RE: Machen Revisited

From: Randy Leedy (
Date: Thu Sep 18 1997 - 15:16:35 EDT

Clayton Bartholomew suggests a "rule-based approach to teaching NT
Greek morphology and syntax." Not being a software engineer, I am not
familiar with exactly what he means by writing rules, feeding in
sentences/paragraphs, and rewriting in order to achieve the desired
output, though it's not hard to get at least a general grasp of the
concept. I can't quite envision what this would look like in a Greek
textbook or classroom, though.

A year or so back, in discussing the aspect of the aorist, we had a
rather lengthy discussion about the extent to which language can be
reduced to rules. I am strongly inclined to believe that personality
transcends science. This means psychology bumps into limits that it
cannot overcome. So does theology. All of the arts transcend
scientifc description, though there are certain somewhat
objectifiable processes at work in the production of art. But the
piece of art is bigger than its objectifiable elements, and
personality enters into that bigger picture in a way that I have not
yet been able to describe to my satisfaction; in fact, to be honest,
not at all. We can design computer software that allows a set of
rules to solve certain kinds of problems, since in designing a
computer program we have not created a personality. But I do not
believe any form of science will ever be able to analyze fully any
product of personality, which I take to be a manifestation of the
image of God. Human communication is certainly a product of

Perhaps a rule-based approach would help to clarify some things in
early Greek learning, and it might be particularly effective in
connection with learning forms. I'd like to see some specific,
extended examples. But syntax (not to mention discourse structure)
will always, I believe, defy the sort of complete scientific analysis
that in purely scientific fields allows us to predict with a very
high degree of accuracy the outcome of a given set of conditions, or
completely and objectively to reduce a given outcome (e.g. a Greek
paragraph) to its constituent parts and their interrelationships.

I hope this thread doesn't die; I'm interested. (Sometimes my posts
seem to be the kiss of death to an interesting idea, or else I have a
knack for getting interested in things that nobody else cares about.)
Perhaps I misunderstand Clayton's suggestion. At any rate, the idea
of computer analysis of language always waves a red flag before my

I will also take issue with Clayton's statement that Greek cannot be
read from left to right in a single pass (did he mean by a computer
or by a human?). I am sure that skilled readers of Koine Greek did
not jump around in their sentences any more than we jump around in
sentences in our own language. If they did, then the oral form of the
language must have differed greatly from the written form, since a
hearer doesn't get the opportunity to jump ahead and go back in order
to find the pieces and put them together. And most ancient
literature, of course, was designed more for hearing than for
reading, so it really is not possible that the written form can
differ greatly from the oral form. I am sure that Paul's readers
could understand his sentences linearly just as well any English
reader of comparable skill can understand his own language. The
difficulty arises only when a mind trained only to run in the rut of
its own language is forced to try to understand a language that runs
in entirely different kinds of ruts.

In Love to God and Neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC

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