Re: 2:7-8 and Contradictions?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Sep 24 1997 - 09:14:31 EDT

I wonder whether it is possible to remove this discussion from the realm of
theological perspectives on the nature of the Biblical text--of which is
what it appears to me to be increasingly a discussion, to what I think may
possibly be a more acceptable way of talking about "contradictions" in 1 Jn
2:7-8 (and maybe elsewhere too in the Biblical text)? There IS a
contradiction between the simple statement in 1 Jn 2:7 OUK ENTOLHN KAINHN
statement in 1 Jn 2:8 PALIN ENTOLHN KAINHN GRAFW hUMIN ..., a contradiction
the more evident yet if we choose to translate PALIN in 2:8 as "and yet on
the other hand" or "and yet quite the opposite."

What I'd say is that the contradiction is present there in the written text
and the PALIN seems to indicate that the writer was quite aware of the
contradiction between the two assertions. We surmise, however--and I
believe we surmise quite rightly--that the writer did not intend us two
understand what he wrote as an absolute affirmation of two contradictory
propositions but as a paradox.

And apparently we're using different conceptions of "paradox" in this
discussion, since Andrew K speaks of it as "an absurdity" while Jonathan R
speaks of it as a common and recurrent feature of Biblical affirmation of
important truths. I think the word is ambiguous precisely because it refers
to an appearance of contradiction or to contradictory appearances--and in
this regard, I think the etymology from PARA and DOXA is helpful rather
than misleading.

Aren't we saying, when we say that 1 Jn 2:7 and 1 Jn 2:8 are contradictory,
that the two statements as written DO stand in contradiction to each other,
but that we don't believe the writer intended us to understand the
contradiction as beyond resolution? It is in our process of interpretation
that we seek to understand the intent of the writer, to show that the
contradiction is on the surface of the text only, and to demonstrate that
what is being said is really intelligible at a deeper level.

It seems to me that there is no call here either for accusing the Biblical
text of a scandalous error that offends inerrantists any more than for
defending the Biblical text from some assertion that it is fraudulent or
doesn't communicate what we are intended to understand. It seems to me
reasonable enough that our writer did not intend to mislead us as readers
into supposing that the reality of which he writes is contradictory but
that he DID intend to call attention (with the PALIN) to a very deliberate
rhetorical ploy of asserting what is the very opposite of what he had just
written in the immediately preceding statement.

For what it's worth, I think a dictum of Einstein's (regarding the
intelligibility of the universe) is worth citing here: "Raffiniert ist der
Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht" -- "God is sophisticated, but he is
not malicious," i.e. he is not trying to trick or delude us when he sets us
puzzles to solve.

And finally, I hope that we can keep the discussion focused on illuminating
portions of Greek text rather than become increasingly embroiled in a
discussion of hermeneutics. I hope that what I've just written is more a
matter of common sense than of hermeneutical theory.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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