Re: Synonyms in John 21 etc.

From: Wagers, Will (
Date: Mon Jun 24 1996 - 21:08:56 EDT writes on 6/23/96:

> 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.

It is also possible to come to all kinds of different conclusions while
restricting one's search to the New Covenant: witness all the Protestant
sects. So, you're not offering any sort of general solution.

> My plea is for us to look carefully at
> the context of Scripture. The context of Scripture itself must rule.

I would agree, in principle; but, the ideal method for understanding the
context of the NC is to understand the historical and linguistic context
of the Greek in which it is set. Only in this way can one hope to distinguish
among the various claims of religious and non-religious translators.
Context is an adjustable lens -- zoom in, zoom out.

And, the notion of restricting oneself to the Bible is frequently used as
a theological principle (Don't look outside the Bible or Christianism --
it'll only confuse you !) rather than a rule of thumb for translation.

There are many valid approaches, not just one. One, studies of a word
in the context of a single book, a single author, even in micro-context,
a single verse or passage. Two, comparative studies of a word across
the books of the NC. (You see comparing a passage in John with a
passage in Luke is *already* comparative.) Three, comparative studies
including extra-biblical sources of a similar genre. (It may help to bear
in mind that the NC books were all "extra-biblical" at one time.) It
could be particularly profitable to compare usages wuthin a genre, e.g.
gospels, because the usages of words in books not chosen for the Bible
may better define the usage in the books which were chosen. Four,
examine the development of a word (concept) since it's first historical
appearance. I'm sure there are other valid approaches as well.

The trick in life is to use the right tool for the job.

Another point is that the New Covenant is not a "book" by a single
author, in which case one might try to establish the way that author
uses particular words and phrases. It is rather an anthology. Except in
the cases of sacred anthologies, I have never encountered a word
study which restricts itself to the anthology (of different authors)
or which uses other "books" of the anthology to justify parts of it.

> It must be the first and final arbiter in any dispute.

If by this rather dogmatic phrase, you meant begin with the text, go
anywhere you want, and end in the text, I would agree. But, I suspect
there is little if any investigation between your first and final.

I have nothing to contribute directly to the FILEW/AGAPAW controversy.
However, I would like to point out that if, as many seem to claim, there
is, in fact, no difference between the two, this is exactly the sort of
error one would expect in an introverted method which denies the
relevance of "outside" sources, namely false distinctions.

> 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.

This is very misleading. First, the NC uses technical jargon - theological
and scientifical. In these cases, since the NC is not a technical book, one
*must* go outside to understand the word and the usage. Luke's
medical terminology is a good example of this. Interestingly, the lexicons
used by many seekers, like ourselves, omit technical and scientific
definitions. We also go "outside" to find out what people are talking
about in mentioning crucifying, burial procedures, marking time, legal
matters, geographical references, dress, ritual, and in a thousand
different mundane matters.

What you really mean (correct me if I'm wrong) is let's not look outside
the Bible to help define theological terms ? (Obviously, for you, FILEW/
AGAPAW falls into this category.) Well, it is in this area that
extra-biblical sources can be most edifying.

> 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.

Yes, yes, exhaust Scripture first by all means, even if the word you study
is clearly and unambiguously defined elsewhere. I don't believe even you
follow this method, except in theological matters.

> 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.

Oddly enough, you have hit upon a fantastic example of why one should
read outside the Bible. TA STOIXEIA TOU KOSMOU refers everywhere to the
principles/elements/rulers of the cosmos. STOIXEIA is the scientifical term
used for the generative principles of the cosmos. The modern counterpart
would be the four forces (strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetism,
and gravity, all of which are thought to devolve from a single force in a
manner strikingly similar to that in ancient pagan philosophy). The Gnostics
(and others !) personified these forces and mythologized them. Some other
major terms in this same arena are PHYSIS, LOGOS, OUSIA ... sound familiar ?
The formative centuries of the Church were preoccupied (obsessed?) with
defining these terms.

> This was typical of this institution and many others who largely ignore the
> context of Scripture in favor of some extra-biblical material. How many
> papers and articles do you read that emphasize for the _first_ half or more
> of the paper the extra-biblical references only to "come around" to the
> context later only to foist a foreign interpretation onto the context? I
> have read plenty of those.

There is, undoubtedly, some truth in what you say. But, many of the excesses
are in reaction to Christian dogmatism. Besides, we have centuries of the
sort of study you enjoy from the Middle Ages. Some people have moved on
to other sorts of analysis. This is happening in *every* academic field from
anthropology to zoology.

> Today we have created platforms of authority that have to do with un-biblical
> means.

Excuse my ignorance. What are *un-biblical means* ? Do you mean to say
that you reject any knowledge which doesn't originate from the Bible ?

> I would like to
> see the "first" half of the papers devoted to the boundaries and limits of
> the context, and while not ignoring extra-biblical Greek, yet gleaning what
> can be drawn out of the context first. It may be that the extra-biblical
> references are not that important after that.

What seems to elude you is that you can't know if you would benefit by
looking outside unless you look outside, and that's what people are doing.
If you're right, they'll find out, and come back.

> Doesn't this false platform of authority mimic the attitude of the
> insufficiency of Scripture the way philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, and
> experience has in most churches today?

Yes, it does. And, anthropology, archaeology, ..., ...


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