The English-only fallacy occurs when you base your word study on the English word rather than the underlying Greek or Hebrew word and, as a result draw unreliable or misleading conclusions.
Is a butterfly actually a fly that has lost control and crash-landed into a tub of butter? Is a pineapple a certain kind of apple that grows only on pine trees...It is true that a word’s individual parts may accurately portray its meaning, but only if the context supports such a meaning.
This fallacy occurs when we latch onto a late word meaning (usually a meaning popular in our own time) and read it back into the Bible, or when we insist that an early word meaning still holds when in fact it has since become obsolete.
Most words can mean several different things. The overload fallacy is the idea that a word will include all of those senses every time it is used. For example, the English word “spring” can refer to a season, a metal coil, an act of jumping, or a source of water. You would be overloading “spring” (pun intended…perhaps) to assume that in every passage in which it occurs, the word carries not just one, but all of those senses.
We make this mistake when we insist that a word must have the same meaning every time it occurs. For example, if we are confident that a word carries a certain meaning in seven of its eight occurrences in Scripture, we might be tempted to conclude that it must have that same meaning in its eighth occurrence.
We fall prey to the word-concept fallacy when we assume that once we have studied one word, we have studied an entire concept. If, for example, you want to discover what the New Testament says about the church, you should certainly study the word translated “church” (ekklēsia). Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that once you have studied ekklēsia, you will know all that the New Testament teaches about church.
When we cite just the evidence that supports our favored interpretation or when we dismiss evidence that seems to argue against our view, we commit the selective-evidence fallacy.
Duvall, J. Scott, and J. Daniel Hays. “Word Studies.” In Grasping God's Word: A Hands on Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 129–31. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
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Award-winning web directory of internet resources on the New Testament. Browse or search annotated links on everything connected with the academic study of the New Testament and Christian Origins. This major upgrade of the site improves navigation and introduces lots of new features. For all the latest information on the site, please visit the NT Gateway blog.
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