Word-study fallacies Logical fallacies Grammatical fallacies Presuppositional fallacies
<< B. WORD STUDY >>
A word study will be illustrated. Carson's 4 fallacies will be studied with examples, with emphasis on the first two. A section will be added on the fallacies resulted from incorrect translation, particularly the Chinese Bible.
1. Definition: Word study is a detailed study of biblical words in their original biblical languages of Hebrew or Greek.
2. The importance of knowing the original word
Sometimes the same word in the receptor language (Chinese, English) may represent different words in the original language. Sometimes different words in the receptor language may represent the same word in the original language. Sometimes the word in the original language is not translated into English at all, but it is merely transliterated into English, e.g., evangelize, mystery, parable. Because transliteration is not possible for Chinese, errors in translation may occur. ["Allelouia" (Rev 19:1) had been transliterated from Hebrew to Greek and then to English, and then to Chinese sounds.] Fuller meaning of words may be appreciated through word studies.
4. Procedures of a word study
Etymology is the study of the history of words. It is the study of the original meaning and the development of words. Etymology may provide indications to the meaning of words but more importantly, usage determines the meaning of words. Etymology can be helpful (e.g., Gr. "pleonexia" is usually translated "greedy"; "pleon"=more, "exia"=to have) but can be harmful too (see C1). It must be remembered that word usage changes with time (see C2, C3) and the same word can be used in a variety of ways (see C8).
a. Select the word and the target passage.5. Example of a word study: KOINONIA
b. Find every place where this word is used.
c. Study and classify the usage.
d. Summarize the conclusion.
e. Apply the result to the target passage.
1. The root fallacy
2. Semantic anachronism (opposite to No.3)
The fallacy is the presupposition that every word has a meaning based on its root or its components. Example: "nice" comes from Latin "nescius" meaning "ignorant" "pineapple" does not mean "pine" + "apple"; similarly, the word "butterfly" Example:
- Gr. "apostolos" (apostle) from the verb "apostello" (I send)
- but NT does not centre on "the one who was sent" but rather the "special messenger" or "special representative" of the one who sent.
- Gr. "monogenes" (only begotten) from "monos" (only) and "gennao" (to beget) deriving the English translation "only begotten"
- but it can also derive from Gr. "genos" (kind or race)
- see Heb 11:17 "monogenes" referred to Isaac
- better translation is "one and only".
- Gr. "agapao" (to love) and "agape" (love) are often explained as the divine love or sacrificial love which is different from "phileo" (friendly love) (see Jn 21:15-17)
- but in fact there is substantial overlap between the two; "agapao" not restricted to biblical literature
- 2Ti 4:10 "agapao" applied to Demas; Jn 3:35 uses "agapao" but the same thought is expressed as "phileo" in Jn 5:20
1. False disjunctions: an improper appeal to the law of excluded middle
2. Failure to recognize distinctions
Like semantic disjunctions, the fallacy is a false either/or requirement when complementarity might be acceptable. Example: Hos 6:6 "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" is formally disjunctive. But it is in reality a shock device, not a real disjunction. It tries to make people think about the incompatibility of offering sacrifice on the one hand while mercilessly nurturing enmity, bitterness, and animosity on the other. The prophet is not proposing the abolition of sacrifices.
3. Appeal to selective evidence
The fallacy is the assumption that because two things are alike in certain aspects they are alike in all respects. Example:
- Gal 3:28 "In Christ there is no male and female"
- But male and female are not alike in every respect
4. Improperly handled syllogisms
The fallacy is the selective use of evidence so that other evidence has been illegitimately excluded. Example:
- 1Co 14:33-36 are used to argue that women should always keep silence in the church (disregarding 1Co 11:2-5).
5. World-view confusion
The fallacy is the use of argument through improper syllogism (3-step deduction). Example:
- The problem is where in Jn 3:11-21 the evangelist intends to end Jesus' words and begin his own.
- Connectives such as "gar" (for) connect their immediate context to the preceding context.
- John 3:16 opens with a "gar".
- Therefore John 3:16 is connected with the preceding context.
- But it cannot be shown that "gar" establishes a connection.
