The importance of grammar can be demonstrated by contrasting the statement, “Let’s eat, Grandma,” with, “Let’s eat Grandma.” The first connotes the idea that you are going to have a meal with Grandma. The second implies that Grandma is the meal. While certainly a bit facetious, this example does highlight a unique concept concerning language and communication. Namely, without a universal “code” that functions as a governance over our speech and writing, communication becomes quite unintelligible—no matter how articulate one may sound.
Words truly are fascinating “creatures.” They are the building blocks of numerous forms of communication (both useful and not so useful). When formed together in a specific manner, words can express command, inquisitiveness, sorrow, delight, fear, madness, exclamation, instruction, and so forth. With only 50 words, Theodor Geisel (also known as Dr. Seuss) wrote “Green Eggs and Ham.” This popular little book has captured the imagination of children (including myself) since the year 1960. With 17,121 words, Shakespeare produced the great tragedy “Macbeth,” a timeless classic that has challenged the minds of both students and scholars alike. And with 138,148 words, the apostles (moved by the Spirit of God) penned the entirety of the New Testament, providing a timeless treasure for the people of God of all ages since that time.
What, then, do these three forms of literature have in common? (Mind you, I am not seeking to draw equivalencies between other forms of literature and the Bible. God’s Word stands in its’ own category. I mean only to comment on the common linguistic/grammatical characteristics they share.) Each one utilized specific grammatical codes common to the understanding of their targeted audience, with the purpose of conveying information. Without such a code, it does not matter how grand the information was in the Author’s mind, the work would have been dead on arrival.
Consider the following arrangement of words, which actually represent the verse of 1 Peter 1:13:
Therefore, be you revelation action fix, completely grace Christ at, the prepare hope your Jesus in minds for to your brought the of to spirit to in on sober keep your. (1 Peter 1:13).
Apart from nearly developing a migraine from reading this zany concoction of words, what do we notice? All of the English words from Peter’s writing are present, yet they lack one crucial element. Order. If I were to purchase a new translation of the Bible and open up to this gibberish, I would definitely be making a call to the translation committee. Someone needs to seriously consider another profession!
This English translation of this verse actually reads:
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
See how far a little grammatical structure goes? In this order, we find a significant hinge in the letter of First Peter, upon which the rest of the Book builds. The Apostle has just finished describing the living hope and great salvation that the believer has come to possess through the resurrection of Christ (1:3-12). As we come to verse 13, he begins with the inferential conjunction “therefore” (Διo), implying that the following exhortation is derived from the previous content. We are then introduced to two participle phrases (“prepare your minds for action” and “keep sober in spirit”), followed by the main verb (command) of the verse (fix your hope [ἐλπίσατε]). The participles serve, not as individual commands, but parameters by which the main verb is to be obeyed. In turn, these two participles, along with the main verb, should be read as a single command.
Upon what, then, are we to fix our hope? “The grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Future grace, resulting in “praise, glory, and honor” (v. 7), will be received by the believer when Christ returns. This is the object of hope’s attention. It is the greatest incentive for the believer to live as he ought in this present world. Perfect, complete, final, eschatological grace will come to every one of God’s “elect exiles” (v. 1) when our Lord returns to establish His Kingdom on Earth. At this time, our imperishable and undefiled inheritance will arrive (v. 4), and our final salvation will be realized (v. 5, 9). Thus, preparedness of mind and sober-mindedness are the means by which we fix our hope on this future grace in the present.
While this post was not meant to be a theological discussion, per se, I do believe the above comments serve in showing us how important grammatical fluency is in the crucial task of Biblical interpretation. The accurate study of God’s Word is of insurmountable importance in the believers’ life. I say this not just for the sake of dotting our theological “i’s” and crossing our doctrinal “t’s,” but, as Peter demonstrates in the above-mentioned discourse, knowing the Word of God is essential in developing the hopeful living that God expects of us. A significant portion of our understanding of the Bible comes from understanding its’ grammatical structure (I mean we did name our interpretive method the Grammatical-Historical method, after all).
Thankfully, by the grace of God, we have been blessed with a variety of translations that communicate His message to us in our mother-tongue. But how wonderful is it that we have the opportunity to learn to read the Bible in the language it was originally written? I can see no better way to come to know the Scriptures more intimately and more accurately than to study them in the Greek language! But, such knowledge comes with a price. Certainly, it will cost us our time. It will cost us precious hours of sleep while we labor over grammatical technicalities, paradigms, and repetitive memorizations. It may even cost us our sanity at times (there have been a couple of points where this has happened to me already). But think of the yield that such a study will bring! It truly is a priceless education!
As a bit of background into my own life, I have always had an interest in grammar. My wife and closest brethren like to poke fun at me for being somewhat of a “Grammar Nazi” (I hate that phrase). Although I did not fare well during my time in public education (I had more “important” things to do, after all), there were three classes that I was particularly fond of. Physical Education, History, and English. These seemed to be the courses that I did consistently well in, and my passion for them has grown as I have matured and developed (except maybe in the Physical Education department. I need to work on that).
I do not profess to be a grammatical expert by any means. In fact, there are still basic concepts in the English language that I have a difficult time grasping. So far, the process of learning Greek has highlighted significant weaknesses in my understanding of grammatical concepts (hence the aforementioned bouts of “insanity”). Simply put, I do not know as much as I thought I did (I suppose that is another “cost”—our pride). The truth is, I am okay with that. Learning Greek has been, and will continue to be, challenging. Praise God for such challenges, especially when they yield such a high reward!
When the Apostle Paul penned his famous letter to the Ephesians, highlighting the glory of Christ and the magnificent beauty of God’s sovereign election, he wrote to the believers in Ephesus in the Greek language. When Matthew presented the world his inspired account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ—the “Genesis” of the New Testament—he did so in the very language that was common to the men and women of his day. Don’t get me wrong, one can certainly come to know the Bible intimately without studying the original languages (yes, I said “languages,” plural. We can’t forget about Hebrew!). Many men and women of God who are much wiser than myself went their whole lives not knowing a “lick” of Greek, and they entered the gates of glory all the same.
Knowing the Biblical languages is not a prerequisite of the faith (thankfully so, otherwise this writer would miss the mark!). We are not going to be “graded” on how well we understood participles, case endings, verb tenses, and parsing techniques. Yet, at the same time, if we have the opportunity to learn to read the Bible in the original “tongue,” why wouldn’t we? Learning these languages brings us one step closer to the original audience. How wondrous would it be to read the Sermon on the Mount in the language that our Lord preached it? Or to study Paul’s discourse on Mars Hill in the very words he used? We have the means of doing this very thing! Sure, it will take work (lots of work, actually). All things in life that are done for a worthy cause do. But think of it this way, when we learn to read the Scriptures in the original languages we are essentially “hearing” the voice of God!
Again, good translations go a long way, but to do away with the need for another man’s rendering of God’s Word is an admirable aspiration! I can think of no greater pursuit in the area of Christian studies. A deeper understanding of God’s Word is of great necessity in our time (or any time, for that matter). What better way to do this than to delve into the wondrous beauty of Biblical languages!