By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Historical Sense of Words

That sense is obviously very important in biblical interpretation, as noted by Oxford professor John Barton in his fine book The Nature of Biblical Criticism (WJK, 2007). He gives this amusing illustration from the novels of Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) to make his point concerning the importance of the historical sense of words:

Words are not constant in their meaning across time. To take a simple example, in the novels of Trollope we often find a female character saying that a male friend "made love to her the whole evening." It is crucial in understanding Trollope to realize that in his day this expression meant showing a romantic or sexual interest in someone, not having sexual intercourse with them. Otherwise we shall get a very distorted idea of what happened in Victorian drawing rooms.

Barton, p. 80.

What happened over time to the phrase "making love''? It seems to have been reduced to the merely physical; and there lies a tale of great woe, as we all know to some degree or another.