Διακρίνεσθαι and a non-existant “semantic shift”

I read an excellent article in Novum Testamentum yesterday that argues that the novel sense of διακρίνομαι ‘to hesitate,’ or as BDAG puts it: “to be uncertain, be at odds w. oneself, doubt, waver”, doesn’t actually exist. The author, Peter Spitaler, puts forward the argument that such a meaning is wholly unknown to Greek patristic interpreters of the text and that there is no solid evidence of this meaning outside of the New Testament. Rather, Spitaler argues, the meaning to “to hesitate/doubt/waver” came via Latin translation from Greek, which then influence. The article is particularly noteworthy in its analaysis of the distinction between the semantics of the active διακρίνω and the middle διακρίνομαι.

It’s an excellent article–very much in the spirit of John Lee’s A History of New Testament Lexicography and worth the time to read–and you can because JSTOR let’s you read articles online for free.

Spitaler, Peter. “Διακρίνεσθαι in Mt. 21:21, Mk. 11:23, Acts 10:20, Rom. 4:20, 14:23, Jas. 1:6, and Jude 22-the “semantic Shift” That Went Unnoticed by Patristic Authors”. Novum Testamentum 49.1 (2007): 1–39. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25442534

Abstract

This article investigates how patristic and medieval writers interpret New Testament passages with the middle/passive διακρίνω. Contemporary NT scholars posit a difference between NT and classical/Hellenistic Greek meanings and usually justify their choice by means of a semantic shift. In the texts analyzed for this article, there is little evidence that Greek patristic and medieval authors acknowledge a meaning of διακρίνομαι that deviates from the Koine meaning. If, indeed, a semantic shift took place, they show no awareness of that movement. The transformation of meaning first occurs in translations from Greek to Latin.

4 thoughts on “Διακρίνεσθαι and a non-existant “semantic shift”

    1. Thanks! Just finished it. Looks like Schliesser is building on Spitaler’s work and taking it toward exegesis and theological implication. Less my cup of tea, but still a very good read. It’s a great summary of the lexical data, too.

  1. I loved Lee’s book. I’m not nearly as deeply involved in that world as you are, Mike, but I wanted to know something: Lee talked about a project for a new Greek-English lexicon, I believe. But I’ve never heard anything else about it. Do you know if anything came of it? Or am I mixed up?

    1. It’s a bit of a mystery, Mark. It started as simply an update to Moulton & Milligan to provide supplementary papyri information for standard lexicons. They (Lee & Horlsey) eventually decided that a fully documentary lexicon was necessary and they did started working on that. Several entries were written up with commentary as articles in Filología Neotestamentaria, but information about the actual status of the project has basically stopped.

      Con Campbell might know–he’s friends with John Lee.

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