Grammatical analysis and Biblical exegesis

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Grammatical analysis and Biblical exegesis

Post by cwconrad » June 27th, 2011, 10:51 am

Today's "Monday with Mounce" feature on the Koinonia (Zondervan) blog is a repost of an old one: ... ost-1.html This one discusses Romans 1:5 and the phrase εἰς ὑπακόην πίστεως there. What I want to call attention to here is not Mounce's resolution of the questions raised by the Greek text of this verse but rather what he has to say about what an understanding of Greek grammar can and cannot do to clarify the meaning of the Greek text. Here's what he says:
Does Greek help us make a decision?

Well, only partially. Wouldn’t it be great if a knowledge of Greek made all the answers clear to us? It would make all the hours of learning the language seem more worthwhile. But as you will hear me say over and over again in this blog, grammar usually shows us the possible meanings, but it is context that determines which of the options is right for any particular passage.

True, by showing us the options, Greek grammar thereby limits possible meanings. There will be some possible meanings in English that simply lie outside the scope of what Greek allows. So in that sense grammar helps us interpret a passage. But for the most part grammar simply shows us the available options.
and later:
Language is almost never precise; it is almost always approximate, and we must be careful at not assuming too great a degree of precision.
Those who are not total novices to the study of Biblical Greek will not be upset by these assertions about what knowing Biblical Greek can and cannot do to elucidate the meaning of a Biblical Greek text. The only additional comments that I would add: our experience on B-Greek over the years has shown that there's plenty of room for argument, both regarding the legitimate options for understanding a construction and regarding what contextual factors should weigh most heavily in interpretation.
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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