Let me first qualify what we have been discussing
about etymology. I think D.A. Carson (Exegetical
Fallacies) provides a balanced presentation on this
subject. After giving a caveat about word
meanings, he then notes that "the meaning of a word
may reflect the meanings of its component parts" (page
32). The denotation of EKBALLW (a compound of EK +
BALLW = "I cast out," "I throw out" or "I put out")
illustrates the validity of Carson's observation.
Carson even supplements the foregoing points by
writing: "Finally, I am far from suggesting that
etymological study is useless. It is important, for
instance, in the diachronic study of words (the study
of words as they occur across long periods of time),
in the attempt to specify the earliest attested
meaning, in the study of cognate languages, and
especially in attempts to understand the meanings of
hapax legomena (words that appear only once)" (page
Like Carson, I do not reject etymological studies in
toto. My point, however, is that synchronic data takes
precedence over diachronic data. Therefore, before we
assume that hUPARXWN or any other term possesses the
same meaning at each point in Greek history, we must
first ascertain how a word is used by speakers and
writers at a particular time period. I thus find
no major problem with what you note above, although I
think there are instances that militate against
espousing diachronic priority as I will try to show in
I do not think linguists generally say that most or
all words completely change their meanings over time.
But semantic change is usually inevitable and it
appears that one is wise to look at how a word is used
at a particular time rather than depending on how it was
used 800 years earlier.
So I would say that one can grasp how a term is
employed in the NT, if he or she relies on the LXX or
Greek papyri and related sources rather than depending
too heavily on Plato, Aristotle or Homer.
I agree that compounds can and do often retain their
original meanings in English. But we must not
automatically conclude that such is always the case. It
would behoove us to note how a word is used in context
or at a particular time. Consider the terms "gossip"
(from Godsibb), overjoy, and overhear. Just looking at
the etymology of each word will not be helpful in
understanding what the terms now mean. Moreover,
please note that The Concise Oxford Dictionary of
English Etymology says that "over" (after the Middle
English period) underwent various modifications and
developments vis-a-vis its meanings. Ergo, even the
word "over" acquired new significances as time went
I think careful scholars will not
dogmatically assert that PRWTOTOKOS means "pre-eminent
one." BAGD simply questions whether the "force of the
element -TOKOS is still felt at all" in the NT period
(page 726). Compare the notes in Louw-Nida on this
word and Col. 1:15. One cannot anachronistically graft a
fourth-century meaning onto a first-century setting.
As for MONOGENHS, it could mean either "only-begotten"
or "only." It is used both ways in Classical and Koine
Greek, and the Early Church Fathers also utilize the term
both ways (see Lampe's Patristic Lexicon).