[b-greek] 2 Cor. 5:14 plenary genitive?

From: Wayne Leman (wleman@mcn.net)
Date: Fri Feb 02 2001 - 12:00:25 EST

In his article "An Open Letter Regarding the NET Bible, New Testament"
(Notes on Translation 14.4 (2000): 1-8; webpage:
http://www.bible.org/docs/soapbox/NOT_NET.htm#P16_9044), Dr. Daniel Wallace,
senior New Testament editor of the NET Bible, states:

"There are, in fact, many times where an author intentionally uses an
ambiguous expression, employing double entendre, puns, and the like. To
collapse these texts into a single meaning is to destroy part of the author’
s meaning. “The love of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:14 is one such

Footnote 3: "3 The meaning is probably both “Christ’s love for us” and “our
love for Christ”—that is, the genitive is probably both subjective and
objective, or plenary. It is Christ’s love for us that produces our love for


I invite discussion concerning the important linguistic and exegetical
principle at stake here. Dr. Wallace, with whom I have had email exchanges
on this subject, is following the principle that if the form of a language
allows for more than one possible interpretation, it is sometimes the case
that the original author intended such ambiguity in interpretation. In
essence, this follows the approach of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that
language shapes thought, the forms of a language influence how the speakers
of that language think and express themselves. The S-W hypothesis has been
both acclaimed and decried by linguists over the past decades.

My own understanding of communication theory is that a speaker *usually*
intends only a single meaning in any propositional statement of his
utterances. Exceptions are usually fairly clearly marked as to intent, and
include puns and other statements with intentional ambiguity. My
understanding is that in the absence of evidence (e.g. contextual clues) to
the contrary, communication and hermeneutical principles call for a single
meaning of authorial intent.

It is an arbitrary accident of linguistic development that certain syntactic
forms in various languages allow for ambiguity. Not every language has the
possible ambiguity of the two following English sentences, because not every
language has such a gerund construction along with constituent structure
that allows for the ambiguity:

"Flying planes can be dangerous."
"Visiting relatives can be a nuisance."

Simply because we analysts can observe the ambiguity in these English
sentences, do we hypothesize that who utters them intends both possible
interpretations? No, I do not think so. And I doubt that Prof. Wallace would
suggest this strong form of a possible ambiguity = intended ambiguity
hypothesis. But where do we draw the line when there is more than one
semantic interpretation allowable by a syntactic form?

Now, let us return to the claim about intended multiple meaning in 2 Cor.
5:14. It is true that the Bible, as a whole, not only teaches that we are to
love Christ but that Christ loves us. But is it linguistically and
exegetically sound to hypothesize that we have in 2 Cor. 5:14 a plenary
genitive in the original Greek? What evidence, other than from the overal
teaching of the Bible, is there that we have a plenary genitive in 2 Cor.
5:14? For that matter, what evidence is that that plenary genitives exist at
all in Greek? I suggest, based on principles of usual human communication,
that 2 Cor. 5:14 is not an instance of intended multiple meaning (or even,
simply, of a genitive whose meaning is broad enough to cover both the
objective and subjective genitive options). Daniel Wallace, a far better
exegete than I, a linguist, suggests that it is.

Is there any way for people in pursuit of the highest degree of accuracy in
exegesis to decide, with some kind of objective evidence that allows us to
break out of circular reasoning conundrums, between these competing

Wayne Leman
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