The Holy Context of Divine Speech-Act

Language is an essential characteristic of the tri-personal God (the Father, Son, and Spirit). It is a necessity of His social being and a communicative attribute of His truthful nature. Thus, when God speaks, He speaks truth (Prov. 8:8-9). However, because of the presence of sin in the human heart, the “straightness” and “rightness” of God’s word is humanly viewed as foolish (1 Cor. 2). Hence, the root-problem between God and Man is “natural.” Meaning, the characteristics of their natures are opposite from each other. For this reason, when God speaks from His level, man can’t understand it because he views it according to his own context as a sinner. Now, this does not mean that the divine words are not clear and understandable by common sense and reason. The human problem according to St. Paul is the sin within him (Rom. 1:21).


The natural problem then resides in the spiritual and moral nature of man. Man views and interprets God’s word according to the impulse and dictates of his sinful nature – sinful earthly bias. Thus, even though God said, “all the words of my mouth are righteous,” that they are all felicitous in their divine context, on the human context they become infelicitous. In other words, God’s word is misinterpreted because our human understanding is affected and influenced by sin.

Let’s take for example the teaching of Jesus in Mt. 5:33-37 regarding Oaths. Jesus said,


“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you ‘Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.’

In this passage, Jesus is not opposed to making an oath before the Lord as admonished in Lev. 19:12. The issue that he’s pushing here has to do with Jewish misinterpretation and misrepresentation. The Law tells them to swear to God in truth and sincerity. However, because they want to hide and cover up their insincerity before God and their neighbors, they twisted the clear statement of Lev. 19:12. They said that only those oaths which literally used the name of God in their vows are seriously accountable to God. Thus, if a Jew is making a business contract with his neighbor and he wants to express his sincerity in that transaction, he could raise his hand towards heaven as a sign of his commitment. Nonetheless, such kind of vow, although solemn in the sight of man, is not serious in the sight of God. They believe that God will not hold them accountable in that situation. But as you can see, Jesus utterly shattered this kind of attitude by saying that the sacredness of a vow is not literally tied to the verbal pronouncement of God’s name. Rather, every vow is sacred as long as the presence of God is invoked upon it.

God’s words are always felicitous. As a God of all situations and conditions, God speaks with clear and true context. He is never out of context. Therefore, whenever and wherever we think or see that God seems to speak infelicitously; we need to remind ourselves that our human context – as sinners – hinders us to see and understand the righteous beauty of God’s word. For this reason, man should humble himself at the foot of the Cross in order to receive the Spirit of God who will enlighten his mind to the truth of God.



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