Re: (textual theory) Jn 21:15-17

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Tue Apr 21 1998 - 08:14:27 EDT

 Michael Phillips writes:

>>And it is very good for b-greekers when they
>>are working with the meaning of a particular word, also to consult the
>>lexicon of Louw/Nida and use their special angle of approach.
> I am unfamiliar with that lexicon (and expose, here and now, my
>ignorance). Is it on-line? If not, do you have an ISBN? Or can you point
>me to a discussion in the archives? What special angle of approach do they

Dear Michael,

The source is J.P. Louw and E.A. Nida, 1988, "Greek-English Lexicon of the
New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2 vols, United Bible Societies. I
am very positive to this approach, and in an indepth study of a Greek word
I will always consult this lexicon. It is found on the Gramcord CD, but I
do not know if it is on-line.

Before James Barr, 1961, "Semantics of Biblical Language", the etymological
approach to word studies was popular. It assumes that there is a common
etymological meaning element which can be found in all uses of the same
word in the NT. This is today rightly viewed as a fallacy. Today the
semantic domain is the leading approach. Words do have semantic ranges and
to understand their meaning we should compare quite similar words such as
for instance AGAPH and FILIA and see how they overlap and how they are
different. A basic principle is that words do not have meaning without a
context, just possibilities of meaning. This is only true in a *situation
of translation* when persons who are not native speakers of the source
language and do not have the presuppositon pool of native speakers, try to
find the meaning of a text in this languge through their own language.
However, in our quest to understand the Greek Bible, we must never forget
that there are two different situations of communication (1) the situation
of translation already mentioned, where people by help of English try to
understand Greek, and (2) the original situation where the author and the
readers spoke the same language and had the same presupposition pool.

In situation (2) each word signalled a particular concept in the minds of
living people, and the role of the context was just to make visible which
side of this concept the author wanted to stress. Therefore one word, such
as for instance SARX or YUCH was used in Greek, while English uses several
words to translate each one. The principle of semantic domain is closely
connected with, and is the basis for idiomatic Bible translation. E.A.
Nida has taken the lead here, and his basic principle is that the text of
Bible translations shall be so thoroughly processed that even people with
little education can understand it. Such translations serve a great need
for particular target groups (perhaps for most Bible readers) and here the
semantic domain approach works excellently.

However, while the semantic domain approach and idiomatic translation work
excellently for particular target groups, they cannot be used universally.
The weakness of idiomatic translation is that both the text and the
original presupposition pool are translated, as it were, and therefore are
the readers completely in the hands of the translators. The weakness of the
semantic domain approach is that it is presented as universal, while it
only works well in the situation of translation, as already mentioned. We
therefore also have what I call "the contextual fallacy" (as we earlier
had "the etymological fallacy"), namely the thesis that the context is
everything in any situation. In practical work, this means that the *modern
interpretator* is evrything, and his or her judgement is in a way deified.

Medical patients are today helped to make "informed choices" about their
own treatment based on the expertise of the physician. I have for a long
time studied the question about how the Bible reader who wants to come as
close as possible to the original text, can be helped to make "informed
choises" about the meaning of the Greek text. Neither the etymological
approach nor the semantic domain approach is of much help, but only an
approach taking into account that meaning is not tied up with letters and
words in a manuscript but with the minds of living people - those having
the same presupposition pool. Such a Bible student needs two things: (1)
Bible translations which only translate the text and not the original
presupposition pool, and (2) A knowledge of the original presupposition
pool. I have written a book about how theology and bias influence Bible
translations and how those wanting it can penetrate the shell of human
influence that sorrounds modern Bible translations and come to grips with
the original text; it will be published this summer in the US. Some fine
books discussing lexical semantics are: J. P .Louw, 1982, "Semantics of New
Testament Greek"; Moises Silva, 1983, "Biblical Words and their Meaning; (
I add) W.R. Bodine, 1992, "Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew".


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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