a1 Faculty of Theology, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80105, 3508 TL Utrecht, The Netherlands
This article is concerned with the use of ‘God’ in Judaeo-Christian discourse. The debate over ‘God’ has mainly centred on the puzzling issue of whether ‘God’ is a proper name with no descriptive connotation at all or whether it is a descriptive term with unique reference. In my view four things have to be taken into account in analysing the use of this term. In the first place, the term ‘God’ is a speech or communication phenomenon. Any treatment of this term should therefore consider the intentions, purposes, beliefs that a speaker has in using this word. In the second place, in Christian theistic discourse this term occurs both with and without modification. ‘The God of Israel’ is an example of ‘God’ with modification. It can be analysed as a noun phrase in which ‘God’ fulfils the function of HEAD, ‘the’ is a definite article filling the DETERMINER slot, and ‘of Israel’ is a prepositional phrase functioning as POSTMODIFIER. The use of only the term ‘God’ is an example without modification. In the third place, when Christians use ‘God’, either with or without modification, they use it to refer to, to describe or address one particular being. In the fourth place, when they use ‘God’ without modification, they do not use this term with an (in-) definite article. In this article three accounts of the term ‘God’ will be discussed: the proper name analysis, the definite description analysis, and the title-phrase analysis. Grammatically speaking, among the defenders of any of these analyses there is an agreed consensus on the classification of ‘God’ as a noun, but there is a disagreement about whether ‘God’ belongs to the category of proper nouns or to that of common nouns. Those adopting one of the last two analyses assume that ‘God’ is a common noun. This article presents an inquiry into the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three analyses. In brief, the question we are seeking to answer is the following: what kind of term is ‘God’ and what is a Christian saying when he says ‘God’?