Hebrew Grammar, Linguistics, and Justification

An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax

What do Hebrew grammar, linguistics, and justification have to do with one another? Quite a bit, if you ask me (us).

In An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Bruce Waltke and M. O’ Conner give us some implicit clues. In their discussion of a certain verb (the Piel stem, to be precise), they note a category for a “psychological/linguistic factitive” (p. 402). In the Hebrew grammarian E. Jenni’s terms, this is a “declarative-estimative” (Ibid.). Or in D. Hillers’ terms (which he prefers over Jenni’s), it is a “delocutive verb” (cf. Hillers’ 1967 JBL article, Delocutive Verbs in Biblical Hebrew).  [At this point, our in-house OT guru, Andrew, is thinking semitic thoughts with a Hebrew grin on his face.]

Now, in easier terms: Jenni says that these types of verbs are verbs by which the “state described is attained by a declaration” (Waltke & O’Conner, An Introduction, 402). Hillers describes these same verbs as locutionary rather than adjectival or verbal. Translate: these verbs state something (locution) rather than describe (adjective) or make (verbal).

Ok, here’s where it hits the road. The OT verbs in mind are those such as justify, bless, pronounce clean. Sometimes, in the right context and verbal use, these (and other similar) verbs declare/state something rather than describe or make something to be what it is.

Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks

For a related discussion, see also what other linguists/philosophers/theologians call “speech-act” (i. e. Alston, Searle, Austin, Vanhoozer, Wolterstorff, Horton, etc.).  Also note that Waltke and O’Conner use the term “speech-act” in the above context (p. 402-3).


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5 thoughts on “Hebrew Grammar, Linguistics, and Justification”

  1. Thanks for breaking that down, Shane. Would one need to be able to read and understand Hebrew to fully appreciate this book?


  2. Whoa – is this my future? Is this enough to carry me through Hebrew I all by itself?

    Ah, to be ignorant and only know English. It is so easy to be imprecise. But those days are gone.

    Goodbye ignorance, my old friend! What wonderful, blissful times we had together, when you swore fealty to me and promised me a throne! What sweet times we had you and I…but I feel torn apart from you now, dragged away kicking and screaming, longing after the friend of old, the one who told me what I so longed to hear! Come back, ignorance, come back! I miss you!

    But he won’t come back now. Sniff, sniff. He never can. He will never return to flatter me. Gone forever is his golden tongue of flattery! Now there is only some silly girl called reality who is always saying shocking things I don’t want to hear. I don’t like her very much. She’s different from me. I wish I could go play cards with the boys and my old friend ignorance; it is so hard dealing with her, with reality.

    They say that one day I’ll begin to like girls, even that I’ll like her, reality. I don’t know though. I’m not too sure. She is wholly other, you know, and that’s strange. She doesn’t even acknowledge me as god. Can you imagine it?


  3. Rick: Waltke/O’Conner’s Hebrew syntax book is understandable only 1) for those who know (more than?) a little Hebrew or 2) those who are very familiar with the ins and outs of language/grammar.



  4. Well I’m just gonna hafta learn me some Hebrew then. Is that the one with the funny symbols that you gotta read backward?

    I think it’s obvious that I’m all good on the language and grammar thingy.

    In all seriousness, I would like to learn Hebrew, Greek and Latin sometime before I’m an aged man.

    Thanks, Shane.



  5. Rick,

    If you attempt to learn Hebrew someday, and find it difficult, then you may be encouraged in the same way I have been encouraged (since I’m now taking it the second time): there is a relatively famous theologian who only managed a D on his third pass through Hebrew. For many people it’s just plain hard.

    Of course, some take to it with incredible ease.


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