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Robert  Hommel and "W W"

On Biblical Words that "Prove" the Son is a Created Being

 

This brief discussion took place between Robert Hommel and one of Jehovah's Witnesses whose initials are W W on Robert Bowman's Evangelicals and JWs discussion board in the fall of 2005.  

 

From: "W W"
Date: Wed Sep 7, 2005  3:59 am
Subject: Who is Jesus Christ? (From Sept 15, 2005 WT)

 

The first wave of posters have failed to demonstrate that it is not
unreasonable to accept that the fact that the Son is a created being.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/evangelicals_and_jws/message/19428

The point I would like to underscore is that this is a consistent
theology. All the terms "son" "firstborn" "only-begotten" "beginning"
and "origin" are accepted in their temporal sense, which is in the
primary senses of the terms. Otherwise, the arguments take the form of
1) PRWTOTOKOS does not mean firstborn
2) only-begotten does not mean a beginning of life
3) Son does not indicate a beginning of life (John 6:57 "I live
because of the Father")
4) "beginning" does not mean a start of a series but rather "ruler"
or "leader" or "origin"

 

From: "Robert Hommel" <[email protected]>
Date: Wed Sep 7, 2005  5:01 am
Subject: Re: Who is Jesus Christ? (First Wave of Responders)

 

Hi, W,

>All the terms "son" "firstborn" "only-begotten" "beginning"
>and "origin" are accepted in their temporal sense,
>which is in the primary senses of the terms.

Can you please provide proof:

1. That words (in general) have such a thing as a "primary sense."
Forgive me, but this sounds like the root fallacy to me.

2. That the "primary senses" of the words you mention are "temporal."
Why, for example, is the primary sense of "Son" temporal and not
ontological?

3. How one determines which sense (primary or secondary, assuming
there are such things) pertains in a given context.

Thanks,

Robert

 

From: "W W"
Date: Thu Sep 8, 2005  3:48 am
Subject: Re: Who is Jesus Christ? (First Wave of Responders)

 

Dear Robert,

One authority is Bernhard Comrie, who writes in "Aspect 1976, p.
111": "The intuition behind the notion markedness in linguistics is
that, where we have an opposition with two or more members (e.g.
perfective versus imperfective), it is often the case that one
member of the opposition is felt to be more usual, more normal, less
specific than the other (in markedness terminology, it is unmarked
where others are
marked."

Since Koine is a dead language, we need to create a meta-language to
describe it, and so we use words like "markedness" and "primary
sense." Thus, my reference to "primary sense" is an attempt to
communicate that words do have an "unmarked" sense as we search for
meaning. We get a glimpse of this "unmarked," "more usual" use of
words when we examine their "normal" use in the bible.
Thus "son" "firstborn" "only-begotten" "origin" and "beginning" as
normal language words applied to the sphere of the Son of God convey
the clear and "unmarked" idea of origin, a beginning of life, a
creative beginning. The burden of proof is on you when you attempt
to import later-century thinking into the text.

I dismiss the theory that words have no meaning without a context
and so I may never be able to satisfy your desire for "proof" if you
hold to that theory. I think it has some value but it has gone too
far to the point where theological baggage gets imported
as "meaning." [See the fine criticism of TDNT due to relying on
theology rather than philology for its lexical glosses by Barr, J.
(1975) "Semantics of Biblical Language", Oxford: Oxford University
Press.]

I subscribe to the lexical semantics realm of Psycholinguistics
and "the Mental Lexicon," where words and meanings of words are
stored in the mind and retrieved. This aligns better with real life
situations where a child sees a crow and the mother says "bird."
Later the child points to a woodpecker and the mother says "bird."
The child's mental lexicon stores a fuzzy concept of "bird" and this
has meaning. When it hears "bird" later out of context, it has an
idea what a bird is. The mother says "PRWTOTOKOS" and this is stored
in the mind as "first child." The mother says "ARCH" and it gets
stored in the mind as the start of a series. I recommend to you the
book by Jean Aitchison, "Words in the Mind, 2003, Blackwell" where
Aitchison decries the observation that words do not have meaning
without a context has gone too far.


> 2. That the "primary senses" of the words you mention are "temporal."
> Why, for example, is the primary sense of "Son" temporal and not
> ontological?

