Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Deity and Duty—An “Invisible” Grammatical Observation

A grammatical pattern in New Testament Greek that has far reaching theological and ministry implications is, unfortunately, invisible to readers of English New Testaments. Not to malign English or English translations, this “invisibility” points out that English and Greek grammar and usage differ significantly and this necessarily degrades the transfer of data from the Greek New Testament to an English translation. The pattern involved can be described as definite article, substantive, conjunction, substantive.

Brooks and Winbery (Syntax of New Testament Greek, 76) provide one formal definition for this pattern that has been labeled the “Granville Sharp Rule”: “If two substantives [nouns or noun substitutes] are connected by καί [“and”] and . . . the first has an article and the second does not, the second refers to the same person or thing as the first.” This rule when applied to Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 makes explicit statements about the deity of Jesus Christ. The reader of the following representative English translation (New American Standard Bible, NASB) can arrive at this conclusion (bold font)—but cannot appeal to the grammar to prove it:

Titus 2:13 — “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ
2 Peter 1:1 — "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus"

The same passages in the Greek text with the grammar highlighted [and described] in bold font follow:

Titus 2:13 — προσδεχόμενοι τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης τοῦ [definite article] μεγάλου θεοῦ [substantive] καὶ [conjunction] σωτῆρος [substantive] ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ 
2 Peter 1:1 — Συμεὼν Πέτρος δοῦλος καὶ ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῖς ἰσότιμον ἡμῖν λαχοῦσιν πίστιν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ [definite article] θεοῦ [substantive] ἡμῶν καὶ [conjunction] σωτῆρος [substantive] Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

This is very helpful when confronted with liberal commentaries and Jehovah's Witnesses or others who deny the deity of Jesus Christ.

A second application of the same grammatical pattern (definite article, substantive, conjunction, substantive), but not the "Granville Sharp Rule," occurs in Philippians 1:25. This time an important ministry principle emerges, one that the reader of the English Bible cannot see and will miss.

A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 787, explains this second application of the grammatical pattern, “Sometimes groups [or ideas] more or less distinct are treated as one for the purpose in hand, hence use only one article.” This means that the interpreter must (1) see the pattern and (2) determine how the pattern functions in the passage under consideration.

Philippians 1:25 in the representative English translation (NASB) contains the phrase “for your progress and joy in the faith.” Since English and Greek use the definite article differently, the English translation may or may not reflect the Greek article. Therefore, by reading the text with an eye towards the chances of the Greek definite article being present, four possibilities can be listed. Note the definite article given in bold font:

(a) for your the progress and the joy in the faith
(b) for your the progress and joy in the faith
(c) for your progress and the joy in the faith
(d) for your progress and joy in the faith

Each of these are possible but only (b) reflects the underlying Greek text. Note the bold words in the following Greek text. The conjunction is given also in bold letters and standing between the two definite articles.

εἰς τὴν ὑμῶν προκοπὴν καὶ χαρὰν τῆς πίστεως

The literary pattern (article, substantive, conjunction, substantive) is clearly seen in the rewriting of the (b) translation noting the full pattern: for your the (τὴν) progress (προκοπὴν) and (καὶ) joy (χαρὰν) in the faith. The second article (τῆς) lies outside the purview of this pattern.

Two secondary items need comment. First, the pronoun translated “your” (ὑμῶν) following the first definite article is possessive and encompasses both progress and joy. The translations, therefore, do well by rendering the phrase “your progress and joy.” Second, the specifying article (τῆς) before “faith” refers objectively to the content of the Christian faith (Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary series, 52; Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 820). Most translations reflect this appropriately with “the faith.”

The primary point of discussion in Philippians 1:25 is whether the literary pattern equates progress and joy as one and the same, the Granville Sharp Rule, or ties the differing concepts together to make a point. Without question, the latter case fits the verse since joy is not another designation for progress. Paul groups spiritual progress and joy under the umbrella of the Christian faith. In using this format he desires his readers to keep the two ideas together as parts of one discipling concept.

This has tremendous practical implications for ministry. Christian leaders involved in discipleship must encourage people to make positive spiritual progress, but not at the cost of diminished joy. They must recognize and challenge spiritual lethargy and fading joy to motivate believers to grow spiritually while increasing their joy—admittedly a difficult task but a duty when discipling others. Thus, the literary pattern seen in Philippians 1:25 describes an essential ministry obligation not stated so directly elsewhere in the New Testament.

Definite article, substantive, conjunction, substantive—A grammatical pattern occurring frequently in the Greek New Testament but rarely observable in English. Not recognizing this arrangement of words would be no problem if the interpretation of the Bible were not at stake—but it is. One way forward, however, for those who have little or no facility in Greek may be to consult a work such as Alfred Marshall, Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976. The definite articles and conjunctions as well as other parts of speech are readily discoverable in this resource. It is possible to bring the “invisible” into focus for practical use.