From: Edward Hobbs (EHOBBS@WELLESLEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Nov 28 1998 - 12:14:30 EST
To all subscribers to this B-Greek List:
In some recent messages written by my Co-Chair, Carl Conrad, to one
subscriber, explaining what this List is about and why it has the special
character that it does, he expressed remarkably well why we try to steer
clear of "hermeneutical" and "theological" discussions. Indeed, he has
done so better than it has been done before by any of us. With his
permission, I have excerpted much of it and present it herewith to
everyone, hoping that fewer explanations of the Staff's and the Chairs'
occasional interventions will be needed in the future.
I would like to emphasize that this is simply my excerpting and conflating
of his unedited, unpolished messages, as he wrote them in response to
particular posts. But I think they need to be heard and read by everyone,
especially as they clarify the approach which has made this List an
unusually friendly, helpful, and civil one, despite great differences
among us about our faith-positions.
---------------Comments by Carl Conrad concerning B-Greek------------
Some assume that the Bible is a consistent whole, the parts of
which may legitimately be understood to interpret each other. This
assumption, while shared by many list-members, is disputed by several
other list-members--and a fundamental principle on B-Greek is that we
leave out of the discussion matters on which there is no consensus on
the part of list-members. It is a *hermeneutical* assumption, and we
only get into arguments when we start down the line of talking about
our hermeneutical assumptions; we leave such matters out and we talk
only about matters that are solidly grounded in the Greek language and
the Greek text of the Bible itself--and preferably the Greek text
of a relatively small corpus or passage, the assumption being that,
while we may argue about how a genitive or an infinitive or subjunctive
works in a particular verse, our discussion turns upon elements
that are more or less objective and not subject to differences of
faith-perspective. We refer to this discussion list as "Biblical Greek"
NOT because we are concerned fundamentally with the Bible as Bible and
incidentally in the Greek text, but because we are concerned fundamentally
with the Greek text of the Bible as Greek text.
The consistency of scripture is an assumption that
is by no means universally shared by list-members, although undoubtedly
many list-members do believe in it. But it is a hermeneutical assumption,
not an axiom or a consensus item that may function as a criterion for how a
particular Greek text is to be interpreted.
Theology derives from the text, not the text from the theology.
I don't mean by this that the author of the Greek text doesn't have theo-
logical conceptions in mind as he writes; what I mean, rather, is that OUR
theological assumptions derive from the sense which we read out of the
Biblical text, and we read that sense in the first place, so far as the NT
is concerned, out of a GREEK text. We have to get the meaning of the Greek
text right before we can start talking about theological implications. And
on B-Greek, we really seek to avoid going beyond getting the meaning
of the Greek text right and moving on toward discussion of its theological
Now I am not unaware that we bring theological assumptions
to bear even as we read the Greek text of the NT. BUT, we endeavor
to approach the text as openly and honestly as we can, even with
an awareness that it's just possible we have always misunderstood this text
hitherto and it's just possible that if we approach it without any
preconceptions that we may set aside, it may tell us something that we've
never been able to appreciate before, something that has always eluded us
because we always were cocksure we knew what this text meant. We want to
avoid EISEGESIS, the reading of our own ideas into a text that may intend
to give us a message utterly alien to our own ideas.
We see B-Greek as an opportunity for students of the
Greek Bible --for Evangelicals and Fundamentalists and Liberals and
Conservatives, for Orthodox trinitarians and unitarians and even for
atheists or agnostics, for those committed to the divinity of Christ and
for those who view Christ not as part of the godhead but in a subordinate
status-- for all such students of the Greek Bible, I say, to look at
the Greek text of the Bible so far as possible without assuming that they
already know what the text MUST mean, and to consider together how the
words and the grammar work together to produce a sense that may confirm
what we always thought that text meant but may just as well overthrow
our prior notions and even throw an altogether fresh light on this
little passage within our scope.
But what this means is that we have to level the plain somehow so
that all these different types may come together to the text using the same
linguistic tools, whether they're just beginning to acquire a knowledge of
Koine Greek or are more experienced. What we together bring to bear
upon the Greek text of the Bible is our skills in Greek, not our
assumptions about the nature of the Bible--notwithstanding the facts that
background awareness of the historical context and some sense of the
coherence of the literature to which the Bible belongs may make our skills
in Greek more useful in examining a text.
We may all have a concern for Biblical truth, but this list's
purpose is not to establish Biblical truth as such but rather to clarify
the understanding of the Greek text so that the pursuit of Biblical
truth may rest upon a sound basis. Understanding the Greek text is
something about which people with different religious commitments can
find common ground; then, once the Greek text is understood, people
with different religious commitments can proceed to exercise their own
different assumptions regarding the broader dimensions of what that text
means. It is discussion of the broader dimensions, however, that we
want steer clear of in this forum.
Of course it's not possible to completely ignore theological
implications when one examines the Greek text of a NT passage, but the
application of texts drawn from very diverse sources within the Greek NT
toward interpretation of the Greek of a specific passage is a procedure
resting upon the very hermeneutical assumption that may not be assumed
because it is a partisan assumption and one that is not shared by all
list-members. When discussion begins and continues on the basis of that
sort of assumption, it will entail potential partisan conflicts over
hermeneutics, conflicts of a sort that we want to avoid on this list.
The focus of B-Greek is fundamentally linguistic; it concerns
tools and methodology that are ultimately essential to understanding
the Biblical text, but the broader interpretation of the Biblical text
exceeds its narrow scope.
---------[Excerpts from messages by Carl Conrad,
enthusiastically seconded by Edward Hobbs. his Co-Chair]-------
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