Etymology of QEOS (WARNING!WARNING!large off-topic digressio

Jon Robertson jmrober at
Fri Oct 16 14:33:51 EDT 1998

Dear list,
Because it was my fault that Stephen Charnock's name was brought up 
on the list, I feel I cannot leave his image too "tarnished".  I will 
mention a word on his behalf (and say nothing else about him).  Also, 
I would like to mention a few thoughts of my own about etymological 
study (about which I was not asking in the original message, but seem 
to have elicited some thoughts).
 Just to defend Charnock a little (but not too much), one needs to 
remember 1) that he worked on this in the 1670's and 2) that the 
manuscripts were prepared by others for publication after his death. 
 The form QEISQAI could very well be a typo made by someone else with 
little or no knowledge of greek. Charnock really did know his way 
around classical as well as biblical greek, and so this is an error 
that it is hard to believe he would have committed.  Back to number 
1, we cannot be too quick to anachronistically judge the work of 
another era by our own standards, even when our standards are most 
likely true, as I believe them to be in this case.  I agree with the 
opinion of Dr. Conrad concerning the danger of etymological 
"meanings" and I can also agree that any "essential meaning" for the 
term QEOS cannot be derived from this pseudo-etymology (hence, I was 
only asking about the etymology, not the method for arriving at 
meaning).  However, I do not believe I can then imply that he was a 
"bad scholar."  He was working with the state of the science as it 
then existed, there was no other option, of course.  He, as was very 
common at the time, thought that one could often arrive at the 
"essential" idea of a word through etymology.  This, I think, is 
demonstrably wrong, but one can merely note the error, without 
necessarily casting aspersions on his scholarship, which has to be 
seen in its historical context.  I need to say that this argument 
(which Charnock mentions in passing) really does not reflect on his 
work and could be excised (it represents a line and a half out of 
over 1100 pages) without altering at all the rest.  So much for 
the apologia.
	On the interesting side issue of etymological studies 
in general for arriving at meaning for NT passages (and, mercifully, 
bringing this topic a little closer to appropriateness for the list), 
I too believe there is real danger, even, I think, when the 
etymological connections are more sure than that of Charnock's 
fancies.  Diachronic studies (which emphasize the meaning of a word 
"through time" i.e. its meaning at different periods of history) in 
particular are susceptible to distortion as can be seen easily in any 
commentary by Barclay (who had, by the way, much less excuse than 
Charnock).  It is all too common to hear, "the word Paul uses here, 
(fill in the blank), was used by Aristotle and means (fill in 
another)".  Easier to say that than to prove any real connection 
between the two. A good example of this in English is when someone 
chastises me for saying "gee" because it supposedly is somehow 
related to the name "Jesus".  Whether or not it ever was related, it 
certainly does not mean that for me when I say it.  This piece of 
"etymology" (surely spurious anyway) has nothing to do with my 
meaning.  In the same way, it must be shown that an historical usage 
of a term has something to do with the NT usage, or it is simply not 
to the point.   It seems to me that diachronic word studies are 
mainly helpful when we can demonstrate the process of change of 
meaning  of a certain word over time and then fit the NT use into the 
general scheme that we've been able to work out.  This requires more 
than a few quotes and also requires citations from before as well as 
after the NT use to really be of any help.  Also, in my opinion, the 
general diachronic scheme needs to include citations fairly close 
chronologically to the NT use to be of much certainty. This then 
would give us an idea of where the NT use fits in the "conceptual 
framework". Obviously, a term such as QEOS would be difficult to 
assess. These are simply factors that I think we all need to keep in 
mind as we delve into the murky waters of etymological studies.  
(And, PLEASE don't preach that DUNAMIS is where we get the word 
dynamite!!  I doubt that Paul or Jesus cared!)  While synchronic 
studies (which emphasize word meaning "with time" i.e. uses more or 
less contemporaneous) seem to me a little safer, I also think care 
should be taken, more in terms of geographical (rather than temporal) 
distance, especially in the Hellenistic world.  Well, there!  Maybe 
this will get us off the topic of southern english! ; )  So, what do 
y'all think? (Obviously plural in this case.)

Jon Robertson
jmrober at

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