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Wallace on Context

For the past few years, I (like many, many others) have been cautioning my family and friends about “word studies” and their supposed benefit to the student of God’s word. Wallace explains the issues quite aptly:

“Language, by its nature, is compressed, cryptic, symbolic. We can see this on many levels. Words in isolation mean next to nothing -–simply because they are capable of so many meanings. Given no context, it would be impossible to define, for example, ‘bank,’ or ‘fine,’ or trust.’ In the NT, ἀφίημι can have a variety of meanings such as ‘forgive,’ ‘abandon,’ divorce,’ ‘leave,’ ‘permit,’ etc. Without a context, we are at a loss to decide.”

Furthermore, he explains why, contrary to popular opinion, original language studies will not give you all the answers:

“Much in language that is easily misunderstood is outside the scope of syntax, even broadly defined. Although a decent grasp on syntax is a sine qua non for sound exegesis, it is not a panacea for all of one’s exegetical woes. Only rarely does the grammar hand the exegete his or her interpretation on a silver platter. In most cases, the better we understand the syntax of the NT, the shorter is our list of viable interpretive options.”

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. 1996.P 8-10