Re: The Purpose of Syntactical Categories

From: George Goolde (
Date: Tue Jan 04 2000 - 12:22:02 EST

<x-flowed>Thank you Tony, for your good question and Carl (and others) for an
excellently crafted answer. I had an analogy that I thought might add to
this discussion.

In theology (and no, I am not going to present theology here!) among
evangelical conservatives who base their faith on the Bible we have an
interesting and sometimes challenging phenomenon which challenges our
thinking. It is not unlike the phenomenon of syntactical categories in Greek.

The phenomenon is simply this: There is a narrow, but explicit difference
between Biblical studies and Bible based theology. Biblical studies
restrict themselves (or should) to the Bible text. In Bible based theology
the theologian attempts to give all of his answers from the Bible, but he
himself determines the categories of truth. And, of course, that's where
much of the disagreement lies even among those who agree upon what the
Bible says at a certain point.

In Greek we would probably all agree that a certain form is the second form
of inflection for a noun - we generally call it Genitive. But the
discussion as to what category we wish to place it in will vary. It varies
first of all because we do not all prefer the same set of categories. None
of this *determines* what the text says. They are but different ways of
*describing* what the text says so that we might talk to one another more
easily about the text, without writing a chapter in a grammar book every
time we want to communicate.

May I introduce another very practical analogy. Suppose I have an
automotive parts store. I receive a coil for a 1980 Ford truck. I put it
on the shelf to sell to someone later. I could shelve it under "coils." I
could shelve it under "ignition parts." I could shelve it under
"electrical parts." I could shelve it under "Ford" parts. I could shelve
it under "truck" parts. I could even shelve it under "small" parts or
"gray" parts. None of these schemes would change what this part is
intended by its manufacturer to do. But I would describe them differently
if I were instructing an associate as to where to find the part.

Carl said this in a much more erudite way, but syntactical categories
really say more about our approach to the Greek language than they do about
what the author meant in a given text.

Hope this is helpful,


George A. Goolde
Professor, Bible and Theology
Southern California Bible College & Seminary
El Cajon, California

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