Re: Improbable Probability Statements

From: Paul Dixon - Ladd Hill Bible Church (
Date: Fri May 23 1997 - 12:20:24 EDT


I appreciate what you had to say. If one comes to the NT as a
mathematician (which I am, or was before becoming a pastor and Greek
enthusiast), he comes with a strong advantage and perspective. I remember
in seminary the general feeling was that if you knew before seminary that
you were planning on attending seminary, then a major study in the
humanities was the best preparation. I found, however, that my
undergraduate training in mathematics prepared me immensively and most
favorably for theological training and thinking.

Much to my chagrin I soon discovered that little, if any, logical training
was offered at the graduate level in theology. My readings of well known
biblical scholars left me aghast. Errors in deductive reasoning run
rampant. There is a crying need for training pastors and theologians the
essentials of rational thought.

Of course, what you address is not some much deductive analysis, but the
pitfalls of inductive analysis. To a trained mathematician evangelical
induction would probably appear ludicrous. I would agree that many times
far too much is made of the usage of a word. Some are already addressing
this, or have (I know Dr. Bruce Waltke, for one, has addressed this).
Certainly, if we apply the principles of mathematical statistical analysis
we will probably be shocked at the outcome.

Having said this, however, this does not mean there is no place for word
studies, only that such significance may not be as significant as once
thought. The immediate context of the word in question certainly carries
far more weight.

The whole matter of mathematical statistical probabilities is fascinating.
I am not aware if it has been applied by some, but it would be interesting
to find out.

Paul S. Dixon, Pastor
Ladd Hill Bible Church "Negative Inference Fallacies" /nif.htm
Wilsonville, Oregon "Evangelism of Christ ..." /evangelism.htm
                        "Evil Restraint in 2 Thess 2:6" /restrainer.htm

On Thu, 22 May 1997, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:

> Improbable Probability Statements
> I have dinner twice a month with an old friend who is a professional
> mathematician. I've talked to him several times about validity in
> probability arguments. He has been doing operations research for 25
> years and knows this stuff. I've given him sample arguments from
> serious NT research by major scholars which he picks to pieces without
> the least effort.
> Apparently much of what passes for probability argumentation in NT
> studies will not stand up to close scrutiny. I raise this issue here
> because I hear this kind of talk on the b-greek list now and then.
> Here is a concrete example:
> Bruce Metzger in his textual commentary on the GNT 3rd ed. (page
> 320-21) has a full discussion of the variants for Acts 4:24. His
> concluding remark is all we are concerned with. He says that energeia
> is used nowhere else in Luke, and in the NT it is only used by Paul.
> Metzger considers this evidence against the reading of D for this
> variant.
> I am not the least bit interested in which variant is original in Acts
> 4:24. What interests me is that a world class scholar (understatement)
> would consider this an argument.
> Luke has a large vocabulary. Luke has a number of NT hapax. Luke uses
> a number of words only once. So how do we concluded that it is
> *improbable* that Luke would use energeia only once? It does not
> follow.
> Here is another kind of Argument:
> The relative pronoun normally follows it's antecedent therefore . . .
> The premise is true. But what comes in the second half of the
> statement is often not a valid inference from the premise. This is a
> type of probability statement. It may fall apart because it does not
> take indeterminacy seriously. Improbabilities taken as a class are
> frequent occurrences in any ancient text, the NT included. What I am
> saying is indeterminacy is part of the nature of phenomena in general.
> Language is no exception. Ancient texts are no exception.
> Probability statements don't become useless simply because
> indeterminacy happens. Language is not chaos. But the kind of
> probability argumentation used by 19th century science is going to
> draw some smiles of disbelief at this stage of the game.
> Any sharp observer will see that these two examples are not identical
> nor do they make the same point. The second example is fuzzy and open
> ended. The second example does not prove anything. It only raises a
> question.
> Clay Bartholomew
> Three Tree Point

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