Text Flow – Step 1.1 – Basic Grammar

This is part 1 of 2 , subjects & verbs, in Basic Grammar.

Grammar–blech! Nobody likes it and once we finish our education we tend to forget as much as possible. After all, who really cares about subjects, and adverbs, and adjectives, and gerunds?

As much as we may hate it, grammar is a part of all written languages, including the Bible. In John Piper’s thirty-four page booklet, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts, he says this about the grammar of the Bible.

An evangelical believes that God humbled himself not only in the incarnation of the Son, but also in the inspiration of the Scriptures. The manger and the cross were not sensational. Neither are grammar and syntax…Therefore, if God humbled himself to take on human flesh and to speak human language, woe to us if we arrogantly presume to ignore the humanity of Christ and the grammar of Scripture.


Biblical Exegesis, John Piper, p. 5

Love it or hate it, grammar is an important part to better understanding Scripture. The Biblical authors used grammar and syntax to convey the meaning they wished their audiences to understand. Likewise, we will briefly study grammar and syntax to come as close to that meaning as humanly possible. With that brief introduction, let us begin our journey.

Verbs-It’s Where The Action is!

Photo courtesy of PXhere.com

We start with verbs because they are words of action and tell us what’s happening in the text. The Bible wouldn’t make much sense if we left out all the verbs. There are two types of action that verbs perform: transitive and intransitive.

  • Transitive verbs transfer the action to a direct object (discussed later in part 2 of Basic Grammar). In the sentence, Bob hit the ball, the action of the verb hit is transferred to the word ball. In simple terms to be a transitive verb, there must be someone or something for the action of the verb to act upon.
  • Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, have no object which to act upon. They are still verbs but the action remains, so to speak, with the person or thing performing the action. In John 11:35 we read, Jesus wept. The verb is wept yet it does not weep on someone or something. The verb is somewhat stagnant and has no object. Therefore it is called Intransitive. That is, the action does not transfer to something else.

Verbs also have something called a voice. No, they don’t talk but they do show action in two kinds of ways. Their action is either active or passive. in the action voice the subject performs the action. Bob hit the ball, tells us that the verb is being done by someone or something, in this case Bob. But in the passive voice things get flipped around. Now the action of the verb is the subject. Bob was hit by the ball, tells us that Bob is no longer the one performing the action, but is rather the one being acted upon. Passive verbs are usually written using a helping verb to make it passive.

Kinds of Verbs

Now that we understand the kinds of actions verbs perform we need to understand the different kinds of verbs we will encounter. At this point, I believe it will be helpful to introduce to be verbs and helping verbs.

There are eight be verbs: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been. When we talk about finding verbs we must also include these being verbs. Take John 1:1 for example:

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The two be verbs are italicized and underlined and show a state of being. When picking out verbs and their subjects it is important to include these in clauses you may separate out. It is also worth pointing out that Being verbs don’t take an object and can be considered passive.

Auxillary verbs, or Helping verbs, help complete the action of the verb. Galatians 1:4-5 is a prime example of a helping verb.

Galatians 1:3–4 Grace to you and peace… from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

The word ‘might’ helps to complete the meaning of the verb, deliver. Helping verbs should be included in their clauses as we begin to separate them. Now, let’s continue with the kinds of verbs we will encounter. There are three major kinds of verbs we typically see.

  1. Finite – these verbs simply assert something happened. These are the only kinds of verbs that can be the main verb of the main clause. We will flesh all this out in later posts.
  2. Participles – these guys are often used as an adjective and describe further the noun or verb they modify. In John 6:51 Jesus states, I am the living bread. The word ‘living’ is describing Jesus further. He is not only bread that came from Heaven, He is living bread. Participles also indicate the means or the manner in which action is carried out. Paul uses participles in this way in Ephesians 6:17-18 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

    The two participles in verse 18, praying and being watchful, modify and describe the manner how spiritual armor, namely the sword of the Spirit and the helmet of salvation are taken up through prayer and watchfulness. (Cohick, L. H. (2010). Ephesians. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books. pg. 158). Participles can be versatile in their function so it is important to ascertain their use when you encounter them.
  3. Infinitives – These are verbs with our English word ‘to’ preceding them. Like participles, they can be used a number of ways including being objects, subjects, and showing the purpose of an action.

