Tuesday, March 31, 2015

From Nonce To Neologisms: Thinking About Word-Formation In The Pauline Corpus

TWH: Melinda Dooly defines nonce words as those that "are created 'spur of the moment' to accomplish a function" (Semantics and Pragmatics of English, 57). A neologism, on the other hand, is "a newly coined word or expression." Words, Dooly says, become neologisms once "a word becomes 'mainstream'" (Semantics and Pragmatics of English, 57).

Okay, now that we have some definitions out of the way, let's think about word-formation when it comes to the Pauline corpus. If you flip through a handful of commentaries, you'll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn't have the following phrase, or something similar, at least once somewhere between its covers: "This word/phrase was coined / was probably coined by Paul himself." Here's just a sample:

With regard to ὑπακοὴν πίστεως in Rom. 1:5 (see also Rom. 16:26), Michael J. Gorman writes:
"Interpreters of Paul have differed significantly on the translation and meaning of this phrase. Does it signify the obedience that comes from faith, the obedience that is inseparable from faith, faithful obedience, believing fidelity or allegiance, or something else? . . . I would submit, therefore, that ‘the obedience of faith’ is a soteriological term coined by Paul from his Christological convictions: life in Christ means fundamentally sharing in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ." (Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015], 270)
Don B. Garlington, commenting on the same words, calls it "a phrase coined by Paul in his dialogue with both Judaism and Jewish Christianity" (Don B. Garlington, 'The Obedience of Faith', Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 38 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991], 254). Delia DelRio calls it "a phrase coined by Paul" and says it "is unparalleled in ancient Jewish literature" (Delio DelRio, Paul and the Synagogue: Romans and the Isaiah Targum [Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2013], 117 n.24). Robert Jewett believed Paul came up with this expression as a way to unite Jews and Gentiles (Romans: A Commentary, Hermeneia [Fortress, 2006], 110-111).

When we talk about nonces and neologisms, we could be referring to words, phrases, clauses, and even whole ideas. Any of these can technically be "coined." Let's think individual lexemes first. There's the use of δοκιμή in Rom. 5:4, ἀποκαραδοκία in Rom. 8:19, ἀνακαίνωσις in Rom. 12:2, πειθός in 1 Cor. 2:4, ἀρσενοκοίτης in 1 Cor. 6:9 (1 Tim. 1:10), εὐπάρεδρον in 1 Cor. 7:35, εἰδωλόθυτον in 1 Cor. 8:1, κυριακός in 1 Cor. 11:20 (Rev. 1:10), ἀπαρχή in 1 Cor. 15:20, ἀνεκδιήγητος in 2 Cor. 9:15, ψευδαπόστολος in 2 Cor. 11:13, ψευδάδελφος in 2 Cor. 11:26,

Then we have some phrases and clauses. Consider τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες in Rom. 12:11 (cf. ζέων τῷ πνεύματι in Acts 18:25), συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου in 1 Cor. 1:20), τὸ μὴ ὑπὲρ ἃ γέγραπται in 1 Cor. 4:6, εἰς τὸν Μωϋσῆν ἐβαπτίσθησαν in 1 Cor. 10:2, γράμματος ἀλλὰ πνεύματος in 2 Cor. 3:6, τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης in 2 Cor. 3:14, πραΰτητος καὶ ἐπιεικείας τοῦ Χριστοῦ in 2 Cor. 10:1 (although, not necessarily original to Paul, but some propose that the expression is coined by Paul in Christian circles in reference to Christ).

We've only given a few of the words and expressions found in the Pauline corpus that are proposed coined words/expressions. In fact, we've only seen a handful of them from the Pauline corpus running from Romans through the Corinthian correspondence. Words get formed for different reasons. In semantic discussions, there are different grids by which people think through word-formation. The simplest of these is probably productivity versus creativity, although the parts of the dichotomy are not mutually exclusive (i.e., one could create a word out of both productivity and creativity). Words can be created ex nihilo, and they can also have new meanings introduced into existing words. An example of the latter is what we see happening in Back to the Future. Remember Marty using the word "heavy?" Doc asked him if something was wrong with the earth's gravitational pull in the future. A new meaning was introduced to the word "heavy" in the 1980s that simply didn't exist in the 1950s. "That's heavy." Ex nihilo words abound in Shakespeare. Melinda Dooly writes, "Did you know? Shakespeare invented nonce-words a lot! He created over 1,500 words during his writing trajectory. Some of them never went beyond the limits of his plays but others are still with us today. Examples: suspicious, critical, and hurry are all nonce words originally invented by Shakespeare” (Semantics and Pragmatics of English, 58).

