Oxford vs. Oxford

Why yesterday’s poll on the meaning of “peruse”?

Well, a respected friend of mine recommended I write a post on the way people mistakenly use “peruse” when they should use “skim.”

Unfortunately, my good friend’s complaint smelled to me like Lexicographical Prescriptivism! “LP” is one of the great foes of this blog—because it is such an enemy of good Bible interpretation! So I looked into the matter.

Get out your LP detector, because here’s the New Oxford American Dictionary’s usage note on “peruse” (the NOAD comes standard on every Mac and Kindle):

The verb peruse means ‘read thoroughly and carefully.’ It is sometimes mistakenly taken to mean ‘read through quickly, glance over,’ as in: later documents will be perused rather than analyzed thoroughly, a sentence that technically makes no sense.

What business does a dictionary have telling us what a word should mean? Does that question shock you? Then you’ve fallen into Lexicographical Prescriptivism. Here’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s usage note, which (in agreement with Merriam-Webster) avoids LP by doing its job, namely polling English users:

Modern dictionaries and usage guides, perhaps influenced by the word’s earlier history in English, have sometimes claimed that the only ‘correct’ usage is in reference to reading closely or thoroughly…. However, peruse has been a broad synonym for read since the 16th cent., encompassing both careful and cursory reading; Johnson defined and used it as such. The implication of leisureliness, cursoriness, or haste is therefore not a recent development, although it is usually found in less formal contexts and is less frequent in earlier use (see quot. 1589 for an early example). The specific sense of browsing or skimming emerged relatively recently, generally in ironic or humorous inversion of the formal sense of thoroughness. Cf. SCAN v. for a similar development and range of senses.

I think yesterday’s poll demonstrates that among the (predominantly young?) readers of this blog, the once ironic use has become the standard use. An older generation may constitute a separate usage community (hence Dr. Bob Bell’s predilection for the older use?). But I think you’ll actually invite misunderstanding, even with many of them, if you try to use that older sense. Two contradictory but related senses are difficult to maintain except among pedants like me and you (if you’ve read this far!). The usage panel in my brain agrees with the poll: the “skim” sense is winning overwhelmingly.

The moral of the story is this: words mean whatever most people mean when they use them. If enough people mean something that is technically wrong, then that something is no longer wrong.

How Much Weight Do I Put on One Greek Word?

Bill Mounce, ESV translator, is right on target:

I have always taught that Greek grammar doesn’t necessarily answer all the questions definitively. Sometimes it does, but normally it gives us the legitimate range of possible interpretations, and then context and theology make the final determination.

Read Mounce’s whole post.

One of the most helpful things I learned from my doctoral courses at BJ Seminary—and I learned this especially from Dr. Randy Leedy of BibleWorks NT diagram fame—is that Koine Greek isn’t some unique Holy Ghost language with specialized word meanings and hyper-precise grammatical constructions. No, God chose a normal human language to communicate His truth. Putting a lot of theological weight on one word—whether a supposed technical term or just a preposition—is generally a violation of the way normal human language works. Like Mounce says, “context and theology make the final determination.”

For a good read on appropriating linguistics for theology, check out BJ grad Moisés Silva’s Biblical Words and Their Meaning. Here’s Silva quoting Barr on this topic.

Logos Deal for BJU Students Ends Thursday, February 5

The twice- or thrice-yearly BJU Logos Bible Software sale is on, but only for another week and a half.

I use and appreciate Logos Bible software. I recommend it as a close-to-essential (that is, close to BibleWorks) tool for seminary and ministry.

A McLuhanesque Caveat

As time passes, however, my concerns do grow about the message contained in the medium of electronic books. You don’t want to write a dissertation, for example, by reading all of your sources piecemeal the way electronic books subtly make it easy to do.

But your sermons and school papers would probably benefit from a heavier seasoning, even in small doses, of good books. And Logos will help you do that in this busy world.

This is what I encourage people to do: sit down with the whole list of Logos books, look up on Amazon (via Ubiquity) the actual value of the books you will actually use. (Do not include the books which are available free elsewhere or are not worth much.) Add up that value. If it’s greater than the cost of the package, get the package if you have the money. For me, that meant I bought the Gold package a few years ago. I haven’t regretted it.

Another note: some sharp people disagree with me on this, but I don’t think you’ll read Pilgrim’s Progress or any other lengthy book on your computer screen (though I’m hoping to change my mind by getting my Logos books on a Kindle). So focus on reference works, books made for quickly looking up relatively brief passages of information. Commentaries, dictionaries, even journal articles fit here.

One last tip: get with someone who knows books and the classes which are likely in your future and show him the list you’ve created of 1) books you’ll actually use 2) with their Amazon prices included. Get him to tell you where you’re wrong: books you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) use, and books you missed.

Ok, Now the Sale Info

It’s 30% off for students, 50% off for professors, and 25% off for staff/alumni.

All the major packages are available, plus a few other resources, some of which I requested for you:

  • Stuttgart Electronic Study Bible: 129.95
  • Word Biblical Commentary: 599.95
  • Anchor Bible Dictionary: 159.95
  • Theological Journal Library, vols. 1-10: 339.95

Compare libraries here.

For more information or to make a purchase, click here or call (800) 878-4191 6:00AM – 6:00PM Pacific Time.

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