[b-greek] JOH 16,23

From: Wayne Leman (Wayne_Leman@SIL.ORG)
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 17:20:55 EDT

from: Wayne Leman

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark Wilson" <emory2oo2@hotmail.com>

> Alan wrote:
> >Is it possible that several of the ambiguous
> >constructs we find sprinkled throughout the NT were
> >indeed intentional?
> To which Wayne replied:
> "It is possible, but not likely. Intentional ambiguity is usually marked
> languages clearly enough for hearers/readers to catch on that an ambiguity
> is intended."
> There seems to be something missing here. At least to me, I generally
> of "ambiguity" as a phrase that is "confusing." But that is not the sense
> get from Alan's question. The phrase he used, "dual function," is what got
> me thinking.

Linguistically, ambiguity refers to multiple (usually dual) possible
interpretations, rather than that something is simply confusing. There is
also a common lay use of the term "ambiguity" which means "doubtful,

Linguistic ambiguity is found in the two syntactic interpretations of an
English sentence such as:

"Flying planes can be dangerous."

The two interpretations are, as you probably already have analyzed:

1. It can be dangerous to fly planes.
2. Planes which are flying can be dangerous.

I understood Alan to be referring to specific alternate interpretations
allowed by the structure of the Greek, and "ambiguous" would be the correct
term to use for that.

> To apply EN AGAPHi to both Eph. 1:4 and 1:5 can be done without adding
> "confusion."


> I think Alan should have used a different word than "ambiguous." Perhaps
> would make more sense to say that a prepositional phrase is "flexible," or
> "not limited as a single modifier."
> Wayne, this response confused me a bit:
> Alan wrote:
> >And I am quite content with that "ambiguity." (God's preparing
> >them for destruction [passive] need not be done apart
> >from human decisions [middle].)
> To which Wayne said:
> "I submit that you are making a *theological* decision here, rather than a
> syntactic one. We need to allow syntax to precede theology."
> There is nothing in Alan's statement that implies he did not make all the
> necessary syntactical decisions BEFORE arriving at the dual function use
> the Middle/Passive here.

You are right, Mark, and I misspoke. I was speaking to the principle of
analysis, then theology construction, and it was inappropriate of me to
suggest that Alan had actually done that. I apologize to Alan and the list
for my unfortunate wording.

> Perhaps the way to handle this is again under the idea of "flexibility."
> Greek construct in Romans 9:22 is flexible enough to allow for us to
> interpret this verse with BOTH the Middle and Passive.

Yes, flexibility is a good way to look at it, if it is supported by the

> This does not
> preclude Wayne from doing a statistical probability, and even saying that
> "statistically speaking" the X voice is most likely. But I do not see
> a statistical analysis, after this many years of debating this passage,
> would yield anything close to Alan's imposing a "theological decision"

You're right, Mark.

> Wayne: are you saying that we can not choose BOTH the Middle and Passive,
> we can ONLY go with a statistical probability of one or the other?

I wasn't even addressing the specifics of Alan's analysis, only the
principle of whether or not there is widespread ambiguity in NT Greek. I
have often heard this claim and my training says that it is not true, and
cannot be true based on natural human communication theory.

> If after
> a statistical probability is performed, and we arrive at a statistical
> equality, what then. Do we simply say this verse can not be understood?

No, as I mentioned in my message, when we are unable to determine which
exegetical option is more likely, then we simply say so (and, of course,
keep hoping for more insight in the future). What I wanted to emphasize was
that recognizing that we do not know which of more than one analysis is
possible is *not* the same as claiming that there is multi-function. The
burden of proof for multi-function is upon those who claim that there is
such a phenomenon in human language. Linguistic science, as I have been
taught it, finds such a phenomenon extremely rare, if present at all. More
often, when the claim of multi-function is made, it is a construct of the
analyst, rather than of the original author's intention as he used the
structures available to him in his language.

I am troubled when I see syntactic analyses that seem to derive from
theological positions. I should not have even suggested that that is what
Alan did, but I have seen it elsewhere, including from highly respected
Greek scholars, and my understanding of human language is that it is more
likely to be a false claim. This is *different* from saying that a certain
form, let's say the notoriously troublesome Greek genitive, has a *broad*
enough function that what we might consider two different meanings are
covered by that same form. But this is really just another way of saying
that the lexicons and syntaxes of different languages often do not match. It
is often better to say that a lexical or syntactic form simply has a certain
range, and that range corresponds to two or more forms in another language.
This is theoretically very different from saying that the first language has
a form which is multifunctional. (I do not deny, at all, that there is
multifunction, but the structure of the language must support that claim. We
cannot simply make the claim based on our theology.)

One of the claims I am very suspicious of, on these epistemological and
linguistic grounds that I have been trying to explain, is for the presence
in any of NT Greek for a "plenary genitive." To me that sounds more like a
category which is derived from our theology, rather than just scientific
analysis of the forms of language themselves.

> Is there a syntactical method of arriving at the conclusion that Alan did,
> namely, that both are very likely intended here.

I don't know. I was addressing the broader principle and not the specifics
of Alan's analysis.

> You have already conceded
> that you believe there are legitimate uses of ambiguity in the NT (about 2
> or 3). How about 4 :o )

Only if the 4th one is truly righteous, then it can be spared Wayne's axe,
or Occam's Razor, or whatever the weapon of destruction is! :-)


I'm sorry for the confusion, Mark and Alan,
best wishes,

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