Was Paul coining words left and right? What are the criteria for determining whether or not Paul was coining a word or expression? The primary criteria we have, and this goes for any word or expression (not just New Testament ones), is do we have a record of said word or expression in our literary records that predates the one we are investigating. Ascertaining the introduction of a neologism into a language's word bank is a little different in the 21st century. In one sense it is easier; people are leaving more detailed records and there is a database of information one can search to see when and where words and expressions are used. In another sense, though, it is more difficult; there is so much data to consider! Almost everyone participates in leaving a record. Two thousand years ago, everyone left a record, but most of it was a spoken record. Lots of that record washed away like handwriting on the seashore close to the waves. Fewer back then, in comparison to today, were leaving records that would extend far into the future.

I was reading an article from the turn of the 20th century in which a linguist was discussing the craziness surrounding word-formation given the advances with electricity. Changes in the world as we know it cause a riff in the linguistic realm. The way electricity moves was originally called an electric "river." But that didn't help people understand the concept and so eventually the word "current" took over. When things happen in our world, we have to be able to explain them. When things are discovered, the same. When new ideas are introduced, sometimes new lingo is needed. We've seen the same thing take place in the 20th and 21st centuries with the boom of the Internet. Trying going back in time and talking to Doc in the 1950s about "apps" and "smart phones."

Still, how does one go about determining whether or not coinage has actually taken place? Honestly, I'm not sure if we can ever be 100% sure that Paul coined any word. These words could have been in existence in Christian circles before he was saved on the road to Damascus. They could have been in use somewhere in the Koine world at any number of different times in the history of the Greek language prior to the Christian mission. Is it possible that anyone else ever used the word θεόπνευστος? –a word we find in 2 Tim. 3:16 that is extremely important to Christians everywhere. It's possible, I suppose, that any of the hapax we find in the Pauline corpus could have been nonce words any number of times in any number of different settings throughout the Greek-speaking world, just they never went from nonce to neologism. But, if Shakespeare, out of creativity more than anything else, invented so many words to liven his literary works, isn't it possible that Paul was rather involved in the creation of new words and expressions? After all, the world of Paul is one that experienced far more radical change than the world of the 21st century. The invention of the Internet is absolutely nothing compared to the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of God's Son, in whom everyone finds eternal life if they turn from their sin and place their confidence in him. Finding the right words at times must have been difficult (humanly speaking). The significance of what took place in the first century in Palestine and areas of the world where the Christian mission reached is unprecedented and will forever be so. Nothing is historically more important and more "history-making" than the coming of the Son of God. And we should expect new lexemes and expressions at such a time. That Paul was such an influential figure during the mission of the early church should lead us to think that he was also an innovator when it came to word-formation. And we have to remember that there is a spiritual element to all of this. Everything that is written down in the Scriptures has its ultimate origin in God.

Here are just a few criteria I think serve as a starting point when it comes to thinking about word-formation in the Pauline corpus:
1. Do we have any record of a lexeme in use that predates the life of Paul? This is first and foremost. 
2. Does Paul elaborate or build on the word/expression in the immediate context? If he does, this is evidence that the word/idea would have been new(er), at least to the receptors. Of course, this goes for nonce usages, not just nonce words (i.e., existing words having their semantic range expanded as they take on new/additional meanings). 
3. Do we have evidence that a word used by Paul did not move from nonce to neologism? In other words, we would expect if Paul used a word that it would grab hold and be repeated by others influenced by his teaching. If it doesn't, could that show us that it was not a common word, not even in spoken discourse. This doesn't necessarily help us solve the issue about all words that were possibly coined by Paul, but it could help us with some. One example might be ἀρσενοκοίτης (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10), since we don't really find repeat uses of the word until later in the patristics. But, still, it appears with this word that we have the union of two words found in the LXX reading of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13. Could another Greek-speaking Hebrew have ever joined ἄρσην and κοίτη together to form ἀρσενοκοίτης and went unrecorded (e.g., oral only) or record of it is now unknown? 
And thinking about the "why" of word-formation is really interesting. After all, if it was new, why did an author choose it?

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