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Exegetical Fallacies Paperback – March 1, 1996
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About the Author
D. A. Carson (PhD, University of Cambridge) is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and is the author or editor of more than fifty books, including The God Who Is There and How Long, O Lord? He is one of the founders of The Gospel Coalition and an active guest lecturer in academic and church settings around the world.
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He begins with one of the most common types of fallacies: word studies, wherein people use a powerful tool to make assumptions beyond the reach of the intrinsic meaning of the given word, those committing it often students with limited experience with the biblical languages making assumptions beyond their expertise. He then moves onto the more complex yet less frequently committed fallacies of grammar and construction. He spends another generous section pointing out the infamous logical fallacies of biblical exegesis. He concludes by briefly yet expertly analyzing historical, hermeneutical, and presuppositional fallacies that can affect interpretation.
The work calls out fallacies that many laymen and scholars alike have been guilty of. However, at certain points it is not so simple-- Carson takes controversial stances and dubs fallacious interpretations that a number of scholars would defend. Taking such a position causes small amounts of controversy, and thus said examples should be evaluated. In spite of those specific examples, the work is worth reading, offering a perspective that all can learn from.
These errors are often discussed without context, so that Carson is not sensitive to what his errorsome colleagues might be trying to do in a larger sense. Ironically, he emphasizes the dangers of removing both substantive and linguistic context from our readings - students who memorize individual Bible verses, or preachers who jump from one bookmark to another are two noteworthy examples of this error. Alas, his orrery of errors tends in this direction as well.
This book is written for preachers and Bible study leaders. It assumes that you know at least some Greek. As Carson points out, preachers and Bible study leaders often know just enough Greek, but not enough to really understand the language. They rely heavily on dictionaries and concordances instead of having a sense of style and the language as a whole. That's about where I am in my Greek, so I appreciated all the warnings!
Under Word-Study Fallacies I have identified my three favorites:
1. Root fallacy -- the meaning of a word is NOT necessarily bound up in its structure.
Consider English "understand" which has nothing to do with "under" or "standing". This fallacy leads to word-studies where one uses the etymology of the word to determine its meaning. Consider Greek [dynamis] which means power/authority. It does not mean "dynamite", a destructive instrument. How many times have you heard a paster wax on about John 1:12 use of power as the "dynamite of God".
2. Fallacy of Semantic Anachronism -- reading the modern meaning back into its ancient usage
(2 Timothy 2:15) "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Here "study" does not mean to crack the books, as it does today. In Elizabethan English it means to "make haste, be diligent". Reading the modern usage into this KJV translation is an example of this fallacy. We also confirm this by looking at the Greek source ['spoudason] which means "make haste, be diligent." Other examples: martyr, conversation, precede, suffer, ..., these have different primary meanings today which should not be read back into the ancient (17th century) usage.
7. Fallacy of Linking Language with Mentality -- the assumption that language so constrains the thinking processes that people are forced into certain patterns of thought.
You've probably heard this expressed as follows "God chose the 1st AD to reveal Jesus so that the NT could be expressed in Greek which is the most precise language." However, language is in the deep structure of the brain and as humans we have been gifted by God with language(s), all of which can express the same concepts, even if it means borrowing/learning new vocabulary.
EF is a small text, but not necessarily an easy one. Even if one only manages to tackle the word-study fallacies, he has covered the most common faults in reasoning he is likely to encounter.
However, I highly recommend this book to help anyone who desires to "rightly divide the word of truth."