Friday, July 02, 2010

On how to find the meaning of a Greek word

Here is an excellent article by Bill Mounce on how we define biblical words. Here is my summary of his points.
  • lexicons and translations
  • Latin translation
  • ancient lexicons
  • occurrences of the word classical and Koine Greek literature
  • range of meanings in these contexts
  • context in the Bible
This is why I usually first study the meaning of a word in several lexicons and in translations starting from the Vulgate to the present day. From the lexicons, one can look up the use of the word in other Greek literature. This is the most basic evidence for what a word means. Context in the Bible is the last piece one uses.

However, you cannot establish from context that a word means something different from what it usually means in Greek literature, without proving that it cannot possibly have a meaning that falls within its normal meaning in Greek. Using "context" is not license to interpret a word in the Bible in accordance with your presuppositions and biases.

This is a very important list for the many times that complementarians and egalitarians differ on the meaning of a word in Greek.

5 comments:

J. K. Gayle said...

"However, you cannot establish from context that a word means something different from what it usually means in Greek literature, without proving that it cannot possibly have a meaning that falls within its normal meaning in Greek."

This is an interesting, a profound statement. Do you think you might be able also illustrate what you're saying with an English word in English literature?

Don said...

have you seen http://www.andgodsaid.com/

I read the book and found some good insights.

He says the meaning of a word is ONLY from the usage and gives many examples.

He also has an interesting blog at
http://goddidntsaythat.com/

Suzanne McCarthy said...

In some sense, yes, a word is ONLY from the usage. But a good lexicon lists the usage. That is what the Liddell Scott Lexicon does, and this is where its authority comes from. Also translations are a record of what people in the past thought the word meant from its usage. So this is a list of different ways to find out what the word meant from its usage.

JK,

I have to think about this. I know that both you and I have posted on some of this in the past. I will try to find what I am looking for over the next few days.

Rob Kashow said...

"Using 'context' is not license to interpret a word in the Bible in accordance with your presuppositions and biases."

Hmmm... but if you suggest consulting context last and checking translations first, how did the translators of the ancient versions determine the meaning of words? At some level would they have not relied on context? Moreover, wouldn't the ancient translators have their own biases when translating a text? For these reasons, I think this makes it difficult to prioritize one over the other since both are susceptible to lexical fault on account of one's tendenz (viz. context and ancient versions).

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Perhaps we assume that translators of ancient versions had a knowledge of both languages that included knowing the usage of the word in the language. That is, first, one should know the possible range of meanings, and then use context to ascertain which meaning is applicable.

Certainly they have their own biases. To a certain extent I refer to prioritizing chronologically. Studying the history of translation of a word is something that one can do fairly easily. Oddly, it is often disregarded.

Ultimately, we are never certain in some cases, and this leads to variant translations.