Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rolling Discussion: What About Syntactical Fallacies?

Don Carson provided the world with a long discussion on lexical fallacies in the first chapter of his book Exegetical Fallacies. But what about syntactical fallacies (some of which he covers in the second chapter)? Which are the more common abuses that involve New Testament Greek? By the way, if you haven't read Carson's book, it's definitely a must read (click here for the Amazon link).

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  1. Well, I see little comment so far. I've just linked this from the Energion Discussion Network to try to get a few more people to join this.

    I'll start with the "great fallacy" regarding syntax which is simply that Greek doesn't really have that much syntax. As stupid as that sounds, I have heard people say that because word order is a less pronounced aspect of syntax. English speaking people who learn Greek can get the idea that word placement doesn't matter. Of course, word order isn't all there is to syntax, and word order is not without significance in Greek.

    Where this enters into interpretation (other than a general carelessness about word order) is when someone in turn overemphasizes the positioning of a word in a sentence when translating. I've heard sermons preached based on the position of a word, one that was no doubt emphasized, but somewhat less than the preacher assumed, perhaps more like bold or italics in modern printed texts.

    I think that getting the right emphasis and flow of the argument an author is making is one of the more difficult tasks of a translator. Highlighting a key point without interrupting the discourse is not so easy.

    1. In the past year I can think of one example where a professor of New Testament Greek was talking about the prayer Jesus taught the disciples in Matt. 6:9–13 and in Luke 11:2–4. He was making the point that when he taught the prayer in a local church that people could miss the parallelism there was between "hallowed be your name" and "your kingdom come." So, he made a point to tell the group he was teaching that "a better rendering of this to help [them] understand how this was originally constructed" is "hallowed be your name, coming is your kingdom." I don't think an exegetical fallacy is committed by doing this, but possibly a teaching fallacy. I think it might waste time on a point that doesn't necessarily impact the meaning (and, therefore, the teaching) of the passage. People get sidetracked on word-order in many different ways.

      I think there is a fallacy associated with word order in Greek--more than one in fact. It shows up when people automatically assign emphasis based on when something is pre- or post-positioned in order. I'm not entirely convinced that out-of-order positioning automatically means emphasis. There are other explanations (e.g., rhetoric, author preference, happenstance).

    2. I tend to agree that this is overemphasized, but it should not be entirely neglected. Context, including author style, would be key, I would think. I need to find some examples for this discussion if I have time.

    3. Here are a few examples from the volume on Romans in the EGGNT. I'm not saying these are or are not emphatic, but I thought it was easy enough to just go and grab a few examples from his commentary on Romans to illustrate when this point shows up in a commentary. What do you think about these?

      1. In his discussion on Rom. 1:9, John D. Harvey writes, "Paul uses the adverb ἀδιαλείπτως ('constantly, unceasingly') to describe prayer three other times (1 Thess 1:2; 2:13; 5:17). Placing μνείαν (acc. sg. fem. of μνεία, –ας, ἡ, 'mention, remembrance') before the verb gives it emphasis" (20).

      2. On the position of φανερόν in Rom. 1:19, Harvey writes, "Bringing φανερόν ('readily evident') forward adds emphasis" (36).

      3. On the order γονεῦσιν ἀπειθεῖς in Rom. 1:30, Harvey writes, "Since the dative noun usually follows the adjective in this construction, placing γονεῦσιν first adds emphasis" (48).

      I might point out as well that I've seen a number of people carry the "emphasis" into their teaching by telling people about the word order and tacking on that it is the way it is for emphasis. If word order is emphatic, in my opinion, it ought to impact us in what and how we teach a passage, but it shouldn't result in a grammar class with a group of believers. Telling someone only that it is emphatic is useless. Explaining why the emphasis is there is where a teacher needs to spend his or her time.

  2. Hello! Can you give us an example? In case of numbering people whitch would be the most important? The first or the one in the middle? The case for Peter naming Jesus, Moses and Eliah. Bezae codex has tons of word order variations!. Greetings from Spain

  3. The big syntactical fallacy that I can think of is the "abused" aorist. Almost every single person I know has heard someone commit this fallacy. The aorist and "once-for-all" action is to syntactical analysis what ἐκκλησία (= "called out of" ones) is to lexical analysis. Frank Stagg wrote this in the introduction to his article "the abused aorist":

    "To the grammarian it may seem like beating a dead horse to protest that the aorist does not necessarily reflect the nature of the action or event it covers. But the horse is not dead; he is very much alive and cavorting rather freely in exegetical and theological pastures. The fallacy of 'theology in the aorist tense' stubbornly persists, even in the writings of distinguished scholars."

    It's unbelievable that this horse still isn't dead. The reason is it continues to be taught--and people generally do what they've seen done--and because this is one of those shiny looking gems that teachers can flaunt to unsuspecting audiences, but one they could never show to an actual bonafide jeweler.

    1. What are the main verses that you've heard the aorist abused?

      By the way, if you haven't read Stagg's "The Abused Aorist" you can do so here:

    2. My guess is they are almost always Christocentric passages.