Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Problem with Words

Something I heard in a sermon this morning made me take this book off my shelf:


The speaker insisted that wives are not to love their husbands with agape love because Tit. 2:4 says they are merely to phileo them. Where do I even start? 

Silva devotes an entire chapter of his book to a discussion of context, ambiguity, and synonymy. We will cover all three topics in my Advanced Greek Grammar class; we have to, really. We'll look at the sermon. We'll read Silva's chapter. And then we'll have a discussion of how words work. 

Obviously, Silva (and I) have a linguistic slant on these matters. Not all would agree with our approach. Which is why I'll also give the class an essay written by someone who adamantly opposes what Silva and I were trying to do in our books on linguistics. Although it's reductive, I classify approaches to New Testament exegesis as either "linguistic" or "nonlinguistic." There are dangers in both approaches, but still, in general my own teaching trends toward the former. Some of the benefits of a scientific approach are obvious: the value of discourse analysis being one example. Some of the good is less obvious, however -- like what to do when you encounter ambiguity (examples, which I tweaked, from here).

Attorney: What is your date of birth?
Witness: July 18.
Attorney: What year?
Witness: Every year.    

Attorney: What gear were you in at the moment of impact?
Witness: A Nike tank top and New Balance running shoes.

Attorney: Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition notice that I sent to your attorney?
Witness: No, this is how I dress every day.

One thing is certain: Language rarely operates behind the tiny boundaries of unambiguous expressions. Words are sometimes messy things. Unfortunately, there's no system, no 3-easy-step approach to ensure exegetical success. As Silva (p. 9) writes about his own tome: 

It is possible for students innocent of modern linguistics to understand this book-- provided they like a challenge.

 I'm grinning at that statement. Hope you are too.