Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Syntax or “Sin Tax”?

The high taxes on cigarettes has been dubbed by some as a “sin tax.” If sin is popularly defined as doing something wrong, the sin tax becomes part of the cost for wrongdoing. Depending on how much sin is involved, the tax could be large!

Syntax, on the other hand, comes from the preposition meaning together with (σύν) attached to a noun meaning arrangement (τάξις) giving the combined meaning of arranged together with. Grammatically syntax is defined as the relationship between a word and its immediate context.

Syntax and “sin tax” sound the same and they should have no connection with one another. But, alas, when syntax evaluation in the texts of the New and Old Testaments is not done or is done wrongly (“sin”), a tax is levied—a possible misunderstanding of the text of the Bible and without the interpreter's awareness. Such cost of exegetical failure is always too high!

Avoidance of the exegetical “sin tax” must begin with a philosophical conviction. The exegete must know how every term in the text relates to its context. Syntax analysis of no term can be ignored.

It has been fashionable in recent years to limit syntax evaluation to “significant” terms. Logically, however, determining significance cannot be done apart from intentional focus on every term in the text. Furthermore, often the “significant” terms in the text are precisely those that are overlooked in such a “significance-oriented” scenario, terms such as conjunctives, articles, and particles. Competent exegesis is exhaustive, painstaking work, but for accurately knowing the word of God it is worthwhile work. Shortcuts invite the “sin tax.”

Monday, January 5, 2009

Good Try!

That well-know quip, “You cannot please everyone all the time,” apparently was untrue for the Apostle Paul, if we can believe the New American Standard Bible (NASB) at 1 Corinthians 10:33, “. . .just as I also please all men in all things.” It would be phenomenal if we could discover how he did it—if he did do it.

The correspondence of the Apostle clearly indicates that he had his detractors—
Romans 16:17-20; 1 Corinthians 4:2-21; 2 Corinthians 10-12; Galatians 3:1-6; Philippians 1:15-17; 3:2-4; Colossians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; 4:1-5; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2:16-26; 4:14-16; Titus 1:10-16.
How can we explain the apparent contradiction between the statement of Paul as seen in the NASB and his contrary testimony elsewhere?

Perhaps Paul was exaggerating the truth or using hyperbole for emphasis. But the context of the verse does not readily permit this conclusion. Or, perhaps the NASB translation can be “blamed” for this apparent Pauline contradiction.

The New International Version (NIV) interpretation of this verse suggests this last possibility, “. . . even as I try to please everybody in every way.” Clearly, trying to please all is very different from actually pleasing everyone. The key difference is in the word trying.” Can it be justified?

The present aspect of the verb in question, to please, can be understood as a tendential present that refers to an act or event contemplated, proposed, or attempted but not actually accomplished (Brooks & Winbery, Syntax of New Testament Greek, 86). In this light, the NIV translation is both justified and probable. It correlates well with the context here and with Paul’s statements elsewhere.

Did Paul please everyone all the time? No! The Greek text justifies this conclusion even when a popular English translation misses the mark.