Context in interpretation: was Sharp's Rule

From: David L. Moore (
Date: Wed Jun 26 1996 - 21:37:30 EDT

Alan Repurk wrote:
> Mark OBrien wrote:
> >
> > Original message sent on Mon, Jun 17 6:16 PM by (Alan
> > Repurk) :
> >
> > > Are these rules for beginning students of Koine Greek who
> > > have not yet learned to use the context of the surrounding
> > > text to aid in their translations ?
> >
> > I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean here. These rules or limitations
> > are actually those imposed by Granville Sharp himself on his rule. If you want
> > to apply Sharp's Rule, then you need to understand the restrictions under which
> > it does not apply.
> >
> > Regards,
> >
> > Mark O'Brien
> > Grad. student, Dallas Theological Seminary
> I have been doing some thinking about the subject of translating
> ambiguous passages in relation to the focus of Sharp's rule and found a
> reference that I think might have some bearing, but I am not sure if it
> applies.
> In "Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics",
> Zondervan,1983 by Moises Silva, pages 151-155 it discusses the case of
> unintended ambiguity.
> He quotes a paper from 1953 from 'prominent linguist Martin Joos' in which he
> proposed the rule of maximum redundancy, "The best meaning is the least meaning".
> He applies this to the hapax legomenon (word which only appears once) and says
> that a rule of thumb is that it should be translated in a manner "to make it
> contribute least to the total message derivable fromt he passage where it is at
> home, rather than, e.g., defining it according to some presumed etymology or
> semantic history"
> Part of the reasoning in this comes from Joo's theory that there is considerable
> redundancy in communication which is necessary to overcome incomplete transmission of
> thought because of things like grammatical lapses on the part of the speaker,
> less than perfect enunciation, physical noise, etc. He says that missing a complete
> word seldom bothers us because the sentence as a whole normally discloses that word,
> and that even if we fail to hear a complete sentence wen listening to a speeh,
> we are unlikely to miss anything that is not automatically deducible from the
> rest of the speech.
> Now here is the part I am not sure of. Could this apply to ambiguous verses
> like 2 Pet. 1:1 tou teou hemon kai soteros Iesou khristou. Would not the best
> translation be one which contributes the least meaning to the context of the
> passage ?

        Silva also points out that this principle must not be absolutized. If
he had thought otherwise, wouldn't he have named his book _Biblical Words and
Their *Lack* of Meaning_? :-)

        The principle Alan mentions, however, is not far from the maxim that
words and phrases should be understood within, and according to, their context;
this is fundamental to sound exegesis. But there are many considerations to go
through before one decides to try something as radical as interpreting a passage
as if one or more of its words were simply a blank. Although words should be
interpreted within their context, ideally, each word also contributes to the

        In the case of the passage from 2Pet. 1:1, there may be factors that
should be considered which might clarify the meaning and make such a last-resort
technique as Joos describes unnecessary. In NT times, there was already a long
tradition in Egypt of ascribing deifying names to rulers. When Rome extended
its rule to Egypt (and possibly even before that and for their own reasons) the
Roman emperors began to use self-deifying names and titles. These are very
similar to the titles ascribed to Jesus Christ in 2Pet. 1:1. It may be that
this was a way to express that Jesus is Lord in a society that demanded that its
subjects acknowledge Caesar as lord.

> Sorry if this is off topic, I am new here and I can tell that my scholarship
> is quite modest compared to the level and quality of posts here. I just was
> curious about this topic and interested in any feedback.

        I don't consider it off-topic. It's an interesting matter.


David L. Moore                             Director
Miami, Florida, USA                        Department of Education                     Southeastern Spanish District            of the Assemblies of God

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