Friday, February 3, 2023

Pay Attention to Structure!

Many of you know that I played the trumpet for many years and was a music major at the University of Hawaii before I transferred to Biola as a Bible major. Maybe Chrysostom was a trumpeter as well. In his 4th-century commentary on Romans he could call the letter Paul's "spiritual trumpet." For years I've had a love-hate relationship with Romans. During my days at Biola, my pastor at the College Church took 8 years to teach through it. I came to church with empty notebooks and left with filled ones. And still I've always felt like a child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean. In Romans, declared Calvin, "we have an open door to all the most profound treasures of Scripture." William Tyndale urged people to learn it by heart -- the whole book. "The more it is studied," he said, "the easier it becomes." I wish that were the case. What, for example, am I supposed to do with this passage I studied in my morning Bible reading today? 

Rom. 12:11 seems to contain three commands: never be lacking in zeal, be fervent in Spirit, serve the Lord. But a study of the rhetoric Paul uses here makes that well nigh impossible. 

Although the grammar here is a bit complex, its content is marvelous. Rhetorical devices have enabled the apostle to arrange his communication in recognizable patterns. The most notable feature is the way he pairs commands featuring two members of the Godhead:

Be fervent in Spirit!

Serve the Lord!

We have to ask why Paul would write like this unless it is to indicate unity and transition of thought in a writing that lacked features such as indentation, capitalization, paragraphization, and spaces between words. Paul was apparently apprehensive that his injunctions would be taken as "shotgun parenesis." But in fact, each staccato imperative adds something to his total argument that "Love is to be without hypocrisy." 

So, now what? Our modern translations seem to have divided the verses incorrectly. Just for the record, I do not freak out over such details. I mean, if I did, I would probably devote an entire journal article to the subject. Anyways, whatever form of Bible reading you do, be it in the Greek or by reading the Bible in your vernacular, make sure you pay attention to how an author structures his text. I think it can make a difference. 

Are you trying to get better at Bible reading? 

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