Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Exegetical Fallacies

To help me learn, remember and become more familiar with the teaching of D.A. Carson I would like to summarize his book Exegetical Fallacies. (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006, copyright by D. A. Carson 1996, ISBN 10:0-8010-2086-7).

As I read through this book I was made keenly aware of errors that I have made in my own exegetical work and assumptions. The second thing I realized was that many of the scholars I trust and study from make some of the errors Carson identifies. I feel it is important not to just read his work, but to be able to understand it and avoid the errors that he identifies.

In the introduction Carson says:
A critical interpretation of Scripture is one that has adequate justification - lexical, grammatical, cultural, theological, historical, geographical, or other justification.
Chapter One, Word-Study Fallacies, Carson lists the following examples of exegetical errors or assumptions. Some of these I have made in the past:
  1. Root Fallacy - the etymology or the root of the word does not always determine the meaning of a word. An English example is the Latin root for "nice" is "nescius" which means "ignorant. "Servant" translates the Greek "hyperetas" which comes from "eresso" which meant "to row" in Homer's 700's BC. How many of us have used that to explain the meaning of "servant"? I did on the top of page 228 in my "Framework" book. Carson is not saying this does not give us insight but does say:
    I am simply saying that the meaning of a word cannot be reliably determined by etymology or that a root, once discovered, always projects a certain semantic load onto any word that incorporates that root.
  2. Semantic Anachronism - this occurs when a late use of a word is read back into earlier literature. The best example of this is the word "episkopos" or "bishop". The bishop of the New Testament is not the same as the bishop in 45o AD. Carson also uses the Greek word "dunamis" which means "power" and is the basis for our word "dynamite." But, the Greeks were not thinking of blowing things up when they said "dunamis."
  3. Semantic Obsolescence - this is when the word in the text is assigned a meaning that was used in the past but had ceased to be used when the text was written. Carson refers to an English dictionary of his entitled: Dictionary of Obsolete English. Homers Greek is no longer the Greek of the Septuagint or of the New Testament. I have Kittle's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 vol.) and Colin Brown's Dictionary of New Testament Theology (4 vol.) which provide the classical meaning of the Greek word. This is interesting, and at times useful, but Carson warns that these meanings of classical Greek are 700 years old when Paul uses the same words in the New Testament. The example he uses is the word "martus" which means "to give evidence" but developed into a word which meant "to give evidence of personal convictions and die for it". Thus, our word "martyr".
  4. Appeal to Unknown or Unlikely Meanings -
  5. Careless Appeal to Background Material -
  6. Verbal Parallelomania -
  7. Linkage of Language and Mentality -
  8. False Assumptions About Technical Meaning -
  9. Problems Surrounding Synonyms and Componential Analysis -
  10. Selective and Prejudicial Use of Evidence -
  11. Unwarranted Semantic Disjunctions and Restrictions -
  12. Unwarranted Restriction of the Semantic Field -
  13. Unwarranted Adoption of an Expanded Semantic Field -
  14. Problems Relating to the Semitic Background of the Greek New Testament -
  15. Unwarranted Neglect of Distinguishing Peculiarities of a Corpus -
  16. Unwarranted Linking of Sense and Reference -
I have to go teach class right now so I will fill in the details of my study of Carson's book later . .

Galyn Wiemers

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