Technical Terms in the Bible – 1

I have been re-reading Biblical Words and Their Meaning (2nd ed) by Moises Silva. In the chapter on “Semantic Change in the New Testament” he notes how some words in Greek narrow the range of meanings and hence become technical terms. He writes,

Second, and much more frequently, we notice reduction in the meaning of words… Of the numerous examples to be found in the New Testament, we may note ευαγγελιον, ‘good news,’ specialized to ‘the good news,’ that is, the gospel. We must understand that once the semantic range of a term has been narrowed, we are less dependent on the context when we wish to grasp the meaning of the word. that is, the word becomes more precise: a more or less definite referent (what the word stands for) is automatically associated with the word itself. These are the terms that become technically charged at times, so that they serve as “shorthand” for considerable theological reflection. (p. 77)

Then he continues to examine Changes due to Semantic Conservatism, producing a list of technical terms (pp. 79ff.).

Because the nature of the study is so vast, I will focus on three very narrow aspects of technical terms:

  • identify some original language terms that became technical terms,
  • examine how these terms are translated (specifically into English)
  • determine, if possible, whether the translated terms also serve as technical terms in English.
  • The latter aspect is pertinent today because we have many translations that seem to avoid English technical terms in the Bible. Some translators question whether English should resort to technical terms at all. This raises another issue: if translators do not use English technical terms when the original language text does, then how well do the choices of other English words reflect the original language technical term?

    Obviously this is a major undertaking and will not be a “10 minute research.” For the sake of limiting the scope of this examination, I will concentrate on 6-7 words in the Hebrew and 6-7 words in the Greek.

    Here is my Hebrew list to examine

  • יומ יהוה Yom YHWH (Day of the LORD)
  • ברית Berith (covenant/testament)
  • חסד Hesed (lovingkindness, covenant love)
  • צדכך Zedek (righteousness)
  • םשפת Mishpat (justice)
  • תרה Torah (“law”, “principle”, etc.)
  • In the NT, I think the following merit examination

  • δικαιοσυνη dikaiosune (righteousness, justify)
  • χαρις charis (grace)
  • νομος nomos (law)
  • Silva further cautions,

    We should note that these theological examples usually involve, not a factual change in the referent, but a subjective change in the speaker’s understanding: for example, once a Greek speaker identified true wisdom with the Old Testament conception, his use of σωφια must have changed.

    So, this begins an interesting and, hopefully, a thought-provoking exercise. If anyone has suggestions for either Hebrew or Greek words that could be part of this, let me know.