As above, the term "Son" when used of Jesus are clearly associated
with terms indicating a beginning of life, which is an attribute of
a son. For instance, John 1:14; 3:16; 1John 4:9 associates Son
with "only-begotten," a term indicating a beginning of life. Jesus
himself said "I live because of the Father," indicating the source
of his life. This indicates the "unmarked" sense of son in a
temporal sense is in view rather than only an ontological sense.

Firstborn at Luke 2:7 can only have the temporal meaning "first
child," showing that the primary sense of PRWTOTOKOS had not changed
into the NT period "And she gave birth to her son, the firstborn."
The language clearly echoes that of Proverbs 8:22,25, where "born"
GENNAW and "created" KTIZW are used synonymously.

That Rev. 3:14 so strongly indicates that ARCH means "beginning"
that Trinitarian Alford Barnes was moved to write: "The word
properly refers to the commencement of a thing, not its authorship,
and denotes properly primacy in time, and primacy in rank, but not
primacy in the sense of causing anything to exist. . . . The word is
not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that
one is the beginning of anything in the sense that he caused it to
have an existence."—Barnes' Notes on the New Testament, p. 1569.

A good comment on "only-begotten" is found at
http://watchtower.org/library/ti/article_05.htm. Scroll down to the
subheading of 'How the "Only-Begotten Son"?'

The real question, Robert, that puzzles me, is why YOU have a
different view!

> 3. How one determines which sense (primary or secondary, assuming
> there are such things) pertains in a given context.

As Comrie and Aitchison suggest, the "primary" sense of a word will
govern unless there are clear contextual markers to indicate that
another sense is required. Since there are no scriptural indications
of PRWTOTOKOS as "superior to", then this is special pleading to
invoke a "secondary" sense at Col 1:15.

Sincerely,
W W

 

 

From: "Robert Hommel" <[email protected]>
Date: Thu Sep 8, 2005  6:35 pm
Subject: Re: Who is Jesus Christ? (First Wave of Responders)

 

Hello, W,

I had requested proof of your assertion that words have a "primary
meaning." You replied:

[W]
One authority is Bernhard Comrie, who writes in "Aspect 1976, p.
111": "The intuition behind the notion markedness in linguistics is
that, where we have an opposition with two or more members (e.g.
perfective versus imperfective), it is often the case that one
member of the opposition is felt to be more usual, more normal, less
specific than the other (in markedness terminology, it is unmarked
where others are marked."

[Robert]
I don't see how this proves your claim. I have not read Comrie, so I
can't be certain, but from what I've read of "markedness" in general,
when he says "an opposition with two or more members," he seems to be
referring to two or more morphological forms of a word - not two or
more senses of the same form. Linguists use "markedness" in a
variety of ways, but it usually refers to situations where the "mark"
is a syntactic or morphological feature ("run" = unmarked; "runner" =
marked).

Some linguists use "unmarked" to mean the "common" meaning of a word,
but I don't think Comrie is doing so, here. Of course, even he is,
this does not establish anything more than the truism that some
denotations are more often used than others - certainly far from
proving a "primary" meaning.

[W]
Since Koine is a dead language, we need to create a meta-language to
describe it, and so we use words like "markedness" and "primary
sense."

[Robert]
I don't necessarily agree that we need to invent a meta-language to
describe dead languages, but if we do, we would need to be careful to
define that meta-language in such a way that we're all clear about
what it means. Otherwise we could just use that meta-language to
argue for our position without providing any real proof beyond our
own claims. In the next paragraph, you mix
together "unmarked," "primary," "more usual," and "normal." In other
words, you are now defining "primary" as "common," apparently on the
basis of a particular application of markedness theory. That's fine,
but it changes your argument (at least as I understand it) from
semantics to pragmatics, from lexical to statistical. It also means
we would have to agree that markedness theory establishes a "common
meaning" in the same way you are using the terms, which I don't think
it does.

[W]
Thus, my reference to "primary sense" is an attempt to
communicate that words do have an "unmarked" sense as we search for
meaning. We get a glimpse of this "unmarked," "more usual" use of
words when we examine their "normal" use in the bible.
Thus "son" "firstborn" "only-begotten" "origin" and "beginning" as
normal language words applied to the sphere of the Son of God convey
the clear and "unmarked" idea of origin, a beginning of life, a
creative beginning.

