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Semantics of Biblical Language


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Arguing that many Evangelicals mishandle linguistic evidence in their exegesis, James Barr analyzes in detail several common patterns that can put sound Bible interpretation out of reach. Barr’s analysis drew a good deal of criticism and was explosive in Evangelical circles. However, decades later, Barr’s conclusions still demand serious consideration. This book poses questions that are essential for all serious Bible students to wrestle with.

Behind the academic and innocently descriptive title of this book is one of the most explosive works of biblical scholarship of the 20th century. Certainly many of those who read it when it was first published were never the same again. It signaled the coming end of what hitherto had been a flourishing literature on a 'biblical theology' that was primarily dependent upon the meaning of individual words. In the 1980's again, Professor Barr wrote a new preface, having come to believe that one of the greatest dangers to sound exegesis comes from the consistent and regular use of methods that mishandle and distort the linguistic evidence of Greek and Hebrew.

Barr argues that the traditional assumptions of the earely and mid-20th century about how Greek and Hebrew culture influences the writers way of thinking and the linguistic structure of the languages is misguided. Popular ideas about how Greek vocabulary and Hebrew vocabulary show evidence of how Greeks and Hebrews thought are demonstrated to be fundamentally false.

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Key Features

  • Structualist Semantics analysis of Hebrew and Greek lexicography
  • Critical examination of standard theological lexicons
  • Seminal piece of research in biblical studies


  • The Importance of the Problem
  • The Current Contrast of Greek and Hebrew Thought
  • Problems of Method
  • Verbs, Action and Time
  • Other Arguments from Morphological and Syntactic Phenomena
  • Etymologies and Related Arguments
  • ‘Faith’ and ‘Truth’—An Examination of some Linguistic Arguments
  • Some Principles of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary
  • Language and the Idea of ‘Biblical Theology’
  • Languages and the Study of Theology

Praise for the Print Edition

Barr’s book, The Semantics of Biblical Language, was a trumpet blast against the monstrous regiment of shoddy linguistics. Controversial throughout, undiplomatic at times, it has been recognized as a major contribution to biblical studies.

—Moisés Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning, 18.

It will be evident that this book takes us into deep waters; nor can it be described as an easy book to read. But it is an important book, raising questions which ought to be considered and exposing faults and fallacies which ought to be exposed

—R. McL. Wilson, review in New Testament Studies, 1962.

  • Title: The Semantics of Biblical Language
  • Author: James Barr
  • Publisher: SCM Press LTD
  • Print Publication Date: 1983
  • Logos Release Date: 2015
  • Pages: 319
  • Language: English
  • Resources: 1
  • Format: Digital › Logos Research Edition
  • Subject: Bible › Language, style
  • Resource Type: Monograph
  • Metadata Last Updated: 2022-02-12T05:33:53Z

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

James Barr (1924–2006) was an Old Testament scholar noted for his contributions to the study of biblical languages. His book The Semantics of the Biblical Languages remains one of the most influential books on the subject. He held professorships at the University of Edinburgh, University of Manchester, Princeton University, and Vanderbilt University.

Sample Pages from the Print Edition


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    Digital list price: $31.99
    Save $7.00 (21%)