Is over-interpretation a product of grammar based instruction?

I don’t know if it is, but I suspect that it might be. (You’d need a fairly wide-ranging study to establish it)

This past week I’ve been marking some exegetical papers by new second-year Greek students, and as they struggle to turn their grammar-heavy first year knowledge and nascent syntactical analysis into meaningful comments, one of the things that struck me is how repeatedly students would draw theological or other significant conclusions from grammatical features. Very often without warrant.

Partly it might just be the pressure to say intelligent things about grammar that contribute to meaning and fill up one’s word count. But my suspicion is that, having been taught to analyse the grammar of a single language for a single, highly important (for theological reasons) corpus, they are awash in a sea of significant ‘signs’, and so everything has meaning! But not just regular meaning, deep theological truths are concealed in the choice of tense-form, aspect, vocabulary, etc..

I think I am of a different school of thought – grammatical minimalism. I certainly do think that grammar is a very useful way to analyse a text, and it’s a helpful set of meta-jargon for discussing linguistic choices. And some grammatical choices do encode ‘significant’ meaning. But on the whole I’m reluctant to press these points. Restraint and caution are the order of the day. What does the text say? What does it mean? Let’s allow the firmness of our conclusions to rest on the strength of their evidences, and not build castles in the air.

For, in the end, this fanciful grammaticalisation of meaning is the historico-grammatical equivalent of unbounded Allegorism. And equally irresponsible.

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