Friday, May 26, 2017

A Little More Concerning Exegetical Fallacies (Once Written to a Friend)

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
33).

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
this email.

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
on.

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).

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Edgar,

You said:

"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)."

Question: Would it be more accurate to say that MONOGENHS can mean either "only-begotten" or "unique/one-of-a-kind" as opposed to "only"?

For example, could a Greek speaking person in the NT period have looked at a basket of applies in which there were 10 red apples and one that was yellow and red, and thus describe the yellow and red apple as MONOGENHS in relation to the other applies? That's how I've come to understand the meaning of the term, though I'm probably not as widely read on the question as you are.

With this understanding in mind, and (a) taking ὢν existentially, (b) assuming that MONOGENHS originally appeared on its own, and that (c) QEOS and hUIOS were later scribal insertions, here is a paraphrase of how I tentatively understand John 1:18:

"No one has ever seen God (the Father/YHWH); the unique [one/Son], who exists in the bosom [position] of the Father, he has made Him [the Father] known."

I'm obviously not certain that this is the correct understanding, but an expert in Greek once told me that he understands ὢν existentially there, and it struck me that, if true, then this could implicitly suggest that, while God has many spirit "sons", the LOGOS is unique in that his very existence is defined by his "place" at the Father's bosom, and that more intimate fellowship make the LOGOS better able to make the Father known.

~Kas

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kas,

I wrote the material years ago, and did not check the accuracy before publishing here, although I thought the statements about MONOGENHS were correct. Indeed, the word has a range of meaning: it may denote only begotten, unique/one of a kind (sui generis), and only. There is much debate concerning the denotations for MONOGENHS, but see http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dmonogenh%2Fs

There is a helpful article here too: https://danielbwallace.com/2016/11/24/%CE%BC%CE%BF%CE%BD%CE%BF%CE%B3%CE%B5%CE%BD%CE%AE%CF%82-only-begotten/

So the word has a range of meanings, depending on context. It could be only-begotten, only, unique. I didn't mention unique in the missive to my friend because it was a more off-the-cuff dialogue.

I also don't have a problem with your treatment of Jn 1:18.

Best,

Edgar

Anonymous said...

Hi Edgar,

Yes, that may be a better way to put it, i.e. MONOGENHS can mean only-begotten, unique/one-of-a-kind, or only, depending on context. I'm not sure "only" in relation to Christ fits the biblical data, and therefore personally prefer unique, but I'm open to other understandings.

~Kas

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kas,

I agree with you regarding the biblical data. My comments only address the range of meaning question, and that is a tricky one for MONOGENHS.

Best,

Edgar