Re: JR & MO vs. the World <grin>

Randy Leedy (
Thu, 12 Dec 1996 09:31:24 -0500

I've been following with interest the thread on the time significance
of the aorist. It gives me a funny feeling that I'm not sure I can
articulate, but I'd like to try. It's a feeling that we're not
adequately aware of, or perhaps not adequately respecting, a rather
fuzzy line between science and art (cf. the use of the phrase "state
of the art," which, as far as I know, almost invariably refers to the
present state of a science).

As I understand the difference between science and art, science is
reducible to testable hypotheses based on predictable cause-effect
relationships, while art is somehow more intuitive, including various
kinds of leaps that, while they may not be rationally explicable,
obviously succeed in creating the intended effect upon the "viewing"
subject. (Of course, art's effect is never entirely predictable,
since the effect depends greatly upon the viewer's subjective
assessment of the cause.) If I may say the same thing another way,
both science and art aim for particular effects, but the link between
cause and effect is different in each case, the difference having a
great deal to do with predictability, which is a function of
mechanical processes vs. intuitive ones (perhaps there is a better
word than "intuitive" here).

There's the background for the idea I want to float: isn't it
misguided to treat language as though it were purely scientific?
Doesn't a great deal of the reliability of previous generations of
scholarship rest on its keenly developed JUDGMENT OF VERBAL ART? (May
I add that I believe the dominance of the non-verbal element in
today's mass communication makes it very hard for us to develop this
judgment?) And don't we make a mistake when we try to short-circuit
the need for that judgment by reducing language to a mere science?

The OVERWHELMING correspondence between augmented forms and past time
in Koine Greek must be given its proper weight. Do the relatively few
passages that don't fit demand the formulation of a new scientific
hypothesis, or can they be taken simply as evidence of the fact that
the art of language simply refuses to be constrained to scientific

JR & MO may claim that the "new theory" accomplishes precisely this
result: it simply frees the aorist from the constraint of the "past
time" category. But does it, in doing so, create TOO GREAT a freedom,
a degree of freedom not justified by the corpus-wide body of
evidence? Is it not more accurate simply to attribute the freedom to
the inherent flexibility of language?

Suppose I have both a large pickup truck and a small station wagon.
Are there not situations in which neither vehicle precisely meets the
need, and I must simply choose the one that seems most appropriate?
Just as a finite number of motor vehicles must be called upon to
serve a potentially infinite number of needs, so must a finite number
of verb forms be able to express a potentially infinite (or, at
least, a very much larger) number of temporal/aspectual nuances.

I suspect that the whole truth includes the fact that the writer's
choice is often a matter of art as much as science, and that a sense
of art keenly developed by wide and careful reading is a more
trustworthy guide than the scientist's conclusions drawn from
mechanistic analysis of his little collection of data.

The scientists among us may hate me; the artists among us may feel
otherwise. I myself grow increasingly convinced that the best
grammarians are highly skilled in both disciplines.

I hope the length of my post can be forgiven, and that there's
something in here that makes it worthwhile to someone. I'm expecting
objections, but I don't want to draw this out any further by
anticipating and responding to them now.

In Love to God and Neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC