Friday, October 30, 2009

How to interpret the Bible - Hermeneutic

Click on here to get a larger image. Great overview tool on the books of the Bible

Component 2: Grammar

Having considered the nature of specific genre, we now look at grammatical analysis. What is grammar? Grammar is the system of a language. It is the “rules” applied to how words are put together. The irony is of course no language has rules, except for the language “Esperanto”, which is an invented language. It was created to serve as a universal second language to foster peace and international understanding. If we use the word "rules", like programming rules, somebody has to create the rules of programming before we can program. In the same way, it may sound like somebody created a rule of language and then starts to speak the language and make meaning out of it. But we know languages started by people making sounds which then later evolved in to words, phrases and sentences. No commonly-spoken language is ever fixed in concrete. All languages change over time and a great example of it is English itself which borrowed many words from different languages. What we call "grammar" is simply a reflection of a language at a particular time and this is an important part of interpreting the Bible according to the original intention of the writer.

We don’t have to study grammar to learn a language. When we were young, we started speaking even before we learnt that there is such thing call grammar. Of course, we learnt by modelling after what we heard and read. That’s why Malaysian English can only be understood fully by another Malaysian. Attached at the end of this post is a great joke about Singlish. Have a good laugh! But if we are serious about learning a foreign language, then grammar can help us learn a language more quickly and more efficiently. Grammar is a help tool to understand a language better. Once you mastered it, you can comprehend many things without consulting anyone.

It is logical therefore in bible hermeneutics to examine grammar properly since it is inherently more consistent than the remaining elements of the interpretive process. The way a sentence is structured does not change. Subjects, verbs, objects, and modifiers are the tools of communication. But it is important to note that even if you know how a word functions in a given sentence, it does not by itself give you the meaning of the passage. Often the grammar is like a signpost or a map that points you to or provides insight into the meaning of the text. For e.g. the word “saved” does not only refers to spiritual salvation but it could mean one being physical healed or delivered from a dangerous situation.

Words also evolve over time. What it means at one time may mean another at a different time. Consider the word “gay”. Earlier, it means “happy” or “cheery”. Now it also means someone who is a homosexual. What diverse meanings! Therefore word studies help the interpreter to trace the development of a word from its beginnings to the time period of the particular writing under consideration. So in interpreting, one must consider the period from which it is written and from there what the author actually meant within the context and grammar. Another example, whenever you hear the phrase “You are God’s temple” from the Scripture, the ‘you’ is always plural. The implication is vast because it points to the importance of the congregational life of the church and not merely an individualistic faith.

“Be filled with the Spirit” has a continuous tense, which if rightly translated would mean, keep on being filled, which suggest a far more different meaning than just a one time filling. What this means is that grammatical analysis also covers grammatical structure which deals with arrangement of terms within a given passage of Scripture which will reveal a relationship of words that shows purpose, result, time, concession, means, manner, condition, comparison, and contrast are indicated by adverbs and adjectives. Phrases and clauses will also indicate these relationships.

I was told DUMC is a church where good English is spoken during preaching. What I think this means is that people appreciate the fact that grammar is used well (I hope). :) We don’t usually think about grammar although it is used everyday. We are not conscious of grammatical analysis although our brains interpret the meaning of the sentences we hear at lightning speed. But to a foreign or earlier language at a different time, grammatical analysis is crucial to the hermeneutical process. While we take care to understand each word, phrase, or clause, the ultimate purpose is to understand the Author (God) or author's intended meaning. We fit the jigsaw puzzle pieces until the full picture is seen. Grammar will not solve everything but it will certainly help us converge to the possibilities. There are a few different words for “love” in Greek. Which one does it mean? Agape, phileo, storge or eros? In getting the answer firstly to the meaning of an individual word would lead to the understanding of the sentence and hence the passage.

Singlish Joke:

The English did invent the English Language, but they cannot use it effectively (as few words as possible) when communicating their intentions.

Just compare these few phrases that Singaporeans and Britons use to say the same thing:

Returning a Call...

Britons: Hello, this is John Travolta. Did anyone page me a few

moments ago?

S'poreans: Hallo! Who page?

When someone is in the way...

Britons: Excuse me, I'd like to get by. Would you please make way?

Singaporeans: S kews !

When someone offers to pay...

Britons: Hey, put your wallet away, this drink is on me.

Singaporeans: No nid.

When asking for permission...

Britons: Excuse me, but do you think it would be possible for me to

enter through this door?

Singaporeans: (while pointing at door) Can or not?

When asking to be excused...

Britons: If you would excuse me for a moment, I have to go to the gents/ladies. Please carry on without me, it would only take a moment.

Singaporeans: Toy lert, toy lert.

When entertaining...

Britons: Please make yourself right at home.

Singaporeans: Don't shy, leh!

When doubting someone...

Britons: I don't recall you giving me the money.

Singaporeans: Where got?

When declining an offer...

Britons: I'd prefer not to do that, if you don't mind.

Singaporeans: Doe waaaan.

When deciding on a plan of action...

Britons: What do you propose we do now that the movie's sold out and all the restaurants are closed?

Singaporeans: So how?

When disagreeing on a topic of discussion...

Britons: Err. Tom, I have to stop you there. I understand where you're coming from, but I really have to disagree with what you said about.....

Singaporeans: You mad, ha?

Entertaining customer....

Britons: I'm sorry, Sir, but we don't seem to have the sweater you want in your size, but if you give me a moment, I can call the other outlets for you.

S'poreans: No Stock!

When asking someone to lower their voice...

Britons: Excuse me, but could you please lower your voice, I'm trying to concentrate over here.

Singaporeans: OOei! Shaddap !!

When asking someone if he/she knows you...

Britons: Excuse me, but I noticed you staring at me for some time. Do I know you?

Singaporeans: See what see?

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