[Robert]
So you have said. I think the "normal" use is debatable. We don't
need to expand this debate beyond what is reasonable, but I would
suggest that "firstborn" in the NT "normally" signifies "primacy,"
and "only-begotten" "one and only" or "only child."

[W]
The burden of proof is on you when you attempt
to import later-century thinking into the text.

[Robert]
This is just poisoning the well, W. The issue is not importing
later thinking into the text (I could as easily accuse you of the
same thing). The issue is your claim that the words you listed
have "primary" meanings. Thus, the burden of proof is on your
shoulders, right where it belongs. You made the assertion, it is up
to you to prove it.

[W]
I dismiss the theory that words have no meaning without a context
and so I may never be able to satisfy your desire for "proof" if you
hold to that theory. I think it has some value but it has gone too
far to the point where theological baggage gets imported
as "meaning." [See the fine criticism of TDNT due to relying on
theology rather than philology for its lexical glosses by Barr, J.
(1975) "Semantics of Biblical Language", Oxford: Oxford University
Press.]

[Robert]
I agree that Barr's criticism of TDNT is much needed. But I'm
puzzled by why you bring him up in this context. Barr's overall
thesis is at odds with your dismissal of the idea that words have no
meaning apart from a context (actually, I would rephrase it
as, "words have only *potential* meanings apart from a context).
Further, I would say that your assertions regarding PRWTOTOKOS in Col
1:15 meaning *both* primacy and first-in-time represent a variation
of what Barr calls the "illegitimate totality transfer."

[W]
I subscribe to the lexical semantics realm of Psycholinguistics
and "the Mental Lexicon," where words and meanings of words are
stored in the mind and retrieved. <snip>

[Robert]
Then we have very different approaches to linguists, W. In any
event, you'll have to show me where proponents of "the Mental
Lexicon" argue that words have a "primary" (as opposed to a "common")
meaning.

I had asked specifically why the 'primary meaning' of Son was
temporal, not ontological. You replied:

[W]
As above, the term "Son" when used of Jesus are clearly associated
with terms indicating a beginning of life, which is an attribute of
a son. For instance, John 1:14; 3:16; 1John 4:9 associates Son
with "only-begotten," a term indicating a beginning of life. Jesus
himself said "I live because of the Father," indicating the source
of his life. This indicates the "unmarked" sense of son in a
temporal sense is in view rather than only an ontological sense.

[Robert]
I disagree that these examples prove an "unmarked" sense of 'Son.'
Indeed, they are each 'marked!' We can get into a discussion about
what each of these verses means if you have time, but I will just say
that other interpretations are possible (even probable). But the
real issue is can you establish that the "primary" or "unmarked"
sense of "son" is temporal *apart from contexts in which you believe
there to be temporal markers?*

[W]
Firstborn at Luke 2:7 can only have the temporal meaning "first
child," showing that the primary sense of PRWTOTOKOS had not changed
into the NT period "And she gave birth to her son, the firstborn."
The language clearly echoes that of Proverbs 8:22,25, where "born"
GENNAW and "created" KTIZW are used synonymously.

[Robert]
Luke 2:7 demonstrates that the semantic range of "firstborn" may
still include "first child," but how does it prove that this is the
*primary* sense? I do not follow your linkage of Proverbs 8:22, 25
here at all.

[W]
That Rev. 3:14 so strongly indicates that ARCH means "beginning"
that Trinitarian Alford Barnes was moved to write: "The word
properly refers to the commencement of a thing, not its authorship,
and denotes properly primacy in time, and primacy in rank, but not
primacy in the sense of causing anything to exist. . . . The word is
not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that
one is the beginning of anything in the sense that he caused it to
have an existence."—Barnes' Notes on the New Testament, p. 1569.

[Robert]
Other scholars have differing views, Wes. Shall I quote some?

[W]
The real question, Robert, that puzzles me, is why YOU have a
different view!

[Robert]
Honestly, W, if you (or anyone else) can show me proof that your
view is right, I'll have to follow it. Why would I want to believe
something that is not true? The issue is that while I have examined
the arguments non-Trinitarians have offered in some detail, usually
when I take the time to research them, I find them to be invalid in
some way. Your argument about words having a "primary meaning," for
example.

Also, in my daily devotions, I read the Bible, pray about it, ask God
for wisdom and illumination, and I meditate on what I study
throughout the day. I trust that God has revealed - and will
continue to reveal - His truth to me. More importantly, I trust in
Jesus - and Jesus alone - as my only Savior and Lord. Jesus is
everything to me, W. I would never do anything to dishonor His
Name. These issues are so very important. They have eternal
consequences.