1 Samuel 15:22 So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.

The infinitive ‘to obey’ is functioning as the subject of this sentence. In the New Testament infinitives can also be used to express the purpose or result of an action. In Matthew 4:1 the infinitive ‘to be tempted’ is semantically functioning as an infinitive of purpose. The passage then could be read as “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness [for the purpose] to be tempted by the devil.” As we progress through the steps we will touch on how infinitives are subordinate to their clauses.

Subjects

A subject of a sentence is a noun that performs the action of the verb or is acted upon by the verb. In order to find the subject of a clause you simply ask who or what performed the action. Using the example of John 11:35, “Jesus wept,” we can find the verb, wept, and ask who or what wept? The answer is Jesus is the one who wept. This would be the subject of that clause. Of course things become a bit more complicated when there are several clauses in a sentence. Sometimes the main subject and main verb are separated by several clauses and phrases. When this is the case, care must be taken to pick out the correct pieces. 1Peter 1:10 should suffice for an example.

1 Peter 1:10. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully…

At first glance it is easy to think that prophets is the subject and prophesied is the verb. But the entire relative clause has to be ignored to find the correct verb for the word prophet. Once we go over the different kinds of clauses and phrases it should become a little more clear. In our next post we will begin to flesh out grammar a bit more as we talk about direct objects and indirect objects.

Below is a practice sheet you can download. The answers are given on the second page.

Considering Context – Hebrews 10:25 & COVID 19

Note: this post was originally published on Long for Truth March 19. I still believe it is relevant at this time, though most churches are now able to meet. 

In the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus or COVID 19 as is being called by experts, some Christians have already begun taking Scripture out of context in defiance of government sanctions to restrict large gatherings. Some of the verses I’ve seen quoted out of context?

Psalm 91:10 No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling

Amos 4:6 “Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the Lord.

and my personal favorite…

Hebrews 10:25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching

The latter of the three is the focus of this post. Recently, I saw a Facebook post from a popular apologist quoting Hebrews 10:25 and adding to the end of it something along the lines of, “unless a virus causes you to close church.” The quote is not exact and could not be obtained as the tweet has been removed since then.

Even though the gentleman apologized (though he stated he adamantly stands by his belief) others have taken up the mantle, using this verse to chide and rebuke other Christians for “forsaking the assembling of [themselves]. They have been accused of abandoning God’s Word in favor of fear or man’s mandate. But is that what is really happening? Are Christians who refrain from going to church temporarily forsaking the Word of God? Let’s put this verse in its full context.

Examining the Scripture in Context

Several things need to be noted about how this verse is used to support the said persons’ views of not obeying the government-mandated orders of no large gatherings.

