Monday, August 08, 2016

The Meaning of KATABOLH in the GNT

For KATABOLH, BDAG Greek-English Lexicon has:

(1) "the act of laying someth[ing] down, with implication of providing a base for someth[ing], foundation" and

(2) "a [technical term] for the sowing of seed, used of begetting" (page 515).

Therefore, I'd say that KATABOLH potentially means "foundation" or in certain contexts may have that "meaning" or sense.

But a friend stated:

"I know from experience that if we consult a lexicon, it is simply asking the writer of that lexicon his/her opinion of a word meaning. This is why a concordance is always safer than a lexicon."

My reply:

I'm not sure that I agree with this assessment. BDAG, Louw-Nida, Abbott-Smith or LSJ, IMO, do more than give opinions on word meanings. BDAG is the product of rigorous lexicography; Danker (and others before him) has examined a number of texts and contexts. Ergo, though BDAG is far from being infallbile, I would not just want to chalk up Danker's lexical judgments to personal opinion. On the other hand, I'm not too trusting of concordances when it comes to lexical semantics.

My friend continues:

"For example, here is the word KATABOLE found in Heb 11:11 from the NWT: 'By faith also Sarah herself received power to CONCEIVE seed...' Why not say that she FOUNDATIONED seed...? The word here clearly 'means' something else. In fact, Sarah was 'casting down', or discharging seed from her ovaries... The very elements of KATABOLE: 'Down Casting.'"

My reply:

You seem to be relying on etymology or diachrony; a more reliable approach, linguists have shown, is synchrony or how a word is used at a particular time in a particular literary context (i.e., cotext). I have no problems with the NWT rendering of Heb 11:11: it is an acceptable and good way to translate this passage. But the reason we don't say that she "foundationed" seed is because of sense issues vis-a`-vis the target language and because of contexual considerations. Moreover, as [Marcus] has already stated, etymology is often not a reliable guide when it comes to establishing the meaning of a word. BDAG shows that KATABOLH is elsewhere employed with TOU SPERMATOS to mean "the sowing of seed."

Friend's reply:

"A word has one basic meaning, even tho' we can use 'variants' at times. Usage is another thing. But the basic meaning of a word must be present in its contexts.

My reply:

Do words have "basic meanings"? What is the basic meaning of LOGOS or PARQENOS? How about PAIS? One more we might add to the list is PAQOS.

For the record, I'm not in total disagreement with you. I just tend to believe that words have "potential meanings" or senses (Sinnen); contexts determines which sense is being communicated by the author.



dokimazo said...


I have always understood kataboles in Ephesians 1.4 as, 'throwing down'
Thus 'pro kataboles kosmou' would seem to indicate before human seed was thrown down or evident that God proposed this administration.

I understand also the sematic range of Greek and Hebrew words. And I do use BDAG quite often and consider it the best lexicon available right now. But I, of course, consult a lot of different sources of word usage.

Duncan said...

Here in lies the problem:-

"It is probably best to be too 'literal' at first to make sure you understand all the Greek nuances. Once the Greek is thoroughly understood, then you can work on producing a good translation."

Edgar Foster said...


I'm not dismissing that understanding of the text, but as BDAG notes, the word can mean something different in a given context and I believe other lexical sources make the same point. I also concur with you that it's best to consult many different sources before leting one's mind become set in stone.

John 17:24 (ESV): "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."

This verse, like Eph. 1:4, could apply to the time before humans starting begetting children, but Jesus' word might also mean "before the creation/establishing of the world."

We also have Heb. 4:3: For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest,'" although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.

In what sense were his works finished from the founding of the world? The context suggests that the founding of the world (in this context) is associated with the creation of Eve. Of course, Lk. 11:50 links the foundation of the world with Abel.

Please see

Edgar Foster said...


I agree. It's hard to communicate meaning, but we now understand that glosses aren't definitions, and literal isn't always the best for the finished product. Furthermore, translators have to consider the target language that they're attempting to reach. Louw-Nida Greek and English Lexicon repeatedly mentions this point.

dokimazo said...


Thanks for your response. I do understand the variances and range for Greek and Hebrew words. I guess that is why context plays such an important role in understanding these different nuances. Then you have a whole host of other issues with idioms, grammar, syntax and word usage in that period of time. I really do appreciate your response. It reminded me not to be to hasty in drawing conclusions based solely on the Greek word.

Thanks again;


Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

You're welcome, dokimazo. Always good to see people exerting themselves to deepen their knowledge/comprehension of Greek and scripture.

All the best, my friend.