I know that my arguments will not lead anyone to the true Jesus; all
I can do is honor and obey Him by following His commands. I am being
a witness here, bearing testimony of the Jesus I know and love. And
I pray for you, W, you and all the other JWs and Mormons and
Christadelphians I've ever dialogged with.

[W]
As Comrie and Aitchison suggest, the "primary" sense of a word will
govern unless there are clear contextual markers to indicate that
another sense is required. Since there are no scriptural indications
of PRWTOTOKOS as "superior to", then this is special pleading to
invoke a "secondary" sense at Col 1:15.

[Robert]
You'll have to show me where Comrie says this - it's not in the quote
you provided. And, as has been pointed out to you, there *is* a
clear contextual marker in Col 1:15ff. You are just refusing to see
it. I pray that it will not always be so.

[W]
P.S. I need you to post a definitive and authoritative authority
that Koine Greek indeed had a category called "qualitative nouns"
before replying to this post. After that I will be glad to examine
the specific examples with you from that authority.

[Robert]
W, you came on this board and made some bold assertions about count
nouns overturning Harner and words having "primary meanings." My
posts to you have been focused on getting you to prove your
assertions. When you have proven them, or you have conceded that you
really don't have definitive proof, we can move on, assuming you have
time. I will say that I've been down this path before - once on this
board with "Kevin." Would you like a link?

Take care,

Robert

From: "W W"
Date: Thu Sep 8, 2005  9:36 pm
Subject: Re: The Meaning of the meaning of words (Was Jesus Christ)

 

Robert,

As I mentioned in my previous post, I doubt if you will accept any
proof I offer to your satisfaction. I would like to continue this
discussion on lexical semantics but I am traveling on business and do
not have the necessary reference books with me. I used to live near
Denver Seminary but there is nothing like that near me at present.
However, I would very much like to continue our discussion within my
constrained timeframe. I wonder how we can do this? Let me suggest
the following....

I have indeed answered your question directly and I have provided
evidence of my position. You have not accepted the evidence I
provided and have countered with more questions, which is fine, but
they will require more time than I have available to deal with. I do
not believe that it is incumbent on me to continue to deal with each
question that you have because I can foresee that many of your
questions will lead into the realm of philosophy and the meaning of
meaning (I have not yet gotten to your misapplication of Bernard
Russell's predication of 'is' as you apply to Harner's erroneous
conclusion. Your explanation is misleading because it assumes what
you have not proven, that such predication works with the term 'god'
instead of the language of predicate adjectives, mass nouns and
qualities. This you have not demonstrated and so you assume that
which you are attempting to prove). I will not go there. It is
difficult to find agreement on what people "mean" when they ask what
is the meaning of the meaning of a word, especially with a dead
language. It is outside what I believe is necessary for us to
have "meaningful" dialog. That you have further questions is fine but
I will proceed on the basis that I have demonstrated the
reasonableness of my position. Of course, you will think that this is
not correct but then again, I think that your denying my evidence as
proof is not incumbent on me to entertain.

When we get bogged down in the discussion of the meaning of the
meaning of a word, which will lead to the meaning of meaning, then,
as a minister, I need to assess the argument and decide where I will
spend my valuable time. I make a conscious decision that I will not
spend it in that realm, although a study of a reasonable knowledge of
linguistics is fine. For you and I to take the time to study and
evaluate the merits and demerits of various branches of Semantics and
Philosophy before we can begin a discussion on John 1:1 will be so
time consuming that we will never even get to open a page of the
bible! So, Robert, I truly do believe that based on the history of
your posts and your strong convictions to Evangelical thinking that
whatever I state, however true, will be met with further questions
and argumentation. You are quite skilled at it and it is a good
attribute if used properly. However, I believe that in this thread
and in other threads I have observed it stands in the way of progress.

