The God of the Prophets: An Analysis of Divine Action

  • William Paul Griffin
  • Jun 1, 2001
  • Series: Volume 4 - 2001

Griffin, William Paul. The God of the Prophets: An Analysis of Divine Action. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 249. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. 328 pp. $84.00 hb. ISBN 1-85075-677-5.

Griffin begins his book by saying: “The purpose of the present study is to describe the image of God as an acting agent as presented in prophetic literature” (p. 11). The method he employs is called “content analysis.” This approach is unfamiliar to most biblical scholars, and accordingly the author dedicates the first part of the volume presenting its history and explaining the particularities of the procedure (Part I, chapters 1-6, pp. 13-73).

Content analysis attempts to quantify different elements of texts through statistical data. A system of categories for a text is developed, into which its terms and themes are coded. The choice of categories will naturally reflect the interests of the researcher but should also be representative of the concerns inherent within the text itself. In addition, the data are given a numerical value (for �Evaluation') in order to communicate their positive or negative semantic aspects. In his view, the statistical outcome allows for more objective results and, therefore, greater precision in establishing the message of a particular text and comparisons with other texts.

Griffin's goal is to examine the person of God in several texts: Isaiah 1:1-4:1, Hosea 4-8, Nahum, Malachi, and Zechariah 12-14, as well as the book of Joel. To the first group he gives the shorthand label �Selected Prophetic Passages' (SPP). His pursuit of the �image of God' is based on an investigation of the various acts and emotions of Yahweh vis-�-vis Israel and other nations. That is, he looks at what God does and feels toward these other entities, as well as at how they act toward him and how he responds to that. This material is compared to the activity and emotions of Israel and the nations toward each other. It is evident that this kind of meticulous scrutiny of texts could yield very exact results... but also an almost overwhelming amount of information in a difficult technical format for those not accustomed to statistical studies.

Chapters 7-10 comprise Part II (pp. 75-249). Chapters 7-9 present the results of this approach in the aforementioned texts. Each of these chapters contains tables that quantify and compare the activities and psychological responses of the different characters, human and divine. Chapter 10 (pp. 223-49) offers several methodological and theological reflections based on all of this work. In many ways Griffin's conclusions are not surprising (e.g., God's primary activity is judgment; he is more gracious to Israel than to the other peoples; Israel and the nations tend to exhibit prideful and rebellious behavior toward God; the picture of God is more beneficent in Joel than in the other texts), although these perceptions can now be grounded in quantifiable data instead of more impressionistic perceptions. One point, however, is interesting in light of very recent discussions about the nature of God (the “Openness of God” debate, which Griffin does not allude to). His study clearly demonstrates that Yahweh is �an emotional and calculating being' instead of �a dispassionate and non-rational force.' These prophetic passages underscore Yahweh's responsiveness to human activates and attitudes, his involvement in human affairs, and the reality of his emotions. In this vein, he commends (up to a point) the work of A. Heschel on the pathos of God (The Prophets, 1962) and that of T. Fretheim (The Suffering of God, 1984), both of which are more aware (and less wary) than most of the �anthropomorphic' descriptions of God in the prophetic literature. Yahweh can be involved in activities similar to that of humans, even as he is unlike them in other ways.

The author concludes his volume with two appendices. Appendix A (pp. 250-54) is a summary of Griffin's other studies utilizing Content Analysis. Appendix B (pp. 255-323) provides a listing of all the Hebrew terms in their respective categories and their numerical value (from +3 to �3); this is followed by two summary charts of all the words, first in English and then in Hebrew alphabetical order.

This work does not make for easy reading. One can get lost in all of the numerical data. Nevertheless, Griffin's effort does offer some interesting information about each passage, if one can develop an eye for scanning the many tables and charts; the brief conclusions at the end of chapters 7-9 also synthesize in a very concise manner his findings. The listings in Appendix B can serve to help the student of the Old Testament be more aware of the lexical variety and thematic breadth in the prophetic descriptions of Yahweh. In this sense, the author has accomplished his task of clarifying the picture of God.

M. Daniel Carroll R.
Professor of Old Testament
Denver Seminary
June 2001