6. Fallacies of question-framing
The fallacy occurs by thinking that one's own experience and interpretation of reality are the proper framework for interpreting the biblical text. Example:
- Mt 10:38 take up our cross and follow the Lord Jesus
- Modern interpretation for the "cross": physical weakness, shortage of money, a personal defeat.
- Original meaning refers to a painful, humiliating physical death, not the "death to self".
7. Unwarranted confusion of truth and precision
The fallacy occurs when the questioner has imposed his or her understanding of the situation onto the person being questioned. Example:
- The question asked was whether 1Th 4:13-18 teaches or presupposes a pretribulation or a posttribulation rapture.
- Paul's concern in writing that paragraph is totally removed from such questions.
8. Unwarranted generalization and overspecification
Occasionally the Scripture's truthfulness is depreciated because of its demonstrable imprecision. But it is a fallacy to confuse these two categories, or to think there is any entailment from the second to the first. Example:
- The truth of the Bible was questioned when imprecision such as Lk 24:13 is found.
- This should not be done unless the text gives the unmistakable impression that a higher degree of precision is being supplied than is in fact the case.
9. Negative inferences
The fallacy occurs by thinking that a particular can be extended to a generalization just because it suits what we want the text to say, or in thinking that a text says more than it actually says. Example:
- Gal 5:3 was generalized into the principle that if someone was circumcised, he should obey the Pentateuchal law.
10. Unwarranted associative jumps
The fallacy is the assumption that if a proposition is true, a negative inference from that proposition is also true. Example:
- 2Co 13:5 "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test?"
- Calvin understands this to mean all true believers possess assurance of salvation.
- But it is incorrect to say that those who do not have such assurance are reprobates.
11. The non sequitur
The fallacy occurs when a word or phrase triggers off an associated idea, concept, or experience that bears no close relation to the text at hand, yet is used to interpret the text. Example:
- Php 4:13 "I can do everything through him who gives me strength".
- "Everything" cannot be completely unqualified (e.g., turn sand into gold). It is commonly interpreted that promises Christ's strength to believers in all that they have to do or in all that God sets before them to do.
- However, the context calls for the meaning of contented living in the midst of food or hunger, plenty or want (Php 4:10-12). Whatever his circumstances, Paul can cope, with contentment, through Christ who gives him strength.
12. Simplistic appeals to authority
The fallacy occurs when conclusions which "do not follow" from the evidence and arguments presented are derived. Example:
- 1Jn 4:8 "the man without love has known nothing of God"
- But it does not follow that the only way truly to know God is through a loving relationship.
<< E. GRAMMATICAL AND PRESUPPOSITIONAL FALLACIES >>
The fallacy lies in thinking that appeals to authority constitute reasons for interpreting texts a certain way. Doubtlessly we should be open to learning from all "authorities" in biblical and theological studies; but we should judge what they say, not on the basis of who said it, but on the basis of the wise reasons they advance.
1. The aorist tense in Greek
2. Fallacies of causation
The fallacy is the assumption that whenever the Greek aorist tense is used, it means the action was "once for all" or "completed". It is described as a "punctiliar tense" but simply refers to the action itself without specifying whether the action is unique, repeated, instantaneous, past, or accomplished. Example:
- 1Co 5:7 "for Christ our passover lamb was sacrificed" means that Christ's death is a completed, once-for-all event.
- But this cannot be extended to explain Ro 5:12 "all sinned", or Ro 12:1 "commitment", or Rev 3:19 "metanoeson".
Aorist tense is also used in the following:
- Php 2:12 "you have always obeyed"
- Mt 6:6 "go into your room"
- 1Jn 2:24 "what you have heard from the beginning"
1. Incorrect translations due to inferior manuscripts
2. Incorrect translations due to wrong interpretations
The fallacy is the use of English or Chinese translations which are based on inferior manuscripts. It is a well-known fact that the King James Version of 1611 used an inferior version of the Hebrew and Greek Bible which was available at that time. Since then, great improvements have been made, particularly from the Dead Sea Scrolls (OT) and the Westcott and Hort Critical Text (NT). Example:
- Isa 21:8 "Then he cried, 'A lion'." Since 'a lion' makes no sense in the text, it was sometimes translated as "he cried as a lion". But based on the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was "he who saw" or "the lookout" (NIV). The difference is just the interchange of two consonants in Hebrew.
