Re: Was: "a question from a novice"

From: Wayne Leman (
Date: Wed Mar 22 2000 - 00:20:52 EST

<x-charset iso-8859-1>Mike, you are raising good, sincere questions. The basic issue is what is
the truth about usage of AGAPAW and FILEW at the time when John's Gospel was
written and other books of the N.T. Those who have done the most thorough
study have concluded, I believe correctly, that there was very little, if
any, substantive difference in meaning between the two words. Etymology *is*
important for understanding words, but it doesn't *determine* current
meaning. Jim West and others on the list are right that current usage
determines current meaning. Everything must be kept in proper balance. There
need be no fear of "watering down the words to such an extent that there is
no longer any color in the language". Language color is there because
speakers give it that color. AGAPAW and FILEW are powerful words within the
N.T. They are powerful and colorful and important concepts for those who
take the statements of the biblical seriously for rule of faith and life.
They are all of these things regardless of whether or not by the time the
Koine dialect was spoken these two words had essentially become synonyms.
Watering down the meanings of words is not something done by language
analysts. Linguists, semanticians, etc. do not do things to language. They
simply observe what people are already doing with language. Let us all
strive for accuracy to be our highest goal in all language work including
that with Biblical Greek. We should restrain ourselves from putting our
personal opinions in the mix prematurely. We should try to use the best data
available to us from how speakers of Koine Greek actually used these words
and then draw our conclusions, always with humility knowing that any of us
can be mistaken, but even this very fact should not keep us from suggesting
that with regards to the meaning of words "every man can do (or think) what
is right in his own eyes." There is a good deal of empirical data in the
N.T. itself, as well as in extrabiblical literautre. We just must make sure
we don't bring a priori assumptions to the table which color our
interpretation of the data.

Our opinions in these matters need to be as fully informed by the best
possible exposure to the full range of data on these words as possible. The
same is true for any other words. We should not be in the business of
"biblicizing" words in the Bible, creating them in our own image, but rather
of drawing out from them what they actually meant to the original authors
and their hearers. Only then can we most accurately determine what the
implications are for applications to ourselves today. In other words, in
this case, we must put the cart before the horse, not the heart before the
course! (So to speak, of course, using some words which have not lost their

linguist & Bible translator & one who loves Scripture

Wayne Leman
Bible translation site:

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