BLEPW & hORAW MK 8:23-24

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Mon Jun 19 2000 - 16:33:04 EDT

As a test case in lexical semantic methodology the use of BLEPW and hORAW in
MK 8:23-24 can serve to bring to light certain issues which seem to come up
perennially in discussions of the Greek NT.

In MK 8:23 Jesus asks the question:


The man answers:


Now the most obvious question is what distinction if any should we draw
between BLEPW and hORAW in this context. What is Jesus asking? Is the focus
of the question on the issue of ability or the content of his seeing? In
other words does Jesus really want to know what is out there before the
man's eyes or does he want to know what level of ability the man has to
perceive what is before his eyes. Does the use of BLEPW tell us anything at
all about this or is it essentially equivalent to hORAW in this context?

This question is useful for examining the lexical semantic methodology in
different lexical reference works on NT Greek.

BAGD cites MK 8:23-24 use of BLEPW as "an activity of the eyes." In this
context Jesus' question is being understood to be a question about the
content of the man's visual experience not a question about his ability to
see. Both BAGD and Louw & Nida cite examples of BLEPW where it has to do
with the ability to see but the do not include MK 8:23-24 as an example of

Zodhiates dictionary, "The complete Word Study Dictionary of the New
Testament" (WSDNT) has a substantial article on BLEPW. I was not able to
find a citation of MK 8:23-24, but there is a long paragraph discussing the
"subtle distinctions" between BLEPW and hORAW. This paragraph is typical of
what makes professional philologists, translators and NT Scholars shun the
use of "popular" NT dictionaries. In reading through this article and the
article on hORAW there seemed to be a lot of "subtle distinctions" which
would probably not stand up to close scrutiny by a person with some
background in lexical semantics.

In doing some more thinking about the underlying exegetical model that is
represented in popular expository NT dictionaries, I would say that the
major weakness in these works is not the translation equivalents that they
give or the supporting texts they cite. The major weakness is the notion
that one can understand what a TEXT is saying by the analysis of individual
words. The whole business of finding "subtle distinctions" between words
were "subtle distinctions" probably do not exist is driven by the
fundamental idea that the basic unit of meaning in a text is the word and
that the analysis of individual words is where we will find the message.
IMHO this exegetical model is just plain wrong. To say that this approach to
understanding a text is pervasive in the popular literature on the bible is
a understatement.

The popular works are by no means the only offenders in this respect. To
some extent the very idea of a theological dictionary implies a word based
approach to exegesis. I think that those who make use of NIDNTT or TDNT or
EDNT ought to take a look at a book like Zodhiates dictionary and ask
themselves some hard questions. Are they not doing the same thing using the
cover of more sophisticated language? I know that this question has been
asked over and over and over again but what I find troubling is that no
matter how often the question is asked there are a lot of people who still
seem to think of lexical analysis as the central key to understanding an
ancient text. And these discussions of "subtle distinctions" seem to go on

Anyway, what about BLEPW and hORAW in MK 8:23-24? Is there any distinction
here at all? I don't have an answer to this question but I am tempted to
find a distinction. Is my temptation caused by decades of exposure to
popular literature on the bible?

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062

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