Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Yes, There is a Corpus Fallacy, and It is Committed Frequently

Imagine if someone took a three-page high school history paper of yours and claimed, "Your entire vocabulary is contained in that paper." Out of the millions of words in your written and oral discourse over the course of your lifetime, your entire terminology is limited to that high school paper.

That sort of application happens with many interpreters of the Bible. Have you read statements such as: "Matthew tends to have X vocabulary, therefore his theology is Y." Or, worse, "Paul does not use the term X in Y sense, therefore he was not aware of another commonly used sense." Or "Matthew uses X in Y sense, but Mark does not, therefore, Mark is not aware or would use its sense." You get the picture.

I have heard this type of reasoning for many years. And no linguistic Bible scholar (actually trained in linguistics) would ever use such a naive argument, at least these days.  (Incidentally, liberals are notorious with the corpus fallacy because it allows them to play with so-called "stylistics" of an author concluding often with pseudonymous authors; i.e. "2 Peter's vocab is very different than 1 Peter, therefore..."

The corpus fallacy is related to one of the most common lexical fallacies, the word-concept fallacy, which James Barr obliterated in his pioneering linguistic work in 1961 The Semantics of Biblical Language (a work that every seminarian should be required to read before they graduate).

Back to the corpus fallacy.

I want to briefly respond to Steve's comments in the previous post, "Is There a Corpus Fallacy?"

i) No doubt we're not stuck with Pauline usage or even NT usage when it comes to Koine Greek lexicography. I have no problem with casting a wider net." However, I think it's a question of concentric priorities. It's best to start with a writer's own usage. Especially in theology, not to mention a deep, original thinker like Paul, the usage may be specialized. His theological idiolect.

I agree, but I am addressing the claim (or the implication) by some who reject that Paul intends a literal sense of naos (temple) in 2 Thess 2:4, and some who think that Paul never would had used (or even been aware!) of the sense of a literal temple with the term naos. To claim that Paul uses the term in a spiritual sense in other contexts therefore it must mean this in 2 Thess 2:4 is ridiculous and sloppy linguistics (not saying this is Steve's position, but others make this deduction). I demonstrated that absurdity in my program in the link in the blog post.

In addition, yes, we should start with the target context, but I have seen not a few times from historicists to begin outside of Thessalonians and then import a spiritual meaning to naos in 2 Thess 2:4.

And at the end of the day it comes down to context of 2 Thess 2:4, which I have given many reasons in my program to convey a literal sense of a temple. Beale strains the text when his point is grasping at some connection between the apostasy and the temple representing the "covenant community." The exegetical connection is not there.

Now, in some cases, the occurrences of a word in Scripture are so few that we have no choice but to look elsewhere. And in some cases–especially in Hebrew–it may be a hapax legomenon, which forces us to ransack cognate languages. However, that's not an ideal procedure."

Again, the issue here is not so much whether he uses the term a few or many instances. For the sake of the argument let's say Paul uses naos 100 times (let alone five times!, excluding 2 Th. 2:4) in his letters in a spiritual sense because the contexts requires this. It would be incorrect to claim that therefore he would not be able to draw from a literal sense of naos in the 101 instance, just as any Greek-speaking Jew in the first century would have had in his or her semantic range of this term.
iii) Sure, Paul likely used that word in speech and writing more often than our sampling of his extant correspondence. But as Jacob Neusner is wont to say, what you can't show you don't know.

Neusner's statement is a misapplication to our linguistic point. There is no doubt that Paul would had referred to the temple and its sanctuary in Greek in his lifetime using naos. We are not talking about a rare word, but one of the most common Greek words for the Jewish temple cult. The linguistic skepticism is not warranted, and would reduce us to only make linguistic observations on single authors! and not on the body of Greek language. Further, as I mentioned in the program naos in a literal sense is found in Paul's sermon in Acts 17, albeit in Luke's summary.

And, of course, how he used it on other occasions would depend on the context of his speaking or writing on those undocumented occasions–which we can't assess.

We have an abundance of documentation in the NT and outside of it. We cannot assume that Greek semantic ranges of words are dependent upon not only a single author, but on a very small sampling of that author. The NT has frequent instances of naos in a literal sense. Paul certainly was aware of this sense and easily could draw from it—which bring us back to the contextual question of 2 Thess 2:4.

The point is that is so subjective and limited for interpreters to be making statements such as "Luke has this vocabulary" and "Paul has this vocabulary." Nevermind the different contexts and genres and purposes of writing. Luke,  Paul's, and most other Greek-speaking Jews would had easily possessed basically the same vocabulary, especially containing a common term such as naos.

iv) I haven't taken the position that Paul must be using naos figuratively in 2 Thes 2 because he uses it figuratively elsewhere. Rather, given the fact that he uses it figuratively elsewhere, it's valid to consider that when we come to 2 Thes 2. Of course, in cases where a word has multiple meanings or connotations, context selects for or narrows the range of operative meanings or connotations.

If there were another instance in his letters where he clearly talks about a temple in a spiritual-church sense associated with the Antichrist figure that is a different matter. But he does not. This is why the context of 2 Thess 2:4 is so important.

v) I, for one, never suggested that Paul is unaware of a more common or most common meaning.

That's fine, but I have read and heard over the years historicists claim or imply that since Paul uses naos spiritually elsewhere therefore Paul must be using it in this way in 2 Thess 2:3.
vi) Appealing to Paul's wider, undocumented usage cuts both ways. For by that logic, Paul might well have occasion to use naos in a figurative sense more often than the few documented examples in the extant Pauline corpus.
Paul certainly would had used naos in a figurative sense in his writings and oral discourse outside of the NT. But not sure how that fact is relevant to the point that he as a Greek-speaking Jew would had used naos frequently to refer to the Jerusalem temple.

vii) If we consider the totality of Greek usage, including undocumented usage–since most Greeks were pagans, it would most commonly denote a pagan shrine. But that would favor Green's identification.

That is irrelevant since the context is Paul a Greek-speaking religious Jew. Further, even within the NT documents naos is used in a literal sense frequently. 

In terms of Paul's undocumented usage, what are the situations in which he most likely had occasion to use that word? Well, when debating Jews or indoctrinating Jewish converts to Christianity, I assume it would most often denote the Second Temple/Herodian Temple. But in that case your appeal would favor preterism.

First, I would argue there are two documented cases: 2 Thess 2:4 as the context indicates and in Luke's account of his sermon in Acts 17.

Second, the situations would had been many.  To name one would be in Greek-speaking synagogues as he passed down the Jesus tradition, see BDAG for some of these other instances. Any Greek-speaking situation where Paul is talking about the temple naos would had been a common go-to term.  

I'll end with saying that I gave about seven reasons why the context in 2 Thess 2:4 indicates a literal temple, not a spiritual temple. These are arguments that historicists need to contend with.

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