Διακρίνεσθαι and a non-existant “semantic shift”

I read an excellent article in Novum Testamentum yesterday that argues that the novel sense of διακρίνομαι ‘to hesitate,’ or as BDAG puts it: “to be uncertain, be at odds w. oneself, doubt, waver”, doesn’t actually exist. The author, Peter Spitaler, puts forward the argument that such a meaning is wholly unknown to Greek patristic interpreters of the text and that there is no solid evidence of this meaning outside of the New Testament. Rather, Spitaler argues, the meaning to “to hesitate/doubt/waver” came via Latin translation from Greek, which then influence. The article is particularly noteworthy in its analaysis of the distinction between the semantics of the active διακρίνω and the middle διακρίνομαι.

It’s an solid piece of research—very much in the spirit of John Lee’s A History of New Testament Lexicography and worth the time to read–and you can because JSTOR let’s you read articles online for free.

Spitaler, Peter. “Διακρίνεσθαι 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. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25442534

Abstract

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.
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