Re: Synonyms in John 21 etc.

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Jun 24 1996 - 16:15:59 EDT

At 11:23 PM -0400 6/23/96, wrote:
>In a message dated 96-06-23 19:23:02 EDT, writes:
><< How ever I would not argue for a natural/unnatural (and certainly not
> ) distinction. It is perhaps interesting for illustrative purposes that the
> Latin uses DILIGO here for AGAPAW, and AMO for FILEW. I came to my present
> conclusions about the two words by looking at their usage in extra-biblical
> Greek and applying my theory to NT passages. >>
>I have appreciated the correspondence on the B-Greek list. It is wonderful
>to have scholars who have spent much time in the original Greek of the New
>Testament. I also have appreciated some of Prof. Wilkin's responses. I
>would like to address what I see as a trend, however, in many scholarly
>circles, including seminaries and other institutions. Below I address this
>because I believe it is vital to coming up with a correct understanding of
>John 21 in the light of what has been discussed. I also give some actual
>scriptural support for my understanding of the current topic later in this
>The Latin DILIO and AMO is exactly what Trench used in his article to come to
>his conclusion. My only comment is that we must allow the Bible to be its
>own context. If we go to extra-biblical Greek it is possible to come up with
>all kinds of different conclusions. My plea is for us to look carefully at
>the context of Scripture. The context of Scripture itself must rule. It
>must be the first and final arbiter in any dispute. For hapax legomenon
>(once occurring) words and the like, extra-biblical Greek is the most
>helpful, yet even then the context of Scripture should rule. But for
>FILEW/AGAPAW I believe we have an abundance of Scriptural context to define
>the words since they are used and defined by context clearly.
>Christians in the biblical era had their own peculiar vocabulary as
>Christians do today. The world hardly understands anything about the
>biblical love today. Can we assume they knew anything about it in Christ's
>day? It seems best not to go to extra-biblical Greek primarily to formulate
>our opinions of what certain words mean especially when we have so much
>context of Scripture to exhaust first. The first line of defense ought to
>come from Scripture.
>For this thread of FILEW/AGAPAW, wouldn't it be better to refer to more
>Scriptural references, themes, and theologies developed from the usages of
>these words in their own contexts to formulate our conclusions?

I find myself split down the middle with regard to the thrust of this
message, and I guess the reason is that I believe that it is fundamentally
RIGHT to consider the possible meanings of words in NT texts first and
foremost in terms of their own contexts within the particular document,
within the literary complex (e.g. John's gospel and letters, authentic or
questionably Pauline letters, Luke & Acts, etc.)--BUT, this is not in any
way different from what I would do with any secular text that I was trying
to understand word-meanings in. And when the argument above is carried on
beyond to say that "Christians in the biblical era had their own peculiar
vocabulary as Christians do today, I find myself wincing a bit with visions
of a peculiar realm of Christian language and meaning owing to a sort of
Tower-of-Babel effect that has set believers apart from all humanity and
unable to understand or be understood by the rest of humanity. I know that
isn't what you really mean, Jim, but it is the way what you write sounds,
and it what it seems to be close to implying.

Where I find myself in fundamental agreement with the above is in the sense
that the verb AGAPAW has developed in Christian usage a meaning that "tends
to be" (I'd prefer to say "tends to be" rather than "absolutely is")
distinct from extra-Christian usage. What I am less sure of is that the
distinction we want to establishing between AGAPAW and FILEW is in every
instance valid. Many of the examples Jim cites further on down in material
I have not cited do, I believe, point to the distinctive Christian usage of
AGAPAW--and I cited several of them myself in my earlier post on this
subject. But I remain unsatisfied with the claims made about the one and
only right way to understand the verb usage in John 21 in the exchange
between Peter and Jesus.

>I had a prominent Greek professor (I won't mention his name) at a TH M level
>course who taught that TA STOIXEIA TOU KOSMOU referred to spiritual beings
>such as demons. He came up with this from some obscure reference in an
>extra-biblical reference, The Testament of Solomon, where it referred to the
>stars of the sign of the Zodiac, which were believed to be spiritual beings.
> He ignored the context of Colossians 2, Galatians, Hebrews, and 2 Peter and
>preferred this _secular_ extra-biblical reference.

Fortunately or not, this particular argument marks the point distinctly at
which I must part company with Jim White. I don't know at all who the
"prominent Greek professor" may have been, and there may well be a fluke
coincidence here, but I began Greek in 1952 at Tulane University under the
tutelage of a man then doing Ph.D. research at Tulane on the word
KOSMOKRATWR in the NT; Carlton Winbery knows him. I know that his
conclusion ultimately was precisely that TA STOIXEIA TOU KOSMOU referred to
"spiritual beings such as demons"--and I think he was very likely right. I
can't be dogmatic about it, but on the other hand, I could not
conscientiously rule out such a possibility on grounds that Christian Greek
language is far removed from the secular language of the Hellenistic world.

I realize that this is a matter upon which there can be widely divergent
opinions. And it wouldn't surprise me to learn that a person's theological
views may govern the judgment one makes on such a matter. My own humble
theological view, openly confessed herewith, is that God used ordinary
Hellenistic Greek in its broad range of variation from the crude and
occasionally ungrammatical Greek of Mark and the author of Revelation to
the sophisticated narrative of Luke and fascinating rhetoric of Hebrews.

Enough for now. I have very few reference works with me here in my Blue
Ridge hideaway, but if I can find a text of Catullus on the web somewhere,
I would like to add another nuance to the discussion of AGAPAW and Latin
DILIGO--from an important literary text in secular Latin.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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