Re: exegetical significance

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Aug 12 1997 - 11:40:34 EDT

At 7:35 AM -0400 8/12/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>At 02:21 PM 8/12/97 +0930, Andrew Kulikovsky wrote:
>>I have a challenge to all the great Greek exegetes on this list.
>I'm not a "great Greek exegete" or a Greek scholar or anything, but I'll put
>in my two denarii anyways, and trust the more experienced folks to correct
>me where I'm wrong. They are generally willing to cooperate ;->
>>I would like to compile a list of Greek elements that have real exegetical
>>significance, so that those of us who are relatively new to Greek
>>exegesis have a good idea of what parts of the text are signicant and
>>what may simply be attributed to idiom, style or basic syntax.

Jonathan has already noted that he is wary of a "cookbook" approach. I'll
go further and say that I think this challenge is ill-conceived, although
it may do some good if people list some points of grammar and idiom that
others are not aware of.

As I see it, there are two fundamental problems with the idea in the first
place, and they are closely related. One is the notion that anyone has
reached some plateau upon arrival at which he/she is entitled to be termed
an "expert," and the other is the notion that one has ever learned "enough"
of Greek that one is beyond serious new learning and is now entitled to
teach. I discussed this once before, it seems to me about a year ago, when
Jonathan began to employ his "little Greek" designation for the "tyros" or
"beginners." I said that I have always felt that learning Greek is a matter
of sharing between more experienced and less experienced devotees of Greek
(or any other subject, for that matter, but especially is this the case
with Greek). The best beginning class I ever taught was one wherein the
students, on their own initiative and long before I was aware of it, met
regularly on Sunday afternoons and took turns organizing reviews of recent
fresh material and making up exercises for each other to work on. There's
hardly a Greek class I've ever had that I haven't learned something from,
either from a student's calling attention to it or asking a question that
led to finding an answer that I didn't have at hand. And this is the best
thing about this List: the opportunity for everyone to learn something more
about Greek and the Greek biblical texts.

The notion that anyone has reached a "plateau" of competence, while not
altogether fallacious, is not very useful and is sufficiently misleading to
delude both those who feel that they have themselves reached such a plateau
and others who think that another person has reached such a plateau. Many
listmembers believe that the Biblical text is inerrant; I would say that,
whatever the truth may be about that proposition, I firmly believe that NO
HUMAN BEING is inerrant, be he or she a "beginner" or a "scholar." Here's
where my Socratism enters in: however firmly convinced I may be that a
proposition I set forth about Greek is valid, I really do not KNOW that it
is valid, and many of my firmest convictions about Greek have apparently
been shown to be false (for instance, my confidence that the future tense
was derivative from the aorist subjunctive), and I have found myself moving
toward radical reevaluations of some of the things I was taught were
"gospel" about Greek (e.g. the whole system of voices and "deponents").
Believe me, we are all of us learners, even if some of us have been
learning far longer than others (I have about 45 years of learning Greek
behind me and a few more ahead).

I think that one ought to learn all the basic morphology of nouns,
adjectives, adverbs, and verbs and set out at once to develop a vocabulary
base, at which point one might deign to be termed a serious "beginner." But
the acquisition of idiom and the development of syntactical acumen is a
life-long task that I really don't think ever reaches any end or any point
at which one can honestly claim consummate "expertise." And I have a
suspicion about those who make such claims that they are fraudulent.

>Perfect is extremely significant in John's writings, but is used with much
>less care in many other books of the NT, where it may be not much different
>from an aorist. The pluperfect often carries a lot of weight, but not
>always. What is the signfificance of the pluperfect EISTHKEI in the
>following passage:

This is a point that SHOULD be learned when one learns the verb
hISTHMI/hISTAMAI; the present and imperfect of this verb refer to the
process of rising from a settled position, whether of lying, sitting, or
fixed residence. The perfect tense, hESTHKA, is the form one must use to
refer to a present standing position and is equivalent temporally to the
present tense of many verbs (likewise OIDA really has present temporal
force although morphologically it is a perfect tense). So hEISTHKEI here
means nothing more or less than "was standing." To translate it as a real
pluperfect ("had stood") would be absolutely wrong--unless one took into
consideration that she "had halted" close to the tomb. But the real force
of the tense here is to indicate that she "was still standing, continued to
stand" (even after Peter and the Beloved Disciple had left the site)--so
the force of the verb is equivalent to an imperfect. And this, I say, is a
fact about the meaning of the pluperfect and perfect of this verb that one
ought to learn when one learns the verb hISTHMI/hISTAMAI as part of the

I don't want to start an argument, but I really don't believe that there is
any element in a Greek sentence--any element that bears a semantic
indication--that doesn't have some bearing upon the exegesis of that
sentence. If I'm right about that convinction, then there can't really be
any adequate listing of those grammatical items that are really
"significant" for exegesis if one assumes that one can exclude other
grammatical items as "insignificant."

And them's my tuppence on the question.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243 OR

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