Date: Sat Jan 04 1997 - 12:43:56 EST
TO: B-Greek List
FROM: Harry J. Harm
DATE: 4 January 1997
RE: Momogenhs etymology
Greetings from Mississippi.
Denny Diehl asked several questions on MONOGENHS. One question was:
"?1) What is the derivation of MONOGENHS? And does that derivation help
in understanding and translating this Greek term?"
Carl Conrad wrote, "Frankly, although etymology fascinates me, I don't
think this is ultimately very important for the MEANING of MONOGENHS; far
more significant ultimately than etymology surely is actual attested
usage of the word elsewhere in Greek texts."
Jonathan Robie wrote, "In general, I think that usage is a safer guide to
the meaning of words than derivation. Pineapple is composed of two words,
"pine" and "apple"..."
[A quick look at my dictionary, which is medium sized, indicates that
pineapple may not come from "pine" + "apple". I had the dictionary
out because I was going to use "dilapidated" as an example of
etymological fallacy because even though (a teacher said) it was
derived from the Latin "lapis" it doesn't necessarily refer to stone
structures. Unfortunately, "lapis" is not part of the etymology of
"dilapidated". As a Classics major I should have known better.]
I second the statements made by Carl and Jonathan and wish to strengthen
them. As I understand semantics the meaning of a word as used in a
certain time is derived from how it is used during that time not from its
etymology. (That didn't sound as clear as I wanted it to be.) Etymology
is used to give us clues as to the meaning of a word only when we don't
have parallel uses of the word which can shed light on the meaning, e.g.,
if a word is a hapax legomenon. However, it appears that we have many
contemporary citations for monogenhs. Therefore, even though the
etymology may produce an interesting discussion it gets us no closer to
the meaning of the word as used in John 3.16.
[In Hebrew we have quite a few hapax legomena and so are reduced to using
etymologies and examples from cognate languages but fortunately in Greek
we do not often have to resort to them.]
I encourage people to read or reread D.A.Carson's excellent book,
"Exegetical Fallacies", which is published by Baker. Chapter 1 is on
"Word-Study Fallacies" and on pages 29-30 he discusses monogenhs.
This is an excellent book which I find myself returning to again and
again. And each time I find my own exegetical fallacies.
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