[B-Greek] How we understand Greek usage (was "Re: FOBOS in Eph 5:6")

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Mon Apr 5 11:05:01 EDT 2010

I think several have found the thread on FOBOS in Ephesians 5:6 to be of interest, perhaps not solely in terms of the Greek usage but also in terms of our understanding of the emotion and stance of the believer indicated or implied in the choice of words in the text under discussion. I have personally found the thread interesting especially in what it indicates about the way we approach a question such as that raised originally by Elizabeth about FOBOS or FOBOS KAI TROMOS as an emotional stance associataed with a slave's subservience to a master hWS TWi CRISTWi. What are the assumptions and methodologies that we bring with us to an endeavor to understand the usage here? I'm not sure that others will find these reflections of interest, but for what it's worth, I found them to be so. I did not myself participate in the thread except in the silly banter over "fear of fear." Where able, I have tried in the summary below to cite succinct statements or paraphrase what I thought was implied in the messages.

 Factors entering into our endeavor to understand  a Biblical Greek usage in context

1.  FOBOS implies a strong feeling, but how strong? Does English “fear” adequately convey or even suggest the range of feelings that a subordinate should, according to Paul, feel with respect to another or other persons of authority? Commentators on the relevant Pauline texts seem to be reflecting their own culture on this question.
2. Perhaps a minimal sense for FOBOS might be “respect” or “reverence” and for TROMOS a minimal sense might be “nervousness or hesitancy.” But how can we be confident that these words of Paul SHOULD be understood in this “minimal” sense?
3. This is one of those instances (they aren’t that infrequent, are they?) where we feel inclined to question the judgment of BDAG and other lexica. That is not to say that we would want to be without those lexica, but we are often enough aware that they do not really resolve all our questions about the meaning of a word.
4. I think we can agree that an attempt to assess the precise sense of a Greek word on the basis of how any English word may represent it in one or more contexts is just simply wrong-headed. “ The semantic range must be established within the source language,” as Iver notes.
5. Even after one has reached a satisfactory resolution of the question of the meaning of the original word, carrying its meaning over into a target language is an altogether different matter. “There are many reasons for a particular translation choice, whether linguistic, cultural or theological, “ writes Iver, “but ... the concept of fear and its interplay with respect and obedience varies a lot with different cultures.”
6. The Zeitgeist he/she/it is a changing. Notes Elizabeth: “Several generations ago there would have been no problem in talking about terror as the human response to the holiness of God. C.S. Lewis had on problem with it. Now days it is out style. Lexical semantics in NT studies is sometimes a reflection of contemporary culture.”
7. The question under consideration deserves some reflection and questioning of assumptions. Says Elizabeth, “Would "reverential respect" generate a physical response (Eph. 6:5 META FOBOU KAI TROMOU ... hWS TWi CRISTWi). It seems to me that physical shaking is not generally associated with reverence. Is Paul indulging in hyperbole?”

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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