OriginalChristianity.Net

Not Traditional, Original

Grammar and Logic – Boring But Invaluable

Oh it would be but so very wonderful and great if the books of the Bible had been written recently in my language by someone in my family. I would understand it much more easily. I would understand all of the colloquialisms, the grammar, the jokes, and all the other nuances of language that affect the meaning of things written.

I am adding a section called Grammar and Logic because, alas, the above is not true. In fact, it is very complicated. The writings that tell us about ancient Christianity were written thousands of years ago in a distant part of the world in dialects that are no longer spoken. What that means to the Bible student, the student of ancient writings in general, is that the current rules of grammar do not apply, rather the rules of grammar that apply are the ones that were in effect when the writings were written. For example in modern English the order of the words is very important. The position of a noun in the sentence tells you whether it is the subject, object, or perhaps indirect object. But, in Koine Greek,the order of the words is irrelevant. It is a mistake to think that the first noun in a sentence written in Koine Greek is the subject. The case, tense, gender, and other grammar information are communicated via the word endings.

One of the interesting elements of any language are figures of speech. For example, if I were to say to you, Fred had a real dilemma, he was looking for a needle in a haystack, would you think that Fred is really looking for a needle in a big stack of hay? No, of course not, you would know that the dilemma that Fred was facing was extremely difficult. That’s what the colloquialism, “needle in a haystack” means. That is just one example of a figure of speech, and there are many figures of speech.

It is also a mistake to think that you can just apply common sense to everything in the Bible. First of all, I’m not exactly sure what “common sense” is! Often, when people say is common sense is nothing more than their opinion based on their very limited experience, or the current attitudes in a person’s culture. We saw that big-time with slavery. It was perfectly logical, it was just common sense that people of color were less than human, less capable, less intelligent, and less everything then the race of the people in power. With such a powerful prevailing attitude in white society, then arguments could reasonably be found to substantiate that viewpoint with certain references from the science of the times and even the Bible.

Another mistake is to substitute the logic of one discipline for another. An area where I have seen this kind of mistake is in the fields of mathematics and languages. For example, some people read the word “is” and ascribe to that word the mathematical definition of “equals”. In mathematics, as most people know, the transitive principle says that if A =B and B =C, then A =C. If C =7, then A = 7. However, language is rarely as precise as mathematics. Let’s apply this same transitive principle to language. Jesus is the rock. A rock is a “mass of hard consolidated mineral matter”. Therefore, Jesus is a “mass of hard consolidated mineral matter”. I think you can see the point. That conclusion doesn’t make sense. Using the transitive principle of mathematics wherever you see the word “is” is a slippery slope.

On the other hand, not everything in the bible is complicated. “Jesus wept” is not complicated unless you start adding meaning beyond what the words say. Look at these verses, which, if you just read the words and don’t reand more into the words, are fairly easy to understand:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (Matthew 3:1)

And the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of His disciples eating loaves with unclean hands, that is with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they immerse their hands with the fist, holding the tradition of the elders. And coming from the market, they do not eat without immersing, and there are many other things which they have received to hold, the dippings of cups and pots, and of copper vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat loaves with unwashed hands? (Mark 7:1-5)

There are many sections in ancient writings that are easy to understand as long as you read what is written and avoid reading into verses things that are not there.

In fact, the reason that the bible uses figures of speech, parables, images, and other communication tools are to make the passage more easy to understand. Look at this parable:

And the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman taken in adultery. And standing her in the midst, they said to Him, Teacher, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the Law commanded us that such should be stoned. You, then, what do you say? They said this, tempting Him so that they might have reason to accuse Him. But bending down, Jesus wrote on the ground with His finger, not appearing to hear. But as they continued to ask Him, He lifted Himself up and said to them, He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her. And again bending down, He wrote on the ground. And hearing, and being convicted by conscience, they went out one by one, beginning at the oldest, until the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. (John 8:3-9)

This beautiful parable is about judging other people. A woman was caught in adultery. The law prescribed the death penalty for that sin. The scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus what they should do with her. His response was “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. He knelt down, he wrote on the ground, and one by one, each one left, “being convicted by conscience”.

Jesus’s message was “he who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone”. Guilty people shouldn’t condemn other guilty people.

Now, what does the parable not say? I’ve heard pastors teach that when Jesus knelt down, he wrote down the sins of the woman’s accusers. Do we know that? I’ve heard the teaching that Jesus, being God, had the knowledge of each and every one of their sins. Do we know that from this verse? That is what I mean by reading into the verse. If we don’t know it from the verse, or from the context, then it is poor interpretation to read things into it.

So, the point is we should rejoice and learn from what the verse actually says, and absolutely avoid reading into the message. “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” is the message and not that Jesus wrote down each man’s sins because he had perfect knowledge of them. And to increase our understanding of the ancient writings we need to hone our understanding of grammar and logic.

© copyright 2011 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

February 22nd, 2011 Posted by | Grammar and Logic | no comments

No Comments »

No comments yet.

Leave a comment