The purpose of words is to communicate thoughts. The meta-language of
semantics is an attempt to create a framework where we can
communicate - but not a required one if people try to understand
intent. When I refer to the lexical semantic field of
Psycholinguistics as a framework to suggest that words have an
inherent meaning, you state that we are indeed apart. We are. Your
further questions along this line demonstrate an inability to
communicate. For instance, I used the "mental lexicon" as a reference
point to demonstrate that there is a REASON why a "normal" use of a
word, even statistically speaking, renders strong clues about
the "primary sense" of said word. You demur. That is fine with me
since I had anticipated this anyway but it is not evidence that I
have not presented evidence supporting my position. I further used
the reference of Comrie to communicate the thought that there is a
way that a word is used "normally." While I agree with you about the
technical jargon of markedness, in an attempt to use words that
communicate thoughts in the framework of a meta-language that is
helpful to discuss dead languages - compounded with the fact that you
are using a different framework(!), I am correct to use the term to
convey meaning in the context of what we are talking about, the
meaning of words, even though you demur.

I do not see how we can get past this, Robert. That is why I think it
best to spend my time dialoging where we do not need to spend
valuable time in this area. Jesus simply used the scriptures in a
logical coherent way. People learned. The Father drew them (John
6:44,45). The words used were largely everyday words and not a
special "holy ghost" language of technical jargon - although there
are some technical terms. This is where I prefer to spend my time -
and now I am out of time.

Given all of the above, I am perfectly comfortable for the reasons I
have stated that "son" "firstborn" "beginning" "origin" and "only-
begotten", even in Greek, are indeed loaded with temporality even in
context. These are simple terms that people understand transferred to
the realm of God's son to demonstrate basic truths. That you have a
different thinking concerns me, but I simply cannot spend the time
delving into questions such as the meaning of meaning. It is not
incumbent on me to prove the above to you. I will spend the time to
demonstrate that the scriptures are consistent in rendering certain
words and phrases and lexical structures and that they reasonably
apply in a given situation. If you take a position where your
interpretation supercedes translation (as BeDuhn argued on this
forum), I will point out to you what you are doing and object to it
but in the end, what you are doing makes sense to you.

I believe that the true problem is that the normal usage of words and
phrases in the bible are contrary to the trinity and so the
argumentation gravitates to "what is the meaning of the meaning of a
word." I can only say at such a juncture is that I pray that the
readers will be astute to what is occurring.

I appreciate your concern about my welfare.

My reference to Proverbs 8:22,25 was in reference to Col 1:15.

I will cease to discuss the meaning of meaning from this point
forward given the timeframe I have, but will be glad to discuss
scripture.

Sincerely,
W W

 

 

From: "Robert Hommel" <[email protected]>
Date: Fri Sep 9, 2005  4:43 am
Subject: Re: The Meaning of the meaning of words (Was Jesus Christ)

 

W,

You wrote:

"I will cease to discuss the meaning of meaning from this point
forward given the timeframe I have, but will be glad to discuss
scripture."

I will, of course, abide by your wishes and time constraints. I am
disappointed that you characterize my questions and arguments as an
impediment to progress. In my view, you have made assertions
regarding the words in question and their "primary" meaning that
simply do not stand up to scrutiny. For example, you said you
quoted Comrie to substantiate words having a "normal" meaning.
Never mind the fact that this was *not* your original assertion,
Comrie did not appear to be even talking about words having a normal
meaning, but rather about morphological forms, like "run"
and "runner." Your reference the "mental lexicon" was vague.
Finally, all Comrie and the "mental lexicon" would prove (granting
they supported your view) was that some denotations are more common
that others. As I pointed out, this changes your argument from a
lexical semantic one to a matter of statistics, and disputed
statistics as that.

Had you provided better evidence, or recast your arguments, I
believe true progress could have been made. Progress, after all, is
a two-way street!

I will be glad to discuss Scripture, too. But when you make
assertions about Scripture based on purported linguistic facts (such
as "primary meanings" and "count nouns"), I will continue to ask for
proof of what you say.

In closing, I do appreciate the cordial way you have conducted your
side of the discussion. I'll return the compliment you gave me:
You're very good at what you do, too, Wes!

Best regards,

Robert

P.S. I don't think I used Russell to *prove* that predication is
occuring in John 1:1; I used Russell to demonstrate that Dr. BeDuhn
was confusing the "is of predication" with the "is of identity" when
he claimed that "the Word was divine" meant the same thing as "the
Word was a god."

 

This ended our interaction.  WW referred to Harner and Qualitative nouns, a topic we were discussing in another thread, which you can find here.  He also made reference in his last post to my dialog with Jason BeDuhn on John 1:1c and the NWT, which you can find here.