  1. The historical context of Hebrews is to persecuted Jews. The author of Hebrews is writing to his fellow Jews and admonishing them not to return to the worthless sacrifices of the temple that can no longer cleanse sin or conscience. The entire theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Christ over the Priesthood and the Temple sacrifices. As a result of following Jesus, many Jews had lost their homes, businesses, and had been arrested. This is present just a few verses later (Hebrews 10:32-34). This context is important to keep in mind as our government is not trampling our right to meet as believers; nor or are they persecuting us simply because we are Christians. The mandate, at this point, is simply to control the spread of a deadly virus.
  2. The quoted verse comes in the middle of an exhortation. Verse 25 comes smack dab in the middle of two other exhortations. The author begins chapter 10 by reminding them that the Law was a foreshadowing of the Messiah. He begins verse 19 with the usual inferential οὖν (therefore) demonstrating the logic of the better Christ over the old priesthood. Jesus has made the once-for-all sacrifice and we may now approach God the Father without the aid of a priest. Now come the three exhortations that include our verse. (1) let us draw near, (2) let us hold fast our confession, and (3) let us consider one another. Our verse is found in the last exhortation and is subordinate to the verb, ‘consider’. The verse itself is part of a participial phrase describing the means or the way in which the main verb is carried out, or in this case the way it was not being done. Grammatically this is important because those decrying the temporary closing of churches due to the virus apply it wrongly. The forsaking of the assembling of the Jews was in light of the other two exhortations and especially the last exhortation which was imploring them to stir each other into the action of good works and love This could not be accomplished if they were not meeting together on a regular basis.
  3. The sin of the Jews was forsaking Jesus, not church. Hebrews 10:25 was not written so that we would all continue to “go to church”. The real exhortation is that of not forsaking Jesus, which was the cause of neglecting the assembling of themselves. Because of the persecution, it seems that some of the Jews had decided it would be better to return to the former way of worship and forsake the better way, Jesus, that the author had been stressing from the very beginning of the epistle.
  4. The usage of the word ‘forsake’ in other contexts. It’s important to examine the usage of the word in its other contexts. This gives us a snapshot of sorts to determine how the word is being used in our passage. A quick examination tells us that the Greek word ἐγκαταλείπω is used nine times, 6 of those being translated as ‘forsake’ or ‘forsaken.’

We see two of the occurrences as Jesus’ quote of Psalm 22:1 during his crucifixion. The last four uses indicate the word is used in a bit stronger way, especially in 2Timothy where Paul states that Demas turned his back on him and the work of the gospel for gain. 2Corinthians gives us a picture of God’s faithfulness to Paul by not turning His back on them in times of trouble and persecution. And lastly, we see our passage in Hebrews. Comparing these verses gives us a pretty good idea of what the author had in mind when writing to his Jewish audience. But another interesting thing to note is the usage of this Greek word in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. This would have been the version familiar to Jesus and His disciples, as much of the world was Hellenized at that time.

Above we have the Septuagint version along with the English translation below. This Greek word is used in Judges six times, all of them bearing the definition of complete abandonment of faith in the Living God to idols! The word is never used as a mere failure to “meet together” as many of the so-called Facebook theologians would have you to believe.

Concluding Thoughts

Those who see themselves as spiritually superior seem to be the real antagonists of this debate. We have clearly seen that the Scripture used to shame people into going to church during the time of this outbreak, Hebrews 10:25, is being misapplied. The meaning of this passage is a complete abandonment of the faith not staying away from church in order to stay healthy or keep from passing a sickness on to someone else. If the government was commanding us to stay away permanently or refusing to let Christians meet simply because we are Christians those “super saints” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like may have a cause and a case. But Christian, you are not in sin if your church decides to cancel services due to this illness, or decides to have a live stream in place of services, or even meet together online temporarily until this thing blows over. Those who would hold you to their standards only think of the good of themselves rather than the good of the entire Body.

Considering Context – Psalm 46:10

This week’s Considering Context looks at a popular meditation/peace verse.

Psalm 46:10  Be still and know that I am God.

The Perceived Meaning of the Text

I often hear this verse interpreted as a means for quiet meditation on God in order to bring peace to oneself. To be sure, a peaceful, quiet assurance of God is certainly thematic but that is only true, partially, as we will see by examining the full context of this Psalm.

The Text in its Original Context

There are are a lot of factors that need to be considered when we interpret the Psalms. The most important factor is the type of genre one is reading. Because the Psalms are poetry they must be interpreted within the poetic genre. And Hebrew poetry is much different from  English poetry.

Hebrew poetry typically uses parallelisms and structure rather than rhyme in its composition. This may seem a bit odd to us but in an ancient context this style greatly aided in memory since many of these psalms were used during the worship at the tabernacle. When interpreting the Psalms and any type of Hebrew poetry it is a good practice to understand some of the basics. Before moving on to the the interpretation we will spend a little time looking at the basics of Hebrew poetry. For more information I would highly recommend Dr. Mark Futato’s book Interpreting the Psalms.

