Have you paid much attention to the grammatical style of the Scriptures in the Bible? How important is grammar in Scripture? It is everything. It is a critical tool in the theology and meaning of the text. For example, just take the tense of the text. Has this event already happened? Is the speaker referring to an event in the future? Studying grammatical structures in the Scriptures is where my two passions collide!
When looking at the grammatical structure of the scriptures, we have to keep in mind that the original languages were Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic so we are reading an English translation of these languages. How did the translators keep to the original meaning considering that the Hebrew language has no fewer than 10,000 words as compared to the English language which has nearly 1,000,000 words (at the time of the first English translation, the Tyndale Bible was translated into Middle English which consisted of about 50,000 words)-the Greek speech with 200,000? We do have to consider divine inspiration as a large part of the answer.
One needs to consider that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and was then translated to Greek (possibly using the Septuagint) and then English for our purposes. Therefore, as we look at the grammatical structure of the Old Testament, we need to consider three different languages and grammatical structures just in the interpretation: Hebrew to Greek to English. Wow!
For one hundred years before the coming of Jesus, Hebrew was a forgotten language. Therefore, other than some scholars, the Jews no longer knew Hebrew. The other citizens spoke a derivative of Hebrew known as Aramaic. In the synagogues, the scriptures were read in Hebrew and had to be translated to the listeners into Aramaic. One danger in this oral translation was to avoid adding human feelings and actions to God. This dynamic continues to be true in translation from Hebrew to the Modern languages.
The New Testament, on the other hand, was written in Greek and Aramaic. In the Gospels, John was presenting Christianity to the Greek world, not the Jewish world, so he had to keep these grammatical structures in mind. John writes: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (1:1)”. In Greek, this Word is Logos defined as: 1. “a word, uttered by a living voice, embodies a concept or idea; 2. The sayings of God. “The Greeks were familiar with the idea of the Word, or Logos, from around 560 B.C., so John could use this concept. Now, in translating the Greek words of John to English, what does the translator do with Word? As we know, it stays the same, no change. One just needs to refer to the Greek Lexicon or consult a Bible scholar to know that this is referring to Jesus. According the “tense” of this text, Jesus has been in existence since the beginning of time.
Secondly, the grammatical structure of the scriptures allows one to discover the linguistic charge, subtle implications, complexities of meaning and suggestion in vocabulary and phrasing, and cultural inferences. In translation, one must also consider the emotional impact of words, the setting and mood, author’s voice, social context, etc. and the social aura that surrounds them. Just as we have tried to imagine the world in which Jesus Christ was born, the first century, based upon information from the Old Testament, World History and Biblical scholars, translators have had to use their own grammatical context.
When I set out to learn a new language, the first book I purchase is a Bible translation of that language. This really aids me in learning the nuances of a language and helps me pay closer attention to the particular verbs, idiomatic phrases, and syntax that are used and therefore aids in the grammatical structure of this new language.
Finally, no matter the translation or grammatical structure, the words of Jesus are powerful, n’est-ce pas? We do not have any of his personal writings. The words of Jesus were dictated by writers who witnessed, firsthand, His sermons and conversations and then published his words into four books of the Bible we call “The Gospels”: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Notably, in spite of the grammatical structure in scripture, the text can and will be experienced on a spiritual realm, which is out of our wheelhouse!
I have been studying the grammatical style and content of Jesus’ sermons for over the past 20 years in English, Greek, French, German and Russian. From this observation, I have discovered some important grammatical rules in which Jesus used to communicate His message and that all writers should head:
- Jesus omitted needless words. The fewer words in which something can be said, the better.
- Jesus used descriptive phrases in his parables. These phrases directly relate to the first noun that follows. Avoid misplaced modifiers. This will be confusing for your readers and will cause them to lose focus.
- Jesus used consistent, symmetrical, parallel structure. If you are using plurals, stay with plurals. If you are using past, stay there. Be consistent.
- Jesus used references from prophets (we now find in our Old Testament) to support His arguments. These are direct quotes. There are no plagiarism issues here!!
As I have shared in earlier posts, I love Grammar. Just like mathematics, it is orderly and can be relied on, 100%. I pray that as you read scriptures, you will also look at the grammatical structure and that this exercise will enrich your communion with the One who made all things…including language!!
Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
Thanks. Good reminder. D. L.