Re: "Bible study" approach to the meaning

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Thu Mar 23 2000 - 09:10:14 EST

At 7:35 AM -0600 3/23/00, Jay Adkins wrote:
>Question. I was thinking about Wayne's comments about the ""Bible study"
>approach to the meanings of Greek words, instead of the rigorous scholarly
>effort that needs to be made.." It is evident that a "Bible study
>approach" certainly would be flawed as a general means of finding word
>meaning to Koine terms. Yet, is it not reasonable to suppose that some
>terms have been altered by the sectarian use? Almost every field of
>endeavor develops its own jargon. Sometimes even otherwise common terms
>take on special meaning within certain contexts. I do realize the pitfalls
>of trying to find a special Holy Ghost language, but are we going too far to
>the other end when we deny the possibility that even a few terms may have
>been Christianized?

Curious you should put it that way--"Almost every field of endeavor
develops its own jargon."--my own response to that is, "Yes, so far as we
know, every field of HUMAN endeavor tends to turn into a Tower of Babel,"
whereby I expose my own bias, which you may choose to call either
recidivist Calvinistic or cynical as you choose. I have left most of my
adult life in the university, an institution which seems to me to have
suffered more than many other institutions from that tendency; we have at
my school a requirement that doctoral oral committees include two faculty
from outside the department of the dissertation, and it has fallen my lot
to sit in on oral exams for Psychology and Sociology wherein I had little
clue as to what the essential arguments were of the dissertations which I
had read.

And yes, I do believe that is decidedly true of the church--or I should say
churchES--has/have been subject to that tendency also. I don't think it is
necessarily a good thing. The apostle Paul in 1 Cor 14:18-20 wrote
LOGOUS EN GLWSSHi. Granted he's speaking about glossolalia here, but surely
his central point is that the function of speech is communication between
human beings, not ecstatic communion with the realm of spirit--and to the
extent that the development of jargon hinders clear communication, it is
surely somewhat perilous. That having been said, however, it's hardly to be
doubted that the church developed its own jargon and there's some evidence
for it; I'd guess that BAPTIZW has a pretty limited and specialized usage
already in the GNT. But surely many words are really problematic and we
need to be on our guard against importing assumptions from a later era into
our reading of those words as they appear in first-century Greek texts--I'm
thinking of obvious examples like EPISKOPOS and PRESBUTEROS.

>Does the corpus of the NT supply a sufficient context base from which to
>identify some such terms within its pages?

I'm sure the subject has been researched and expounded, probably ad nauseam
and with a questionable degree of definition and finality. I would doubt
that the GNT itself can supply a SUFFICIENT context base because I think it
is a very selective corpus of early Christian literature, the very dating
of the composition of which is disputed. To the extent that the GNT
consists of documents from the earliest era (and that is where much of the
controversy lies, is it not?) I would think there's the less likelihood of
an institutional jargon having developed--which is precisely why we have to
be cautious about words like EPISKOPOS and DIAKONOS and APOSTOLOS and
PRESBUTEROS and even EKKLHSIA. I would guess that "some" terms might be
identified within its pages--but I suspect that it might be difficult to
achieve a consensus about several of them.

I think that one of the chief difficulties in such an enterprise lies
precisely in the fact that the last several decades have brought to light
plenty of evidence for usage of Greek words once thought to be distinctive
to usage by contemporary Jewish and/or Christian believers. Moreover it
seems to me that, if we take seriously the probability that communities of
Christians expanded rapidly in the first century, it is really more likely
that the continuous influx of outsiders into the believing community would
undermine, at least to some extent, the tendency for jargon to develop
within the communities.

>I hope these questions are understood for what they are, questions. Given
>the recent discussion on AGAPH, it may be assumed I have an agenda. I can
>only give my word that I do not. I hope also that these are appropriate
>questions for B-Greek.

And given my recidivist Calvinistic or cynical disposition, I tend to
assume that there's an agenda underlying most of what people say in e-mail,
including posts to B-Greek. But with regard to the thrust of what you're
saying here, Jay, what I think the recent discussion on AGAPH has disclosed
is the extent to which most, perhaps all of us, are laboring under
assumptions about a uniformity of usage of such words as AGAPH/AGAPAW and
FILIA/FILEW that are not necessarily wrong, but that are quite far from
being unquestionable. If they WERE unquestionable, we would not have had
the lengthy thread. QED ;-)


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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