Re: Rom 7.14-25--Historical Present/Wallace's response

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Oct 28 1996 - 17:39:27 EST

At 1:03 PM -0600 10/28/96, wrote:
>Dr. Winbery critiques my treatment with this word: "Categories are our
>efforts to make sense of the text. . . To turn around and use that to prove a
>theological point is absurd." This is partially true, but not nuanced
>enough. For one thing, this sounds as if Dr. Winbery is saying that we can
>never use grammar in a negative way-i.e., to suggest that a view is
>improbable. If we can't use grammar that way, then language has no meaning
>(because in affirming what the syntax does mean, we are necessarily also
>indicating what it does not mean). To be sure, our grammatical categories
>are our attempt to make sense of the texts (not just a text). But by
>gathering data and examining all clear examples of a given category of usage,
>a certain pattern often emerges.

I, for one, take no exception to the points Professor Wallace makes in the
lengthy post of which Ihave cited only a small portion. In particular, I
think his points about grammatical categories as applicable strictly to
discernible and definable constructions is the only sane way to deal with
grammatical categories. I only want to note, for the record, that Professor
Wallace has misunderstood Carlton Winbery's statement. Thinking that was
the case I went back and checked it. Here it is:

>This points up the problem of categories. The problem is not that we
>invent categories in an effort to analyze the language, but that we turn
>around and enforce those categories on the text. Categories are our
>efforts to make sense of the text. I'm not so much bothered by the fact
>that differents writers use different terminology to describe the language.
>But the above is an example of the misuse of categories. To call a verb a
>"historical" present is to say that the present tense is used in a past
>narrative (Wallace is right about the likelihood of anything other than 3rd
>person being used.) To turn around and use that to prove a theological
>point is absurd.

Read carefully, I think Carlton's statement is clearly a criticism, not of
Wallace, but of the unnamed teacher who was seeking to argue for the
autobiographical nature of the Romans passage on the basis of "historical
presents." Professor Wallace is referred to by Carlton ONLY in the
parenthesis in which he AGREES with him. Nothing was said here about
MULTIPLICATION of categories or invention of new categories (something I
confess that I myself have complained about) but rather about the
MISAPPLICATION of a syntactic category to an instance that doesn't comform
to the discernible pattern so named. I don't think that Professor Wallace
has any reason to feel attacked in this regard at all.

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

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