Re: HOW and WHY

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Sep 25 1999 - 21:31:19 EDT

At 8:21 PM -0400 9/25/99, Jim West wrote:
>At 04:47 PM 9/25/99 -0700, you wrote:
>>Is it not fair to say that WHY a Greek text means a certain thing is the
>>product of one's hermeneutics? I frankly still do not see how it is
>>possible to separate the interpretation of a given text from the
>>principles which underlie one's process of interpretation. For example, we
>>may identify a certain word as a Genitive, but how we interpret it (what we
>>think it means) and how we describe it (what kind of a genitive we call it)
>>come, do they not, from principles of interpretation and/or
>>pre-understandings we bring to the text?
>Absolutely correct. Every translation is an interpretation... that was just
>my point.

THAT was YOUR point, Jim? It may come as a surprise to you to know that
this comes as a surprise to me. I really didn't see anything in your posts
in this thread that pointed in that direction.

But to George's point. Yes, I would agree with the proposition that every
translation is an interpretation, but I would hold that an interpretation
which can be defended on the basis of shared assumptions about the meanings
of the elements in the text is more convincing than one which cannot be
thus defended.

Granted, we don't all share the same assumptions, and this is particularly
the case regarding theological assumptions. Two persons who agree that
CRISTOU IHSOU is a genitive in PISTIS CRISTOU IHSOU may disagree on whether
it's a SUBJECTIVE or an OBJECTIVE genitive, and their theological
assumptions may be a factor in determining whether one is more inclined to
see it as a SUBJECTIVE and the other as an OBJECTIVE genitive.

Nevertheless, however much interpretation may depend upon what the reader
brings with him/her to the Greek text being interpreted, the process of
interpretation can hardly be arbitrary. While we may all be inclined to
favor one legitimate alternative way of understanding a text over another
legitimate alternative on the basis of our personal belief, I think (I
certainly HOPE) that we all want, so far as we are able, to avoid
EIS-egesis: we want to read a meaning that we honestly think is there in
the text for us to see, not to force upon the text a meaning that we think
would be convenient to find there. So, yes: our theological assumptions do
have a bearing on how we look at the alternative meanings that grammatical
analysis discloses to us--and occasionally they may even incline us to
construe the syntax in a way that seems suspect to others, but I really
don't believe any of us honestly wants to be deluded about what the text
really means.

>>Carl, I agree with you that what benefits us most is not a simple YEP! or
>>NOPE! but the logic behind it. And for me, as a lifelong
>>learner, understanding that process is of much greater help than someone's
>>pontification that announces the ultimate truth about the grammatical
>>construction in question.
>Nevertheless, some questions do deserve a simple yes or no. To overanalyze
>every single part of a question is to reduce every question to absurdity.
>For instance....

I quite agree that overanalysis of the sort that you illustrate ad nauseam
in the remainder of your response is absurd. But I don't think that's what
we're engaged in, for the most part, on B-Greek. Many of our list-members
are not very far removed from the earliest stages of learning Biblical
Greek; they raise questions about some very ordinary items of diction or
syntax that are perfectly obvious to more experienced learners (and my own
perspective is that we are, all of us, learners). They wouldn't pose the
questions to the list if the answer were obvious to them and it doesn't
help them in the least to give them a "Yes" or "No" answer or to say
simply, if they ask what kind of participle X is, "circumstantial" or even
"causal" or "concessive." What they want is an explanation of how the
principle or principles of grammar that their textbook has given them
applies in this particular instance. They don't want to be shown that we
understand what they don't; they want to be helped to understanding what
doesn't make obvious sense to them. And although many a list-member may
feel that there are much more sophisticated matters that we can and should
discuss on B-Greek, I have come to feel personally that the single most
valuable function ("ministry," if you care to use such a word) we can
perform in this forum is that of an electronic classroom "help" session.
I've tried to play a role in this myself and so have several others. I
don't by any means imagine that it's the primary or sole function of the
list, but I think it is a very important function.

>In short, George, questions can really be answered simply most of the time
>for two reasons:
>1) you will take one persons word above another nearly every time.
>2) you will most likely adopt the response most similar to yours.
>Thus, most of the time, posters already know what they believe and merely
>wish to have it authenticated.

EVEN IF this very cynical (you might prefer to call it "realistic," but I
call it cynical) perception of what's going on in this forum has a certain
amount of validity, I think that even so there may occasionally come what I
would call, for want of a better term, "moments of grace," when one is
inclined to question the authority one normally respects without question,
when one opens his/her mind to an alternative way of looking at a text that
is different from, even opposed to the way one has hitherto thought most
appropriate. Perhaps it is indeed the case (I'd rather not believe it but
I'll grant it MAY be so--I certainly am aware that this is sometimes the
case) that people pose questions about texts primarily in order to have
their preferred understanding of a passage confirmed or reinforced, I
continue to be 'naively' hopeful that most list-members have a mind that is
partially open to the cogency of alternative viewpoints, and that this is
why they find B-Greek a helpful, perhaps even a very valuable experience.
But if it is true that most people ask questions only for the purpose of
having their pre-disposed perspective on a passage confirmed, I'd have to
say that I believe there are quite enough list-members who pose their
questions with a more honest intent to justify what we do on the list.

>So- I submit that offering a yes or no response saves a lot of time... most
>of the time.

My alternative opinion is that such a response saves nobody's time except
that of the one who offers a "yes" or "no" response. I think that the "yes"
or "no" answer is more commonly a waste of everybody's time.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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