Analyze these!

A summary of Grammatical-Structural Relationships from Klein, Bloomberg, and Hubbard’s Introduction to Biblical Interpretation

In this portion of the book the authors’ Klein, Bloomberg and Hubbard’s note the indispensable place of grammatical study in Bible interpretation as Scriptures also finds its place in a copious communication process where the study of grammatical rules that field includes morphology and syntax play a vital role in understanding the written text.

Looking at it in this light reminds me of this experience during church services where I could no longer count how many times I’ve heard the term: ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ especially at youth services where the minister would make a call for personal piety in the congregation, via the use of 1 Corinthians 6: 19. However, it is safe to say that as far as being true to Scriptures the such an interpretation falls short of its actual meaning if it were to be looked at in its original context –since the use of the pronoun: ‘you’ in the passage has a very different function in the grammatical structure of its original Greek.

Whereas the pronoun ‘you’ may either be singular or plural in English, Greek (as well as Hebrew) makes a clear distinction. Twice in 1 Corinthians Paul identifies believers as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Warning against the serious dangers of sexual immorality in 6:18-19, he reminds them that each Christian’s physical body is a temple of God indwelt by the Holy Spirit. However, Paul’s reference to God’s temple in 3::16-17 pictures the corporate group of believers –namely, the entire Church –as God’s temple indwelt by the Spirit. Second-person plural pronouns make this distinction clear. Paul uses the same temple analogy in two distinct ways: to refer to both individuals and to the entire Church. Unfortunately, many sincere believers have missed the point of Paul’s warning in chapter 3 not to destroy God’s temple. Thinking of the individual body as God’s temple, they understand Paul’s admonition as a call to personal piety; they do not perceive Paul’s true intent –a plea not to allow divisions to destroy the Church[1].

This example clearly illustrates that as important as it is for serious interpreters to know the meaning of the words of Scripture in its original language it is also equally important to understand them as part of a larger unit that can be found in structures like sentences and paragraphs. Since, people communicate in larger units. The grammatical and structural relationships of words and word-groups make up the final component of language communication that we must asses in order to understand the biblical writers’ meaning[2]. Hence, drawing our attention to the place of grammar in biblical interpretation, as every language has its own underlying grammatical structure or structure of meaning, as well as a set of fundamental ‘rules’ which determine the how the text is originally expressed by the author to his/her original audience.

The imperative to understand grammatical relationships

In the field of linguistics, grammar is commonly defined as the set of structural rules that govern the composition of units like: sentences, phrases, and words. Technically speaking, it consists of two elements: morphology and syntax. Morphology concerns the forms of individual words; while syntax describes the system each language has for combining its various constituents in order to communicate[3]. Moreover, it speaks of how the writer orders the words used in a unit, as word order is less fixed in for languages like Hebrew and Greek[4].

As far as hermeneutics is concerned, grammatical study is strategic for correct interpretation because biblical languages sometimes convey nuances that are hard to capture in an English translation[5]. According to the authors ideally, every interpreter should know the biblical languages. Many grammatical features are apparent only in the original languages[6], since, studying biblical passages in the original languages forces the interpreter to interact with the text’s own meaning and its sentence structures to determine how subordinate clauses and phrases relate to the main statement of the sentence and/or to each other[7].

However, the authors also recognize how impractical it is to expect all interpreters to know the biblical languages. Nevertheless, it is also true that all believers are competent to study the Bible. Thus, this limitation must be compensated with available translations and resources that can help the interpreter as while some grammatical insights cannot be discovered apart from the original language texts, the willing student can still uncover a surprising amount of grammatical information by carefully analyzing the English text[8]. Yet, even studying an English text requires conscious effort. To explain the thought flow of a given passage as it often requires paying attention to and thinking carefully about the significance of the obvious. As sometimes the relationships that exist in a passage are so obvious that we ignore their contribution to its total meaning[9].

In order to best understand Scriptures the authors give inputs on how grammatical-structural relationships can be best figured out in terms of its: natural divisions, flow of thought, verbs, connectives, adjectives and adverbs, and pronouns.

