Re: Etymology of QEOS (WARNING!WARNING!large off-topic digressio

From: Jon Robertson (
Date: Fri Oct 16 1998 - 14:33:51 EDT

Dear list,
Because it was my fault that Stephen Charnock's name was brought up
on the list, I feel I cannot leave his image too "tarnished". I will
mention a word on his behalf (and say nothing else about him). Also,
I would like to mention a few thoughts of my own about etymological
study (about which I was not asking in the original message, but seem
to have elicited some thoughts).
 Just to defend Charnock a little (but not too much), one needs to
remember 1) that he worked on this in the 1670's and 2) that the
manuscripts were prepared by others for publication after his death.
 The form QEISQAI could very well be a typo made by someone else with
little or no knowledge of greek. Charnock really did know his way
around classical as well as biblical greek, and so this is an error
that it is hard to believe he would have committed. Back to number
1, we cannot be too quick to anachronistically judge the work of
another era by our own standards, even when our standards are most
likely true, as I believe them to be in this case. I agree with the
opinion of Dr. Conrad concerning the danger of etymological
"meanings" and I can also agree that any "essential meaning" for the
term QEOS cannot be derived from this pseudo-etymology (hence, I was
only asking about the etymology, not the method for arriving at
meaning). However, I do not believe I can then imply that he was a
"bad scholar." He was working with the state of the science as it
then existed, there was no other option, of course. He, as was very
common at the time, thought that one could often arrive at the
"essential" idea of a word through etymology. This, I think, is
demonstrably wrong, but one can merely note the error, without
necessarily casting aspersions on his scholarship, which has to be
seen in its historical context. I need to say that this argument
(which Charnock mentions in passing) really does not reflect on his
work and could be excised (it represents a line and a half out of
over 1100 pages) without altering at all the rest. So much for
the apologia.
        On the interesting side issue of etymological studies
in general for arriving at meaning for NT passages (and, mercifully,
bringing this topic a little closer to appropriateness for the list),
I too believe there is real danger, even, I think, when the
etymological connections are more sure than that of Charnock's
fancies. Diachronic studies (which emphasize the meaning of a word
"through time" i.e. its meaning at different periods of history) in
particular are susceptible to distortion as can be seen easily in any
commentary by Barclay (who had, by the way, much less excuse than
Charnock). It is all too common to hear, "the word Paul uses here,
(fill in the blank), was used by Aristotle and means (fill in
another)". Easier to say that than to prove any real connection
between the two. A good example of this in English is when someone
chastises me for saying "gee" because it supposedly is somehow
related to the name "Jesus". Whether or not it ever was related, it
certainly does not mean that for me when I say it. This piece of
"etymology" (surely spurious anyway) has nothing to do with my
meaning. In the same way, it must be shown that an historical usage
of a term has something to do with the NT usage, or it is simply not
to the point. It seems to me that diachronic word studies are
mainly helpful when we can demonstrate the process of change of
meaning of a certain word over time and then fit the NT use into the
general scheme that we've been able to work out. This requires more
than a few quotes and also requires citations from before as well as
after the NT use to really be of any help. Also, in my opinion, the
general diachronic scheme needs to include citations fairly close
chronologically to the NT use to be of much certainty. This then
would give us an idea of where the NT use fits in the "conceptual
framework". Obviously, a term such as QEOS would be difficult to
assess. These are simply factors that I think we all need to keep in
mind as we delve into the murky waters of etymological studies.
(And, PLEASE don't preach that DUNAMIS is where we get the word
dynamite!! I doubt that Paul or Jesus cared!) While synchronic
studies (which emphasize word meaning "with time" i.e. uses more or
less contemporaneous) seem to me a little safer, I also think care
should be taken, more in terms of geographical (rather than temporal)
distance, especially in the Hellenistic world. Well, there! Maybe
this will get us off the topic of southern english! ; ) So, what do
y'all think? (Obviously plural in this case.)

Jon Robertson

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