Fallacies in Exegesis

1.    Exegesis:

2.    According to Carson (see references at the end), exegetical fallacies can be divided into 4 main types:
  • Word-study fallacies
  • Logical fallacies
  • Grammatical fallacies
  • Presuppositional fallacies
  • 3.    Outline:
  • 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.
  • << B.    WORD STUDY >>

    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.
  • 3.    Etymology
  • 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).
  • 4.    Procedures of a word study
    a.    Select the word and the target passage.
    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.
    5.    Example of a word study: KOINONIA << C.    WORD-STUDY FALLACIES >>

    1.    The root fallacy

  • 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:
  • Example:
  • Example:
  • 2.    Semantic anachronism (opposite to No.3) 3.    Semantic obsolescence (opposite to No.2) 4.    Appeal to unknown or unlikely meanings (contrast No.5) 5.    Careless appeal to background material (contrast No.4) 6.    False assumptions about technical meaning 7.    Selective and prejudicial use of evidence 8.    Unwarranted restriction of the semantic field (opposite No.9) 9.    Unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field (opposite No.8) 10. Unwarranted neglect of distinguishing individual usage << D.    LOGICAL FALLACIES >>

    1.    False disjunctions: an improper appeal to the law of excluded middle

  • 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.
  • 2.    Failure to recognize distinctions
  • The fallacy is the assumption that because two things are alike in certain aspects they are alike in all respects.
  • Example:
  • 3.    Appeal to selective evidence
  • The fallacy is the selective use of evidence so that other evidence has been illegitimately excluded.
  • Example:
  • 4.    Improperly handled syllogisms
  • The fallacy is the use of argument through improper syllogism (3-step deduction).
  • Example:
  • Syllogism:
  • 5.    World-view confusion
  • The fallacy occurs by thinking that one's own experience and interpretation of reality are the proper framework for interpreting the biblical text.
  • Example:
  • 6.    Fallacies of question-framing
  • The fallacy occurs when the questioner has imposed his or her understanding of the situation onto the person being questioned.
  • Example:
  • 7.    Unwarranted confusion of truth and precision
  • 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:
  • 8.    Unwarranted generalization and overspecification
  • 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:
  • 9.    Negative inferences
  • The fallacy is the assumption that if a proposition is true, a negative inference from that proposition is also true.
  • Example:
  • 10. Unwarranted associative jumps
  • 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:
  • 11. The non sequitur
  • The fallacy occurs when conclusions which "do not follow" from the evidence and arguments presented are derived.
  • Example:
  • 12.    Simplistic appeals to authority
  • 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

  • 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:
  • Aorist tense is also used in the following:
  • 2.    Fallacies of causation 3.    Arguments from silence << F.    FALLACIES FROM INACCURATE TRANSLATION >>

    1.    Incorrect translations due to inferior manuscripts

  • 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:
  • 2.    Incorrect translations due to wrong interpretations
  • The fallacy is the use of incorrect translations as a result of wrong interpretation of the original text by the translators.
  • Example:
  • Example:
  • 3.    Misleading translations
  • The fallacy is the use of translations that may likely lead to false interpretation.
  • Example:
  • Example:
  • Example:
  • Example:
  • 4.    Unclear translations
  • The fallacy is the use of translations that do not reveal the exact meaning of the verse.
  • Example:
  • Example:
  • << G.    CONCLUSION >>
  • 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.