of its former unified self (Num 6:6; Hag 2:13).

4. The status of a human personality in the intermediate state is still a unity of the material and immaterial ingredients. A disembodied human personality is foreign to biblical anthropology. For OT saints the intermediate state (Sheol) had a gloomy and darksome outlook (Job 10:18-22; Ps 6:5; et al). It was the living who enjoyed the favor and blessing of the Lord (Ps 27:13; Isa 38:11, 19; et al). With the advent of Christ and the revelation from the apostles the intermediate state brightened considerably. The repentant thief on the cross looked forward to the resurrection at the Messianic Kingdom for his eternal rest, reflecting his OT grounds. Jesus replied with a "today" (in the intermediate state) as his wish's fulfillment (Lk 23:43).

Paul's metaphors of the "building" from God and the "clothing" from heaven (2 Cor 5:1-8) can be understood as an intermediate body received at death.  Death tears down the present body but in its place "we are having a building from God" (echo in the pres tense), showing that the believer's body after death is theologically continuous with his earthly body, and that eternity is continous with time without any Platonic notions. 

Other indications, more remote, suggest and would corroborate an intermediate body, e.g., the Tribulation martyrs of the 5th seal (Rev 6:9-11), the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), and Moses at the Transfiguration (Matt 17:3).  Other anecdotes and theological factors enter into the whole discussion but cannot be brought up here. 

This does not answer all questions nor solve all problems, and I hesitate to compose this reply for fear of possible unending controversy.


Rolland McCune

Bert Perry's picture

it strikes me that when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, we've got something of a mix of the Hebrew and Greek mindsets--the Greek tending much more to (for obvious reasons) Aristotelian deductive reasoning, for obvious reasons.   This lends itself (as Dr. McCune notes) to endless controversy, but also if we do it right, to a certain greater degree of certainty than we would otherwise assume if it were just a Hebrew mindset in argument.

At least I'd think.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Rolland McCune's picture


Yes there are occasions where NT theology reflects a Greek influence but I would suggest that the employment of those current civil matters was still in the interests of the Hebrew concept of sin and expiation. Two examples will suffice.

One is the explanation by the author of Hebrews of the death of Christ in chapters 7-10. The OT Law covenant was not a testament predicated on the death of the testator. So the Roman idea of "a last will and testament" was employed in explanation of the ethical basis of the atonement of Christ. Kent refers to this special use as a "testamentary covenant" (The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 139 ff) to explain what the old covenant could not provide but is found in the new covenant by Christ's blood. J. Barton Payne extrapolated this special use back theology in the interests of his nant theology, in my view.

Another example would be the doctrine of soteriological personal adoption. Adoption in the OT was tied up with the national Law Covenant (Rom 9:4). There was salvific adoption, of course, or redemption from sin in those days would be nullified and nonexistent. The Law had no provision for adoption in case of infertlity.iage, polygamy, or even concubinage seemed to suffice.

Other redemptive truths found personal fulfillment in the national covenant, such as the above example. Also specific election to personal eternal life is difficult to locate as such. Ps 65:4 and Gen 18:19 are about as personally specific as it gets. The rest is to be found in the Law's choice of the nation and the "plan of redemption" as it related to God's election of the nation and the national-personal spiritual matters were assigned to and functioned within the Levitical system.

Rolland McCune

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