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Old Testament Cosmology and Divine Accommodation: A Relevance Theory Approach

, 2020
ISBN: 9781532676215

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In order to reconcile the discrepancies between ancient and modern cosmology, confessional scholars from every viewpoint on the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis agree that God accommodated language to finite human understanding. But in the history of interpretation, no consensus has emerged regarding what accommodation entails at the linguistic level. More precise consideration of how the ancient cognitive environment functions in the informative intention of the divine and human authors is necessary. Not only does relevance theory validate interpretative options that are inherently most probable within the primary communication situation, but the application of relevance theory can also help disentangle the complexities of dual authorship inherent in any model of accommodation. The results also make a salutary contribution to the theological reading of Scripture.

Resource Experts
  • Incorporates relevance theory as a hermeneutical tool to evaluate how language engages the broader context of ideas and assumptions in the cognitive environment, thus advancing the conversation on creation texts, the doctrine of accommodation, and the theological interpretation of Scrupture
  • Takes into account elements such as the the role that literal interpretation plays in communication, and how cultural context plays in Christian interpretation of Genesis 1
  • Explores how Old Testament language relates to cosmological ideas of ancient Israel

Top Highlights

“Laboratory testing by cognitive linguists has demonstrated that people process literal and figurative possibilities of interpretation in parallel, not in series.42 In other words, in normal human communication, we do not assume a literal interpretation and then switch to an alternate possibility only after perceiving that the literal makes no sense in context. In fact, some experiments have shown that people default to metaphorical interpretations whenever such are available. So the burden is actually on the interpreter to demonstrate literality.” (Page 17)

“But a limitation of speech-act theory is that it has no mechanism for moving beyond the general intention of the speaker (to assert information, direct others, commit to action, make declarations, or express attitudes) to validate the specific content of the discourse.” (Page 7)

“It was stated earlier that communication draws not only on dictionary entries but on the ‘encyclopedic’ notions that people hold on a given topic and to varying degrees are shared between the parties in any act of communication—specifically, any information that is available for mental processing. The human brain does not organize definitions in simple entries like a dictionary. Rather, concepts are arranged in schemas that people draw on when stimulated ‘at a moment’s notice’ by another person’s utterance.” (Page 10)

“It is worth recalling at this juncture that relevance theory does not deny the importance of the verbal utterance; rather it views the wording as a guide that triggers cognitive effects from context in the encyclopedic entries of the reader’s mind. So relevance theory does not discount the primacy of the words in an act of communication; it only highlights the interaction between the utterance of words and their broader context.” (Page 15)

As with any archaeological dig, unearthing ancient Near Eastern backgrounds for Old Testament exegesis is a delicate affair, and those who attempt it quickly get their hermeneutical hands dirty. John Hilber brings a new tool, relevance theory, to the task, enabling him to sift through cosmological assumptions and identify the ones that are operative. What Hilber here discovers is not an artifact, but a precious interpretive insight that shines new light on the divine accommodation of Scripture.

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

By engaging with relevance theory, Hilber has provided a dimension of comparative studies that was both lacking and sorely needed. This approach will help readers to understand the concept of a cognitive environment and how important it is for interpreting not just the opening chapters of Genesis, but the entire Bible. . . . Hilber’s judicious balance is evident throughout the book and his insights will become a fundamental aspect of my writing and teaching. Brilliant!”

John H. Walton, Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College

How many adjectives can I pile up to describe the helpfulness of this work? In its content, it is knowledgeable, thoughtful, conscientious, and judicious. In its style it is clear, engaging, and inviting. . . . Professor Hilber has served us all well, and we owe him our thanks!

C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

In communicating to ancient Israel, God accommodated his message to Israel’s cultural context. But what are the dynamics of this contextualization strategy and how does it impact our understanding of the Genesis 1 creation account? John Hilber tackles these issues with mature scholarly insight, using relevance theory to support his thesis. Along the way, one finds concise, well-researched discussions of relevance theory, ancient cosmology, and accommodation. This is a must-read.

Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Chair and Senior Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

  • Title: Old Testament Cosmology and Divine Accommodation: A Relevance Theory Approach
  • Author: John W. Hilber
  • Publisher: Cascade
  • Print Publication Date: 2020
  • Logos Release Date: 2021
  • Pages: 214
  • Era: era:contemporary
  • Language: English
  • Resources: 1
  • Format: Digital › Logos Research Edition
  • Subjects: Biblical cosmology; Relevance theory; Bible. O.T. › Criticism, interpretation, etc; Bible. O.T. Genesis › Criticism, interpretation, etc
  • ISBNs: 9781532676215, 9781532676222, 9781532676239, 1532676212, 1532676220, 1532676239
  • Resource Type: Monograph
  • Metadata Last Updated: 2022-09-30T02:05:17Z

Dr. Hilber served for 15 years in pastoral ministry before pursuing doctoral studies in preparation for academic ministry. Consequently he is deeply committed to preparing students for careful study in real-life settings, and a number of his journal publications have addressed practical issues in church life. His specialized interest is the use of ancient background material in Old Testament studies. Dr. Hilber and his wife have one daughter. Ancient background material in


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