Friday, May 13, 2011

Grammar. And verily, much w00tage did thus fill the land =)

Have you ever begun reading a book expecting it to be about one specific topic only to quickly discover that it was about … dare I use this word … a plethora of topics? I’m currently reading through Opening Scripture by Patrick Fairbairn, and well, I guess I thought it was going to be a simple (?) book about Biblical hermeneutics. Boy o boy was I mistaken. The subtitle should have given it away, had I bothered to read it: “A Hermeneutical Manual Introducing the Exegetical Study of the New Testament.” I promise you the first thought to enter my head was along the lines of: “Whoa baby, what exactly did I get myself into here?” *grin* But, even after cutting my way through the forest of information within the first 60 pages, I find myself paying special attention to things on every page.

For example, page 1 has this fantastic comment: “[The Reformers] proceeded on the sound maxim of Melancthon, that Scripture cannot be understood theologically, unless it has been already understood grammatically.” I paused reading, as I frequently do, and had to share this with my wife. We talked about this for a couple of minutes, and I have continued to think on this throughout the week. It ended up being more profound than I initially realized – this is the kind of statement that seems obvious but needs to be stated nonetheless. Without a proper handling of the grammar of Scripture theology cannot be properly determined.

I know that throwing around terms like “grammar” and how it leads to proper “theology” aren’t attractive terms to most people. And I can almost hear opponents making their case: “Come on, Case. Are you telling me that when I study God’s Word I need to consider things like grammar and … syntax to rightly interpret???” I respond: “Absolutely, yes.”

One pet verse that I began to cherish more and more as I encountered Calvinists and their arguments was 2 Peter 3:9b, “…not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (NASB). “See,” I said, “God doesn’t wish for any to perish. God loves everyone, sent Jesus to die for everyone, and it is up to us to accept the free gift…” Or so goes the argument I presented as an Arminian. The problem with this is that I paid no attention to the grammar of the text. Rather than trying to figure out who the “any” and “all” are, I inserted my own conclusions onto the text.

A simple reading of the entire chapter will answer the question of who the “any” and “all” are that Peter refers to. It’s a matter of following the pronouns. What the reader will notice is that Peter is talking about two groups in this chapter. The first group are Christians referred to as: “beloved” (verse 1), “you” (verse 1), “your” (verse 1), “you” (verse 2), “your” (verse 2). The second group is introduced in verse 3 and following: “mockers” (verse 3), “their” (verse 3), “their” (verse 3), “they” (verse 5), “their” (verse 5), “ungodly men” (verse 7).

Peter transitions back to the first group in verse 8, and you will also notice the pronouns change as well: “your” (verse 8), “beloved” (verse 8), “you” (verse 9).

Why go through all this work of following the pronouns and other descriptive terms to discover which group Peter is talking about? Because in verse 9 we are trying to rightly understand who the “any” and “all” refer to. The chapter begins by addressing Christians, then switches to mockers/unbelievers, and then switches back to Christians by the time we arrive at verses 8 and 9. To be more specific, verse 9 couldn’t be more clear by referring to the “you” of this chapter: 9The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (NASB). Who are the “any” and “all”? They are the “you” of verse 9, and in verses 1 and 2.

As an Arminian I was able to rip this verse out of its context. Without looking at the grammar and syntax I carelessly abused this text and applied a meaning foreign to the text. Grammar really does matter.Words really do have meaning. Pronouns too.

Thanks for reading,

Casey of Basey

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