Saturday, October 1, 2016

Thinking About Word Studies

Someone over at the Cripplegate blog is doing a series on modesty. I always tune in to check out the Cripplegate. You should too. It's always a great blog to check out and get the wheels turning. The author of this particular series recently offered some thoughts on the meaning of καταστολή in 1 Tim. 2:9. It starts out this way:
"[S]ome folks tend to milk the word 'apparel' (Katastole in Greek) into a full on teaching on 'biblical skirt lengths,' so let’s address that quickly: The term katastole is a 'hapax legomena'. That's the technical description for a word that only appears once in the Scripture. Words that appear once are hard to define since there's no way to look at other usage of the words. Also, Paul had a habit of creating terms to suit his needs when he was writing."
He goes on to talk about the danger of going wild with word studies. You can read the whole post here. Let me toss out just a few comments.

Technically it is a hapax legomenon, not a hapax legomena. The former is singular, the latter is plural. And we should also point out that a hapax legomenon does not automatically refer to the New Testament or "Scripture." A "New Testament hapax legomenon" is how we would refer to a word that only occurs once in the New Testament. A hapax legomenon in general would refer to the totality of extant Greek literature.

Just because the word appears only once in the New Testament does not mean that there is nowhere else we can look to see uses of the word. There is other literature beyond the New Testament that an analysis of this lexeme should at least consider (e.g., in this case, the Septuagint [Isa. 61:3], Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch). The point, "[w]ords that appear once are hard to define since there's no way to look at other usage of the words," is simply not correct in this case. There is a way . . . it just means we need to consider a corpus larger than the New Testament. But even then it doesn't mean it'll be easy per se. Lexical analysis is always easier when we have more than one use by the same author and definitely easier when we can contrast that author's use of the word with a use by another New Testament author.

Just because a word is used only once in the New Testament does not necessarily mean that Paul coined the term. (I should point out that the author of the aforementioned post didn't say that it did.) My comment is simply a reminder that we should always be careful when discussing the coinage of words. Was Paul coining words left and right? I'm not that convinced that he was. Some words for sure, but not as many as the commentaries would have us believe. And καταστολή is at least found in literature beyond the New Testament, making it less likely that Paul actually coined it. I've written a little about this issue over at AtA. You can see my post "From Nonce To Neologisms: Thinking About Word-Formation In The Pauline Corpus" by clicking here.

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