What’s in a word?

1 01 2010

In reading about a debate on “Patronage” vs “Benefaction” it occurred to me that lots of people are ignorant of a really important discussions about the nature of words. So here is the first of a few extracts from Chapter 3 of Anthony Thiselton’s  “New Horizons in Hermeneutics”. Hope this is helpful in stimulating your thinking…

All texts presuppose code. The text of a medical prescription, for example, has been encoded by a medical practitioner in accordance with the conventions of the profession, and invites a pharmacist to de-code it for action in light of these shared conventions. A music score has been encoded by a composer, and waits to be decoded by an orchestra or singers in a musical event. In these exampels, however the code is not the items of information which constitute the “message.” The codes is the sign –system, lattice, or network, in terms of which the linguistic choices which convey the message are expressed. The musical code which enables the composer to specify the production of a particular note for a particular length of time is not the note itself (which would be the message); but the stave or staff of five parallel horizontal lines (together with the clef and the specified areas where possible choices about key signature and time would be supplied) which constitute the structure in terms of which given notes can be chosen and properties specified. Complex texts may presuppose several different layers of code. For example, the Apocalypse of John at one level presupposes the range of possible lexical and grammatical choices available in Hellenistic Greek… But it also operates on the basis of a system of conventions used by earlier apocalyptic. Some allusions to earlier texts such as Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel are not merely reminders about earlier traditions… Language in the Apocalypse of John about “one hundred and forty-four thousand” (Rev. 7.4) presupposes a code which is different from that which generates meaning in the case of mathematical propositions. In the case of mathematics, the network of choices operates in terms f a contrast which opposes or excludes “one hundred and forty-four thousand and one” or “one hundred and forty-three thousand and ninety nine.” But the text of Revelation presupposes contrastive networds which signal differences between completeness and incompleteness with reference to a history of traditions about “twelve” which have become familiar enough to represent a convention among certain communities. Where horses’ heads seem to become merged with heads of lions (Rev. 9.10) the code which is presupposed is not that of empirical visual observations and description. The “measuring” of the temple (Rev. 11.1-2) may perhaps involve several layers….

Posted by Bruce Lowe



2 responses

21 01 2010
Marin Dacos

Do you know the author of the illustration?

21 01 2010
Bruce Lowe

yes this is actually straight out of the first few pages of Thiselton’s book New Horizons in Hermeneutics, Chap 3. Thanks for your interest.

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