A student's view of grammar, exegesis, linguistics,...

Mike Sangrey mike at sojurn.lns.pa.us
Tue Aug 29 17:34:30 EDT 2000

clayton stirling bartholomew <c.s.bartholomew at worldnet.att.net> said:
> I think it is a mistake for students who are in their first few years
> of Greek study to get side tracked on this stuff. It can actually
> confuse the daylights out of them and it takes them away from reading
> texts which IMHO is what NT Greek students should spend most of their
> time doing. 

While I agree with the reading of texts, I disagree with the general
direction of this statement.  And, if I may say so, I'm an expert
here--being a little greek.  Though I'm less of an expert than I once was,
I have fits of genius which I expect to continue the rest of my life. 

<climb on soapbox>

First/Second year grammar should not set the student up for a fall.  Grammar,
outside of a linguistic context, provides me with the wings of Icarus.
Aorist is past time except when it's not.  The article is definite, except
when it's not, present is present time except when it's past...or future,
lexicons which cite usage instead of telling me what the word means
(which would be OK, except then I'm told I'm not allowed to form one
or few cohesive senses from the citations, except when I should), etc.
I for one would LOVE to have a grammar that places a relatively simple
grammatical structure, cleanly separate from exegetical considerations,
upon a linguistic foundation.  Upon this I could read, read, read with
some confidence that I'm not solidifying my deluded understanding.

I think--and perhaps I AM deluded, hopefully I'm only a little wrong--that
I'm finally getting to a point where the changes I need, and will need, to
make are not fundamental.  Although, speaking parenthetically, I suspect
someone, hopefully soon, will profoundly change the definition of 'voice'.
The explanations I've heard so far appear to me to seek to explain Greek
in terms of English.  For example, I've seen no explanation of why the
imperfective and stative aspects have only two voices and future and
aorist have three.  The explanation should be the second paragraph in
the voice chapter in a 1st year grammar.  It would immediately structure
the nature of voice for the student ("Trust me, it's passive...except
when it's middle").  Anyone out there want to risk spectacular error for
great fame?  Develop a testable model of the Greek voice that explains
why aorist and future have three voices while the others have two.

Admittedly, I think the pedagogical model is just now entering into a
transition toward a more linguistic base, so I am likely being strongly
impatient with the many fine teachers and grammarians.  But, I for
one, need it.  If my statements here help propel us along that trek,
then Hallelujah.

Rolf Furuli <furuli at online.no> said:
>  We can understand a Greek text without understanding the aspects, but
> we can hardly grasp the subtleties of the text without this knowledge.
> This is so because there are no "gnomic aorists", "ingressive
> aorists", "consummative aorists", "proleptic aorists" etc. But the
> combination of aspect, Aktionsart, lexicon, number and definiteness of
> subject/object,syntax, word order, linguistic convention etc creates
> situations which can be said to be "gnomic", "ingressive" etc.

Beautifully put!  To my mind, exegesis is the process of determining
the "combination of aspect, Aktionsart, lexicon,...etc."  It is very
confusing to a student, at least to me, to take bits and pieces of this
combination and splat them across the pages of a grammar book, calling
it grammar.  It forms a hugely complex taxonomy, and those who can not
only absorb such intricacy but deftly dance with it have my profoundest
respect.  This is what I was referring to above when I mentioned the
clean separation of exegesis from grammar.  And I take linguistics
as providing the contextual fabric upon which to quilt the grammar.
Without linguistics, the bits and pieces of grammar are but patches.

<fall off soapbox>

My intent above is to encourage, by expressing my desire, the many fine
teachers, grammarians, and researchers who are on this list toward a more
linguistically based Greek grammar model.  I sincerely think you are
moving in the right direction.  Keep up the good work and ignore my
impatience.  The tone of frustration above is done deliberatively and
on purpose, but please do not think it is to convey disrespect.  It
should not.

The best teachers communicate a painfully learned grasp of the obvious.

Mike Sangrey
mike at sojurn.lns.pa.us
Landisburg, Pa.
       Every Christian library should have a plaque which states:
              "There is one book which explains all these."

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