The following is taken from The Study of the New Testament: A Comprehensive Introduction by Antonio Piñero and Jesús Peláez, published by Deo in 2003. David E. Orton and Paul Ellingworth provided the translation for that volume, here modified for the blog.
AP and TWH: A. J. Greimas' Sémantique structurale had a huge impact on semantic studies of the Bible in general but especially the New Testament. This book has served as an ideological and methodological basis for numerous studies of biblical semantics. Greimas prepared the way for devising a method of semantic analysis. There were other works worth pointing out. Of those that treat the study of the New Testament, we have to mention at the very least J. P. Louw's Semantics of New Testament Greek (Philadelphia 1982) and Moisés Silva's Biblical Words and Their Meanings: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics (Grand Rapids 1983). And anyone interested in some specific semantic studies should really check out the section on "Semantics" in the New Testament Philology Bulletin in Filología Neotestamentaria (1985–).
Greimas was steeped in the heritage of Saussure. He basically went from lexeme to what is called semes. These semes integrate a semic nucleus. The distinction between nuclear and contextual semes is a key step for Greimas in establishing a lexeme's fundamental meaning and its different senses or sememes. Unfortunately, limited examples of lexical analysis are provided and there is no set methodology outlined that would help others establish that semic nucleus of a lexeme. Now I know this sounds like a lot to wrap your head around. There's a lot of new vocabulary here, which is one of the major criticisms of modern linguistics in biblical studies. I understand. Let's try and break some of that down. A seme, according to this "school" of linguistics, is the smallest unit of meaning of a language. Lexemes (words) are made up of phonemes (letters). Sometimes a phoneme or group of phonemes form what is known as a morpheme. This can be the root, could be a suffix indicated person-number, could be a single letter indicating tense, etc. But a seme, as similar to morpheme as it sounds, is different. They can overlap, but don't have to. A seme is a meaning of a morpheme or group of morphemes (again, according to this group of linguistic thought). Needless to say, there's a debate going on about what the smallest unit of meaning is––seme or morpheme.
A world-renowned scholar named Juan Mateos took Greimas' theory and developed an actual method of semantic analysis for New Testament Greek. His methodology served as the basis for an ongoing and monstrous lexical project known as the Diccionario griego-español del Nuevo Testamento, or DGENT for short. That project is now headed by Jesús Peláez who oversees the Grupo de Análisis Semántico de Córdoba (Spain). As Mateos points out in his introduction to his book Método de análisis semántico aplicado al griego del Nuevo Testamento (Cordoba 1989), there are a number of gaps in Greimas' work that need to be filled in. One of those gaps is the absence of annotated examples of a methodology one could employ in an analysis aimed at describing the nuclear semes contained in a lexeme. Greimas left this undeveloped in his work. Of course, his aim was to find techniques of mechanical translation. So, we ought to point out that outlining a methodology was not really overlooked; it was just out of the scope of his investigation. So, Mateos saw the need and picked up where Greimas had paved a path.
Here is one quick and very important tangent: Mateo's book on semantic analysis, along with Peláez's Metodología del Diccionario griego-español del Nuevo Testamento, has been translated into English and is currently being published by De Gruyter. One volume, two books. The title in English is New Testament Lexicography: Method and Methodology of the Greek-Spanish New Testament Dictionary. It should be out before the end of summer (we think). Mateos' book is difficult for someone outside of the field of linguistics to understand, which is the chief criticism of linguistics across different disciplines. You witnessed it first hand two paragraphs up. The translation into English is supposed to smooth out the text and make it functional for a wider audience. And where the original lacked more robust explanations in places, we hear that the translators will amplify the discussion. It is interesting that Mateos’ work has gone somewhat unrecognized in the scholarly field, with the exception of those familiar with the DGENT. Having it in English is no doubt going to widen its influence and the greater scholarly world will be able to think critically about the approach and perhaps extend the methodology even further into study of the New Testament.
We'll pick up here in the next post.