Natural divisions – This points towards the divisions of Sacred Scripture as it is separated or broken down into units. In terms of natural divisions there is a need for the interpreter to be aware that this is dependent on the kind of biblical literature that is being interpreted. To illustrate: historical narratives major sections encompass many chapters in the Bible (e.g. the story of Joseph the dreamer cover Gen 37-50), thus requiring the interpreter to break down this section into smaller elements. As for the New Testament Gospels of the Epistles, this section requires analysis in order to discern the writers’ flow of thought. In poetry, the individual poem constitutes the unit for analysis –some shorter, while others longer. Wisdom literatures require most care, for the units may be more difficult to classify. A segment may consist of a proverb, an isolated psalm (e.g. Psalm 37), a speech (e.g. Job 23:1-24:25), or an entire book, or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. While apocalyptic is the most troublesome as it puts the modern readers in the most unfamiliar territory. But the dream of Daniel 7:1-14 is one unit; its interpretation in 7:15-28 is another[10].

Flow of thought – This step involves tracing the flow of thought in the passage that is being studied. One helpful approach to understanding the basic structure of a passage involves a method for identifying the main statement(s) in each sentences, then identifying the subordinate clauses in each sentence, and determining how each modifies or qualifies the ideas expressed in the passage[11]. Therefore, asking the journalistic question of the 5 Ws (who, when, where, what) and H (how) is imperative in order to understand the flow and indicate the logical relations possible in the structures of sentences[12].

The authors insist that all this analysis is worth the trouble as it is for asking such structural questions that the interpreter is enabled to identify the flow of the text’s argument and narration, the associations, and the inter-relationships, not otherwise evident[13].

Verbs – This involves the focus on the impact of verbs[14] in a passage as verbs conveys actions, or puts across a state of being in a sentence. The complex verb systems of the biblical languages influence the meaning of sentences in several different ways. Understood in conjunction with their contexts, verbs designate the moods, aspects, time, kind and voice of the action expressed[15].

Influenced by the field of linguistics, an increasing number of bible scholars recognize the need to classify verbs according to their aspect. Although tense in English mainly concerns time, in other languages –Hebrew and Greek –the tense of the verb primarily indicates aspect. That is, in the biblical languages tense specifies the kind of action from the perspective of the writer[16].

Besides aspect and kind of action, verbs form indicate other details that contribute to correct interpretation. Because verbs convey all these types of information, the careful interpreter must evaluate each one closely in light of the context and weigh all the nuances the verbal form indicates[17].

Connectives – These are conjunctions and relative pronouns that occur at the beginning of sentences to link grammatical elements with what precedes and within sentences to indicate the relationship between words, phrases and  clauses through which ideas are conveyed[18].

Adjectives and Adverbs – These function as modifiers that adjust the sense of a noun or verb.

Pronouns – Exegetes must not underestimate the significance of several other seemingly routine grammatical items: the use of pronouns and whether nouns and pronouns are singular or plural. As the marking of pronouns, both their case usage whether they are singular or plural is often clearer in Hebrew and Greek than in English[19].

To end, it can be said that many grammatical details cannot be found in the English translation, as by their very nature translations are limited in their ability to bring out all nuances. Since, no two languages ever mirror each other. Hence, accuracy and thorough understanding demand that students check all interpretations against the original languages to be certain they are constituent with the grammar of the texts. Therefore, the accompaniment of good translations and key biblical commentaries can prove helpful especially in cases that the interpreter has yet to have a mastery of the biblical languages[20].

[1] Klein, William W., Craig L. Bloomberg, and Robert Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993) p. 272

[2] Op cit 257

[3] Ibid  258

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid 259

[6] Ibid 262

[7] Ibid 263

[8] Op Cit

[9] Ibid  264

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid 265

[12] Ibid 266

[13] Ibid 267

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid 267-268

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid 269

[18] Ibid 269-270

[19] Ibid 271

[20] Ibid 272


2 thoughts on “Analyze these!

  1. Pingback: Popular Bohemia: Modernism and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris | The Urban PhotoJournal

  2. Pingback: Popular Bohemia: Modernism and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris | The Urban PhotoJournal

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