Re: Acts 1:10

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Thu May 13 1999 - 15:07:19 EDT

Daniel wrote:

> I meant that the syntax
> simply says that all the time the Lord was ascending, the disciples kept
> their eyes on him. The situation as described by the speaker is clear
> enough to make the hearer deduce a relation between the two actions, but
> --that was my point-- it is not the construction what determines the
> interpretation. IMO, the absolute construction with participle, always a
> construction with a temporal value, delimits a range of possible
> interpretations


Your comments quoted here remind me that in the discussion of the
relationship between syntax and semantics there is somewhat of a chicken
and egg problem (i.e, which came first). Most of the grammatical
fundamentalists hold to the traditional notion that the semantics of a
passage is deciphered from the bottom up. That the analysis of the
morphological and syntactical data leads to an understanding of the

I think this approach is at best simplistic. I am convinced that
understanding the semantic structure of a passage sheds more light on
the syntax of the passage than understanding the syntax sheds light on
the semantic structure.

Take for example two verbs in Luke 8:23 KATEBH and SUNEPLHROUNTO. The
aspect difference between perfective and inperfective is probably
significant here. But the precise meaning of SUNEPLHROUNTO is
constrained by the semantic structure of the passage to such an extent
that this verb could have no aspect marking at all and the aspect could
be inferred from the context with no difficulty. SUNEPLHROUNTO can only
mean that water was coming over the sides of the boat. It cannot mean
that the boat was full of water. The later meaning is rendered
impossible by the detail that Jesus is still sleeping in the boat. So
the semantic structure of the passage constrains the sense of the verb
SUNEPLHROUNTO. It must describe a process and not an already completed
past event.

This example is just intended as an illustration of how semantic
constraints function to limit the meaning of clause level constituents.
The problem with many discussions of syntax is that they are argued
using the assumptions of grammatical fundamentalism. They are argued as
if all meaning in a text is discovered in a bottom up manner based on
morphology and syntax.

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

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