3. Misleading translations
The fallacy is the use of incorrect translations as a result of wrong interpretation of the original text by the translators. Example:
- 2Co 3:6 "He has made us competent ministers of a new covenant--not of letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
- Because of the incorrect translation in the Chinese Bible (note the small words), "letter" is sometimes interpreted as the "literal interpretation of the Bible" and "Spirit" interpreted as "spiritual interpretation of the Bible".
- Correct interpretation: "letter" (Gr. "gramma") means Jewish scripture or letter of the law of Moses and refers to the tablets of stone on which the letter of the law was originally written. Verse 7 explains it (the old covenant) as the "ministry that brought death" because of the inability of man to obey.
- "Spirit" (Gr. "pneuma") means the Holy Spirit. Verse 3 refers to the writing of the law "with the Spirit of the living God...on tablets of human hearts".
- Paul actually repeated the same theme in Ro 7:6, "we serve in the new way of the Spirit (Gr. "pneumatos"), and not the old way of the written code (Gr. "grammatos")." The Chinese translation is again incorrect (not the small words).
- A few verses which point clearly to the deity of Jesus were incorrectly translated in the KJV and the Chinese Bible.
- Jn 1:18 "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only ("only begotten God" not "only begotten son"), who is at the Father's side, has made him known."
- Ro 9:5 "...of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." "Christ" is incorrectly separated from "God" in KJV (correct in Chinese Bible).
- Tit 2:13 "while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ." "God" is incorrectly separated from "Saviour" (see small words in Chinese Bible).
4. Unclear translations
The fallacy is the use of translations that may likely lead to false interpretation. Example:
- 1Pe 2:2 "...so that by it you may grow up in salvation." The Chinese Bible translates it as "approach salvation" which may lead to incorrect interpretation as "salvation by works".
- Actually, salvation includes justification in the past, progressive sanctification in the present, and bodily salvation in the future.
- Php 2:12 "work out your own salvation" is an antiquate expression meaning "express you salvation in spiritual growth and maturation"
- 1Co 7:14 "For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife...."
- The family is influenced by the godly life of the Christian partner so that is under the holy influence and in that sense is sanctified.
- "Sanctified" is not "saved", and may be interpreted as "blessed".
- 1Co 13:13 "fellowship (Gr. "koinonia") of the Holy Spirit". The modern Chinese term for "fellowship" was not used at the time of the Chinese translation and was incorrectly translated as "inspired by the Holy Spirit".
<< G. CONCLUSION >>
The fallacy is the use of translations that do not reveal the exact meaning of the verse. Example:
- 1Co 15:29 "Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?"
- Gr. hyper: in behalf of (Unclear in Chinese Bible)
- 3 possible meanings:
(a) Found among heretical sects (in 2nd century): living believers were being baptized for believers who died before they were baptized so that they too would not miss out on baptism. (most likely explanation)
(b) Baptized for the sake of the dead: belief as a result of their witness or their death
(c) Baptism of the dead: as the true meaning of baptism is association with death, Paul only reminded them the symbolism of baptism
- Using third person "they", Paul employed it only as an argument for resurrection, without either associating himself with or approving the practice.
- Php 2:2 "make my joy complete" not "fulfil my joy"
It is true that the translation we use may not be the best one possible. Nevertheless, it is still generally reliable and is sufficient for our (and other's) salvation and essential needs. It is true that we may sometimes wrongly interpret the Bible verses. Yet, it is also true that the Holy Spirit will guide everyone who desires to seek the way of God. A few words of advice:
1. Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2. Cross reference with different translations.
3. Study the original biblical words.
4. Avoid being dogmatic in interpretation.
5. Avoid condemning mistakes of others as we may one day fall into similar mistakes.
D.A. Carson (1984): Exegetical fallacies. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker.
William Barclay (1975): New Testament Words. Philadelphia: Westminster.
NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.