On the Plurality of Words


In a student-run Bible study at my campus Christian group today, we had a short discussion of one feature of the text. Discussing features of particular biblical passages is generally what we do at the two bible studies we run each week (currently going through Hebrews), so this may not seem newsworthy.

However, on reflection, I think it has a teaching point to go with it. It’s this: sometimes the details matter. The question of whether the “you” (reading from the ESV) is plural or singular in the original Greek of the 12th verse of the 3rd chapter of Hebrews may seem an abstruse waste of time. But without asking questions like this, we are at risk of inventing rather than interpreting, of inserting our own beliefs into the text rather than taking out what the twin authors (human and divine) intended.

We’re at a university. It’s appropriate to apply our minds to God’s word with the effort we apply them to His world. To many people, the question of precisely which order the proteins act in a particular phosphorylation cascade in cell signalling following the binding of a specific ligand to one receptor out of many may seem hopelessly complex and abstracted away from real life, but in reality this is the stuff that life is made of and we haven’t really understood biological function until we’ve taken these remarkable processes into account. Similarly, the meaning, the message, the function, of the biblical text cannot be fully abstracted away from the mundane questions of what it says in words. It is a mystery of revelation that God condescends to use human language to tell us His otherwise inscrutable will, but given that He is done so, surely we ought read these words carefully!

If you came to one of our Bible studies, I think the rigour and seriousness and passion for the meaning of the text which as a group we reach (in our peak moments) may surprise you, I hope pleasantly. The Bible gives serious answers – if we ask the serious questions of it, in my experience it will prove true and will edify.

Yes, a function of a bear can be discerned by looking at its claws, but I think the full story will be missing if we miss all of the depth and complexity in the way the bear is made (maybe I’ll come up with a better analogy later..) – similarly, the main flow of arguments in Scripture (yes – Scripture uses arguments! But perhaps that’s fuel for another post), can be grasped without attention to all the grammatical details; this is largely because many of the details we can grasp intuitively with a good translation – and the essentials in Scripture are indeed perspicuous or clear. But if you want to teach from the Scriptures rather than repeating your own culture back at itself, or to help others understand what God’s word says, please pay attention to small stuff; the iotas, and even the plurality of words!

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One comment on “On the Plurality of Words

  1. Timothy James Conder says:

    I was thinking about this today and was reminded of the debate in the early church between homoiousus/homoousus. Little things sometimes make all the difference.

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