Re: Was: "a question from a novice"

From: Mike Sangrey (
Date: Tue Mar 21 2000 - 19:58:59 EST

Wayne Leman <> said:
> Simply because two words exist concurrently in a language, which have
> the same meaning as indicated by objective, empirical, scientific
> testing, does not mean that we need to find a meaning difference
> between them. Language is more complicated than that. Some words
> actually are synonyms. We need to let the data stand as it is and not
> inject our own assumptions, as much as possible.

> There is *no* proof that AGAPAW and FILEW are used with difference
> semantics in the N.T. We are skating on thin ice if we try to find
> such differences simply because two such different words to exist
> concurrently.

You know, after reading your comments (of which many good examples
I've elided) I recall having known such implications of synonyms.
So, I admit, I readily agree. I guess I've suffered from what Stephen
Wright has called "amnesia and deja vu at the same time--it's that
really strange feeling you've forgotten this before."

Anyway, I think I keep forgetting this because I want to stop the
pendulum in mid swing. Here's what I mean.

What is to stop us from watering down the words to such an extent that
there is no longer any color in the language? And by 'color', I mean a
'sense of specific meaning' in the words? We can shout loudly, WORDS
HAVE USAGE, NOT MEANING. But I have to admit, it's a little tricky
knowing exactly what that means. It's relatively easy to scan through
Louw and Nida and gain a common sense for what many words meant and
why that sense was used in a variety of ways. We can't do that with
all, of course; but it appears to me we can with many of them. And by
this I do not mean what Barr calls "illegitimate totality transfer".

It seems we argue tenaciously for the expulsion of the dreaded
diachronic etymologizing snake; but what is to keep us from cuddling
the rat of mediocre words? Words which need, at times, to be forceful,
need to be graphic, need to be tender-hearted, touching.

An author frequently agonizes over just the right word to embody
just the right shade of meaning; something with a semantic flare
which drives his point home to the reader. We have to allow that
flexibility for the NT writer, at least in some (many?) contexts.
Everyone I know, no matter how good their command of the English
language, when tasked to write a document of significance, will
carefully pick some of their words. And, management up stream will
always, in certain contexts, select "better" words. Wouldn't NT
writers sense the importance of what they were writing and pick their
words accordingly?

I think our Hercules--context--provides the bulk of the answer; and
yet, I think we must allow for a healthy tension between meaning in
the context--which is the stronger--and meaning in the word--which
is delicate. It's so delicate, we don't want to call it "meaning".

I'm a novice grappling with these large issues; and I know they're large.
Producing meaning, whether in black and white or bits and bytes is very
difficult, at least to do so accurately (in all the many nuances of
that word); but exegeting the meaning from a foreign language--that's
a whole 'nother wok of Koi.

Mike Sangrey
Landisburg, Pa.
       There is no 'do' in faith, everywhere present within it is 'done'.

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