BAGD (was Re: PRWTH in Lk2:2)

From: Stephen Carlson (
Date: Wed Sep 06 1995 - 23:20:29 EDT

I agree with what Kenneth Litwak wrote, and although he does not accuse
me of those abuses he identified, I feel I must clarify the situation
lest others draw such an inference.

First off, Ken's point about the necessity to take such reference works
as BAGD critically is very important and I agree with it. The best
explanation I've read on how to treat BAGD is in the following passage:

    The major lexicon, Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker (BAGD,
    1979), is a valuable tool because it traces the origins
    and distribution of the term as well as its basic semantic
    range. However, it is important to remember that BAGD is
    descriptive and interpretive. When it places a passage
    behind a certain meaning it is an opinion and not an
    established fact. Fee notes the handling of ARXONTES in
    1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (1983:87-89). BAGD places it under
    the rubric of the evil spirits. However, a closer look
    at the evidence yields several interesting facts: only
    the singular is used for Satan; the plural always refers
    to human rulers; the first use of the plural for demonic
    forces appears in Greek literature in the second century.
    While the demonic remains a possible interpretation, I
    personally follow those who favor human rulers as the
    meaning of ARXONTES here. My point is that we should not
    assume BAGD's decisions to be irrefutable.
Grant R. Osborne, THE HERMENEUTICAL SPIRAL: A Comprehensive Introduction
to Biblical Interpretation 82-83 (InterVarsity Press: 1991).

To be perfectly clear, BAGD's interpretation of PRWTH in Lk2:2 did not
control my analysis. Instead, these were the two issues: (1) is it
possible? and (2) is it probable? Under (1), I noted BAGD and the
Intermediate L&S disagree about the meaning of PRWTOS in the specific
context of Jn1:15 which is said to support such a meaning. Under (2)
we have to look to other factors, such as word order and Luke's own
usage. I think that, on balance, the proposed translation is not the
most natural way to understand the verse. In fact, its very
grammatical basis seems dubious (contrary to BAGD).

Stephen Carlson

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