Re: Beginning Grammars and "Context"

From: David B. Gowler (
Date: Mon Oct 09 1995 - 18:35:36 EDT

Jim McGuire wrote:

> A predominant professor and a predominant seminary that even leans
> somewhat toward the conservative side recently wrote a paper on STOICHEIA TOU
> KOSMOU in Colossians 2:8. More than the first half of the paper dealt
> exclusively with extra-biblical context, finding an occurrence in some
> testament of Solomon referring to an angel of the signs of the zodiac.
> Therefore, it was concluded that instead of the normal translation,
> "elementary principles of the world," a better translation would be "angelic
> beings of the world." Then, finally he goes to the context only to justify
> his interpretation, not to let it rule.
> I talked with him later, asking him to consider letting context rule in
> interpretation.
> . . . . a student of I. Howard Marshall. And he came
> back finding angels all over in every nuance of the epistles, including in
> Colossians 2:8. This is all from an emphasis on extra-biblical research to
> the sacrifice of context.
> I also talked with a predominant theologian whom I challenged to let
> context rule . . . .

    First, I agree that we should examine the narrative contexts
first. Does that make you a firm believer in literary criticism?
    Second, I wonder how we arrive at "meanings" of words in
the NT without a deep appreciation of the semantic domains
involved in those usages -- especially with hapax l.
    Third, I wonder how I would have interpreted "predominant"
above, without the knowledge from other texts that "prominent"
probably is the word that ordinarily the context would suggest.
    Fourth, I would suggest reading works like M. Bakhtin's *The
Dialogic Imagination* so that you can better understand how
language itself works and the intricacies of heteroglossia.
    Fifth, I agree that "parallelomania" should be avoided
whenever possible.
    Sixth, I must admit that I find I. H. Marshall to be much too
conservative -- in light of the evidence *given by the NT itself*
-- so my frame of reference does not seem to overlap yours very


David B. Gowler
Associate Professor of Religion
Director, Writing Across the Curriculum
Chowan College

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