Re: Anything new under the sun?

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Sun Oct 26 1997 - 17:41:59 EST

At 08:53 AM 10/26/97 -0600, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
> If ever there is going to be a perfect understanding of NT Greek
>grammar, I don't expect to arrive at it in this life. Here too I think that
>there is something to be said that is parallel to what I said earlier about
>the NT literature and other classics of human literature: our generation's
>understanding of the Greek of the NT owes more than we can ever measure to
>the labors of centuries of scholars who have accumulated and transmitted
>the lore of grammar, and I DO think we ought to be mindful of that debt we
>owe previous scholars and students of Greek; yet in that heritage of lore
>about NT Greek there is nevertheless some error and there are models of
>understanding and representation of the morphological paradigms and the
>syntactic logic of Greek words, sentences, and paragraphs. And I rather
>expect that the ESCATON will arrive before the questions and problems of
>Greek grammar have all been answered and resolved.
>And by that assertion NOTHING at all has been answered and resolved! This
>was just an opinion on the matter of which Don was speaking.
Carl's words are always profitable taken both at face value and as the basis
for further discussion. I need not say anything more about my previous
posts, but I would like to raise an issue inspired just now by Carl, and the
list can decide whether it is worth any discussion later. I recently got a
rather harsh intellectual wake-up call by reading from some unusual sources
(i.e. the kind I'm surprised to find myself reading): Einstein's short book
on relativity (which he claimed any high school graduate could understand)
and Stephen Hawking's most recent book on black holes etc. What hit me so
hard is the difference between scientific, verifiable fact (EPISTHMH), and
opinion (DOXA), learned and otherwise. For example, from time to time
Jonathan and others have expressed their preference for this or that theory
in Greek grammar based on a relatively scientific test of the theory. For
Einstein and Hawking (and probably most empirical scientists), a good theory
is one that accounts for most of our observations and requires the least
modification for special cases, provided that it never proves to be wrong.
There are some points of contact between such people and ourselves; e.g.
Hawking complains that philosophers have not treated him well, because they
have little or no grasp of the scientific method (my paraphrase of his
words), and he challenges them to learn at least enough science so that they
can do a decent job of philosophy. In the realm of Greek grammar, and the
eventual exegesis and theology that comes from it, I fear that we tend to
accept as truth (or at least as correct) whatever the majority agrees upon,
or in some cases what we simply find most agreeable to ourselves. And as
Diotima might say, we tend to reinvent everything from time to time, not
because the flood washes away our manuscripts but because we discard the
scholarship of the past as being naive or out of date. Maybe the ultimate
reason is that we cannot know what the writers of the NT or OT actually
*mean* to say. Our best hope is to assume that can correctly translate and
interpret their words, and indeed the doctrine of inspiration suggests that
we can. But it seems that we should demand objective proof for theories of
grammar on a comparable level to that demanded by science for natural
theories, and in the absense of such proof we should restrain ourselves from
deciding that a given theory is correct, however appealing it might appear
on the surface. If that is the correct approach, then Carl's closing words
in his post ring very true indeed. I would like to see people handle
grammatical theory the same way Einstein and his more modern peers have
handled Newtonian physics and Euclidian geometry: they have great praise for
Newton and Euclid, they employ and build on these old predecessors, and they
only criticize and correct them when they have scientific proof that the
predecessors are mistaken. Even then, they give Newton and Euclid great
credit for doing what they did, and explain their shortcomings as the
understandable result of having primitive tools etc. From time to time I've
seen similar courtesy and respect for our intellectual forefathers in
b-greek discussions, but in general I think we ought to be easier on them,
and much more demanding of ourselves.

Don Wilkins

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