Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Brief Response to Rick Brown’s “Brief Analysis of Filial and Paternal Terms in the Bible.”

Rick Brown of the Wycliffe Bible Translators has published an article in which he maintains that the Greek word υἱος denotes a “social son” rather than a biological son in the New Testament. His purpose is to provide some exegetical basis for the “Muslim Idiom” policy of his organization, in which translators have been encouraged to avoid using ordinary words meaning “son” in receptor languages wherever Jesus is called the υἱος of God in the New Testament. (See the collection of articles on “Muslim Idiom” policy on my site for more information on this controversial practice).

But the article is unconvincing, because it relies on word-study fallacies and misleading statements about the meaning of Greek words. Here I will interact with only one of his statements. Brown writes:

When the Greek Bible talks of people being “sons of God” it uses huios, the broad word for son, not gennêma “offspring.” Jesus is described as God’s huios “son.” (p. 123)

This statement is misleading because it implies that the New Testament writers would have used γεννημα instead of υἱος if they had wanted to use a word that denoted a biological son, as distinguished from a “social son.” But here are the linguistic facts:

1. In the Greek Bible, υἱος ordinarily refers to a biological son, and a biological son is ordinarily called a υἱος.

2. The singular noun γεννημα, on the other hand, is never used to refer to sons in the NT, and it is used for human beings only by a metaphor in which groups of people are likened to the “offspring of vipers” (Mt 3:7, Mt 12:34, Mt 23:33, Lk 3:7).

3. In the Septuagint we find only the plural of γεννημα, which occurs only twice, both times with reference to human offspring, but in an apparently derogatory sense (Judges 1:10 and Sirach 10:18).

4. In the post-apostolic period we find the plural of γεννημα used once in Didache 13:3, with reference to the “fruits” of plants and the “offspring” of animals. (πᾶσαν οὖν ἀπαρχὴν γεννημάτων ληνοῦ καὶ ἅλωνος, βοῶν τε καὶ προβάτων λαβὼν δώσεις τὴν ἀπαρχὴν τοῖς προφήταις· αὐτοὶ γάρ εἰσιν οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς ὑμῶν. “Hence take all the first fruits of vintage and harvest, and of cattle and sheep, and give these first fruits to the prophets. For they are your high priests.”)

From these facts it seems clear that γεννημα was a rather general and abstract word which was used of the offspring of animals but rarely used of human beings. The absence of any occurrences of the singular form in our literature is notable. It resembles our English word “offspring” in meaning and in usage. It was rarely used of human sons, and the only attestation for such a use is when more than one is being referred to. We conclude that Jesus is not called a γεννημα of God in the Bible simply because it was not idiomatic. Because the word γεννημα is never used to refer to a son in the Bible.

There are a number of other problems in this article, which lead me to conclude that Brown is not a competent interpreter. But I will not spend more time interacting with it now. Against the general thrust of it, see Friedrich Büchsel’s discussion of “Generation by the Deity” under γενναω in TDNT 1, pp. 668-675.

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