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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Reading too much into biblical love

I hope all you spouses and lovers (it is possible to be both!) remembered that yesterday was Valentine's Day. To help celebrate the day, Brandon of Novum Testamentum blogged on different Greek words for love. Brandon argues that much of what is often said about differences in meaning among the Greek words is not supported by the lexical facts of Greek. This reminds me of the position I have been moving toward for a number of years, that many of the claims made by theologians and preachers based on fairly esoteric phenomena in the biblical texts are questionable. Too often, I think, we overlay our own analytical background upon the biblical text rather than letting that text say everything, but no more than, it already says. Too often we try to find fine theological or semantic distinctions within the text which probably were not intended by the original authors. If we find ourselves wondering if a hypothesis we are developing about the text is more complicated than the author might have intended, there is a good chance that it is. This is not to suggest that the biblical authors wrote simplistically. There was sophistication in some of the writings of the biblical authors, just as there is in some of our writings. But we shouldn't try to find more in the text than was originally there. Just because we may be able to think of 8 or 10 different semantic categories for the Greek dative doesn't mean that for any particular dative we must choose one of those categories. Sometimes things are less complicated than we make them.

Thank you, Brandon, for reminding us of these points in your post on Greek words for love. And thank you, especially, for not letting us off the hook with just a cognitive analysis of biblical love. Brandon applies biblical teaching on love in a way that we need to listen, just as we always need to listen to what the biblical text could be saying to us, and not simply approaching it academically, as important as that is to get as close as possible to the real meaning of the text.


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