Parallelism is the major defining factor in Hebrew poetry. Scholars have identified several, but the three major categories are synonymous, antithetic, and synthetic. Each will be briefly discussed: 

  1. Synonymous – this parallelism has two lines of text that mean the same thing but said in different ways. Psalm 33:2 is a good example

    Ⓐ Give thanks to the Lord Ⓑ with the lyre; Ⓐ make melody to him Ⓑ with the harp of ten strings!
  2. Antithetic – this is when two lines are contrasted, showing what one is or should be and what the other should not be. Psalm 1:6 illustrates this form of parallelism

    for Ⓐ the Lord knows Ⓑ the way of the righteous, but Ⓑ the way of the wicked Ⓐ will perish.
  3. Synthetic – often times the author will make a statement and then develop or further elaborate the point. This development is known as synthetic parallelism. Psalm 147:16-17 is synthetic in nature. The explanation of line B is that no one stands before His power, which is pictured as cold and snow. 

    Ⓐ He gives snow like wool; Ⓐ he scatters frost like ashes. Ⓐ He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; Ⓑ who can stand before his cold?

Structure is also an important theme in Hebrew poetry. Like parallelism the structure is usually categorized three different ways.

Acrostic – each new line or stroph begins with the next successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 119 is an excellent example of this style. As you can see the first eight verses begin with the letter Aleph and the next eight begin with the letter Bet. This pattern will follow until the end of the Hebrew alphabet has been reached.

Chiastic – the parallels in this structure branch out to a central theme. Then the parallels are reversed until reaching the conclusion. See the screenshot below for an example.

Strophic – this is more of a thematic type of poetry where the lines are grouped together by themes to conclude to a main theme. Note the the thematic elements of the grouped lines in the below Psalm. They culminate in the Lord being the Psalmist’s refuge.

Though it seems a bit much to review all of this it is necessary when interpreting the context for our Psalm. Now, we can look at it in its entirety and interpret it correctly.

The first thing to be noted is that the Psalm is usually not quoted in its entirety. The full text of the Psalm is, “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

As you see this verse is a little bit more than simply being still and meditating on God. Our Psalm is of the chiastic structure, paralleling ideas to a central theme and then reversing the parallels. To understand the structure more fully it would be helpful to see the entire Psalm laid out.

As you can see, the Psalm peaks at verse 6: the nations rage, the kingdoms tooter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The context of the Psalm can be found in 2Chron 20:1-30, when Jehoshaphat is king and the destruction of Jerusalem seems imminent. God gave His people a remarkable deliverance and this Psalm was written as the response. The culmination at verse 6 is God winning the victory for Jerusalem. This is the theme or central portion of the Psalm, not meditating on God.

Verse 10 falls in parallel to verse 2. Looking a little closer at these two verses helps us even more with the context. verses 2 and 10 state, respectively,

2 Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.

10 Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. 

Examining these two verses side-by-side we quickly see how they relate to one another. Jerusalem is in danger! But the God of Jacob is our refuge, and because He is we won’t be afraid. Be silent and watch God work. He will overthrow our enemies and His Name will be exalted over all the earth.

The second part of our interpretation must deal with the type of parallelism found in verse 10. Synthetic parallels state a single point and then develop or expound upon that idea. Verse 10 is synthetic and the parallel can be seen below.

The parallels are marked with the letters ‘a’ and ‘b.’ Since synthetics expound the meaning of the original statement we must then ask what it means to be still and know the He is God. The two following lines explain the meaning. It is God’s exaltation upon the earth, plain and simple.

The Application of the Text

This might seem to be a killjoy for some because they have clung to this verse during the chaotic times of their lives. While we cannot claim a meditative peace for Psalm 46:10 we can certainly know that God watches over His people and that His deliverance of them will bring greatness to His Name throughout the entire earth.