This is my second posting of a summary of common exegetical mistakes from the book Exegetical Fallacies by DA CArson. I bought this book when it first came out but never read it! I found this summary on Exegetical Tools. Here are the first of five common exegetical fallacies . . .We hope since our last post you’ve been avoiding the five word study fallacies we explained.
Now we want to give you five more to avoid. Make sure to avoid these mistakes in your preaching, teaching, research, and individual study.
For more detailed reading, buy Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies, which this series is summarizing.
- Verbal Parallelomania
- Definition: “The listing of verbal parallels in some body of literature as if those bare phenomena demonstrate conceptual links or even dependency.” See the classic article from Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962): 1-13 (online here). Since Sandmel’s article, scholars have been more judicious in their attempt to find dependency when there is only similarity, but this fallacy does still occur.
- Example: Bultmann and Dodd’s studies in John 1:1-18 aimed at finding parallels in other literature, however, they only overlapped in 7% of their studies which suggests that any significant weight on either findings is dubious at best.
- Linkage of Language and Mentality
- Definition: “The assumption that any language so constrains the thinking processes of the people who use it that they are forced into certain patterns of thought and shielded from others.”
- Example: “The Hebrew thought in pictures, and consequently his nouns are concrete and vivid. There are no such thing as neuter gender, for the Semite everything is alive” (45). But if something were considered dead simply because it were neuter in gender, τό παιδίον could not be a living being for any Greek thinker, which is absurd.
- False Assumptions about Technical Meaning
- Definition: Fallacy in which the “interpreter falsely assumes that a word always or nearly always has a certain technical meaning — a meaning usually derived either from a subset of the evidence or from the interpreter’s personal systematic theology.”
- Example: The Greek word apokalupto, meaning “to reveal,” can be fallaciously interpreted as always applying to special revelation which was previously unknown. However, such an interpretation of the meaning of this word creates difficulty in interpreting passages such as Phil. 3:15b, where “make clear” is a better translation ofapokalupto.
- Example: ἡγιασμενοις (1 Cor 1:2) refers to a completed action that happened at the moment of conversion for the Corinthian church. Therefore it is fallacious to assume the word “sanctification” always carries the technical sense from systematic theology of “progressive sanctification.”
- Problems Surrounding Synonyms and Componential Analysis
- Definition: Fallacy involving the misinterpretation of two similar but not wholly synonymous words wherein two different words may be mistaken to mean two different things when, in fact, they are meant to be synonymous or, conversely, wherein two different words are mistakenly taken to have synonymous meanings when, in fact, they have different meanings in context.
- Example: In John 21:15-17, the words ἀγαπάω and φιλέω both generally meaning “to love,” are both used. Ιt is fallacious to view these words as having separated meanings simply because they are different words. Context here seems to show that the words are used as synonyms in this context, just as the words “lamb/sheep” and “feed/shepherd” are used in parallel in this same passage and are synonymous. In other contexts, however, the same two words may have separate meanings since their semantic range, while overlapping significantly, is not identical.
- Selective and Prejudicial Use of Evidence
- Definition: Appealing to only that evidence which supports the point a particular commentator would like to make.
- Example: Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Groome makes the claim that the NT is far less concerned with doctrine and more concerned with obedience. He cites 1 John 2:3-5, 3:6 as his evidence for such a claim. However, he overlooks the scores of biblical witnesses, even in John, where he refers to the importance of the content of belief (John 4:50, 5:47, 11:26, 13:19, 17:21)
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