Re: A question from a novice! (delayed!)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 22 2000 - 12:59:07 EST

I am forwarding to the list tardily a message from Bill Garrison which came
to me on Monday and for some reason (and I'm pretty sure that it was my
fault) never made it to the list; one reason for this is that it was
originally a reply to a message of mine. Some of what Bill had to say in
this message did find expression in other messages, but nevertheless an
earlier check of mine which I thought had disclosed that the message had
been distributed to the list turned out upon a later check to have turned
up only the cc to me. At any rate, I apologize for the long delay; I know
there was another message that got lost (also through my fault, I think)
and I hope this won't happen again.

>From: "BillGarrison" <>
>To: "Biblical Greek" <>
>Cc: <>
>Subject: RE: b-greek digest: March 19, 2000
>Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 09:21:39 -0500
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Biblical Greek digest []
>Sent: Monday, March 20, 2000 12:00 AM
>To: b-greek digest recipients
>Subject: New Posting
>Subject: A question from a novice!
>Date; Monday March 20, 2000
>In our discussion of the question of the definition of AGAPH it may be
>helpful to distinguish between its synchronic and diachronic meaning(s). The
>synchronic meaning of a word is the range in which is employed during a
>particular narrow time band, e.g. the New Testament. The diachronic meaning
>of a word is a description of the range in which the word is employed during
>a broad time band. A determination of diachronic meaning requires we trace
>the evolution of a word's meaning through the historical development of the
>Greek language: from pre-Homeric, to classical, to the LXX and finally in
>the New Testament. Some words exhibit very little change through time while
>others undergo a substantial shift in meaning. Therefore, the LXX usage may
>be highly informative for some words, but may prove misleading for others.
>A diachronic study of AGAPH reveals the word has underwent a substantial
>evolution of meaning. Comparative philology has linked this evolution to a
>shift in the meaning for several Greek verbs relating to "love", sparked by
>a decline in the usage of KUNEW (to kiss) and leading a increase in the
>usage of PHILEW, which in turn bumped the meaning of AGAPAW. During the 1998
>W.H. Griffith Thomas Lecture Series held February 3-6, 1998 at Dallas
>Theological Seminary, Donald A. Carson, delivered a series on the subject
>"God Is Love," in which he addressed this very issue. The full text of the
>lectures has been published in four parts in the journal BibliothecaSacra
>volume 156; Numbers 621-624. The brief excerpt below is taken from that
>journal (156:633; p.3.)
>"First, careful diachronic work has been done on Greek words for love. In
>the preclassical tradition, there was a homonymic clash between two words,
>KUNEW, (to kiss), and KUNW (to impregnate). Certain forms of the two words
>were identical (e.g., the aorist EKUSA). Inevitably this gave rise to many
>salacious puns, which forced KUNEW into obsolescence, replaced by PHILEW
>(which is used, for instance, to say that Judas kissed Jesus, Luke 22:47).
>This meant, of course, that PHILEW could be taken to mean "to kiss" or "to
>love," which in the Attic period encouraged the rise of other words for "to
>love." By the end of that period and the beginning of the Hellenistic era,
>the verb AGAPAW was one of those verbs, although there is not yet evidence
>of the cognate noun AGAPH. In other words, there are excellent diachronic
>reasons in Greek philology to explain the rise of the AGAPAW word group, so
>that one should not rush too quickly towards theological explanations."
>In light of this, perhaps we should:
>1. Be careful to distinguish between the meaning of these word groups in LXX
>and NT Greek.
>2. Make a distinction between the meanings of the verbal (AGAPAW) and
>nominal (AGAPH) forms.
>Bill Garrison


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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