NovT, διακρίνομαι, and ‘Doubts About Doubt’

Vol. 49, no. 1 (2007) and Vol. 48, no. 4 (2006) of Novum Testamentum have just been released online (full text available to institutions/individuals with a subscription). 49.1 contains an article by Peter Spitaler on a subject near and dear to students of the Epistle of James:

Διακρíνεσθαι in Mt. 21:21, Mk. 11:23, Acts 10:20, Rom. 4:20, 14:23, Jas. 1:6, and Jude 22 — the ‘Semantic Shift’ That Went Unnoticed by Patristic Authors,” Novum Testamentum 49.1 (2007): 1–39.

This article investigates how patristic and medieval writers interpret New Testament passages with the middle/passive διακρίνω. Contemporary NT scholars posit a difference between NT and classical/Hellenistic Greek meanings and usually justify their choice by means of a semantic shift. In the texts analyzed for this article, there is little evidence that Greek patristic and medieval authors acknowledge a meaning of διακρίνομαι that deviates from the Koine meaning. If, indeed, a semantic shift took place, they show no awareness of that movement. The transformation of meaning first occurs in translations from Greek to Latin.

Spitaler has previously published on the meaning of διακρίνομαι in Biblica:

Doubt or Dispute (Jude 9 and 22-23). Rereading a Special New Testament Meaning through the Lense of Internal Evidence,” Biblica 87 (2006): 201–222.

The middle/passive verb διακρίνομαι occurs twice in Jude’s letter. It is usually rendered with the classical / Hellenistic meaning “dispute” in v. 9, and the special NT meaning “doubt” in v. 22. Beginning with a brief discussion of the methodological problems inherent in the special NT meaning approach to διακρίνομαι, this article offers an interpretation of vv. 9 and 22 based on the letter’s internal evidence. The content of Jude’s letter permits διακρίνομαι to be consistently translated with its classical / Hellenistic meaning, “dispute” or “contest”.

See also:

David De Graaf, “Some Doubts About Doubt: The New Testament Use of Διακρίνω,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48 (2005): 733–755. (Check here for availability.) An abstract is not available, but here are the opening and closing words of the article:

The verb διακρίνω appears nineteen times in the Greek NT. In most translations, nine of these instances (Matt 21:21; Mark 11:23; Acts 10:20; 11:12; Rom 4:20; 14:23; jas 1:6; Jude 22) are rendered with words that express uncertainty, such as “doubt,” “hesitate,” or “waver.” The argument set forth in this article is that “uncertainty” is not the meaning that the biblical authors intended to convey in these nine cases, and that they should instead be rendered with words that express divided loyalty or disunity. (p. 733)

. . . In instances where διακρίνω is explicitly contrasted with a member of the πίστ- word group, the latter should be taken to have a sense that is more readily translated with the terms “loyalty” or “faithfulness” than with “faith.” (p. 755)

Time does not permit me to interact with these articles on the blog. Suffice it to say, if you are interested in what James has to say about doubt contrasted with faith, then these articles are worth reading. They challenge the “special NT meaning of” διακρίνω — “doubt.” Instead, πίστ* and διακρίνω often have much more to do with one’s loyalties and character rather than with one’s mental assent to an unprovable concept.