This blogmonth is a month of focus — even more than usual — on scripture. Following all that invective against the continuing use of the KJV, I’m emerging with the similar-but-renewed purpose of spotlighting bad or questionable practices. In other words, this is kinda the same, but it’s different.
Today’s particular thoughts flowed from two streams, but only one of these is likely to be a) interesting to most and b) intelligibly expressed here. One stream, related to the dative case in Greek nouns, is therefore relegated to footnote status.¹ In the main “body” below, I’ll stroll alongside the other stream. . . .
In typical church Bible classes, someone will often pipe up with “Well, to me . . . ” and then proceed to make a statement that can’t be substantiated exegetically or logically. Although the person means well, is subconsciously trying not to be dogmatic, and may well be a very spiritually minded person, what comes out may be nothing more than a wispy opinion. In the photo seen here, the gentleman could be making a textually warranted point, given the direction of his eyes. He also could be about to launch into a baseless opinion.
This latter thing happened recently after I taught a 10-minute spot on 1Thess 4:11-12, relating some specifics about the relationship of six infinitive verbs found there. I particularly related the syntactical relationship of the words 1) “make it your ambition” and 2) “live a quiet life” (TNIV). These are verbal infinitives² that come in a uniquely colorful text.
“Quiet life,” in its historical context, is not simple passivity; rather, it has connotations both of active, purposeful philosophizing and non-involvement in political/civic affairs. In the 1st century, the value of this kind of living pattern was debated. In addition, the idea in this particular literary context is conjoined with being busy, of working with one’s hands. Here in 1Thess 4, Paul re-appropriated familiar phrasing about commonly known ideas: Plato had written something very similar. Paul was commending “the ‘quiet’ life” to the Thessalonian believers, but “quiet life” meant more than a lack of sound or bustle.
A few minutes after I presented some of these points, which I first learned via the Coffee With Paul Bible study program, this good brother said to the group of about 20, “Well, to me . . .,” (and, upon hearing that introductory phrase, I knew something less than contextually responsible was coming, despite his good spirit) “living a quiet life makes me think of Jesus and the way He had quiet time with God.”
Now, let’s leave alone for the moment the tenuous connection between something like 1.5 mentions of Jesus’ supposed “prayer life” and the current notion in Christendom of “quiet time.” I’m persuaded that “quiet time” is a good idea — and one I should probably pursue more regularly — but an idea that nevertheless has taken on a life of its own, based largely on preachers, marketers, publishers. We simply don’t find much of anything in NC scripture about the “quiet time” habit. But, as I said, let’s leave alone the fact that quiet time, as an institution, is somewhat a human concoction.
The problem with the brother’s comment was that there is no direct verbal or conceptual relationship between prayer in Jesus’ life (whether regular/habitual or sporadic or intentionally occasional) and what Paul was encouraging in 1Thess 4:11-12.
Biblical doctrine must be based on what the Bible actually says. To understand what the Bible says, we need to stop interrupting God (Greg Fay, thank you, from the bottom of my spirit, for that verbiage) by pre-empting one message and bringing in a concept from a completely separate text.
Next time someone begins a statement in a Bible class with “Well, to me, . . .” know that she is being non-dogmatic (nice!), and be grateful that she is engaged on some level (even nicer!), but beware. There’s only a 13% chance that the ensuing statement will hold much water.
¹ Now, for the other “stream of thought” that’s really only verbally related. I have been translating 1Cor 4:1-5 as part of a team project, and I came upon ἐμοὶ | emoi, which is a personal pronoun in the dative case, which tends to imply the indirect object sense, such as occurs in this sentence: Give the stick to me. In that example, we may label the parts speech like this:
Vb Imper article dir. obj. prep. indir. obj. Give the stick to me.
And in Greek, the “to me” part is often, but not always, expressed in a single word — a dative-case pronoun.
At this point in my Greek language learning, I am less able to deal with the dative noun case than with the nominative, accusative, or genitive cases. These latter three, more or less, correspond to the subject, the direct object, and the possessive uses of our nouns, respectively. The dative, as stated above, often implies an indirect object, but I’ve seen probably a dozen other sub-labels for this or that use of the dative — which is just flat annoying. The whole scenario overwhelms me, so I haven’t expended much effort to get a handle on it.
This particular dative emoi in 1Cor 4:3 could well be translated “to me,” as many direct objects come out in English. I am opting for “for me” instead, believing this is a different kind of dative.
I also think “for me” represents better current English usage. It is a phrase often found in scholarly writing, connoting both openness and studied opinion (in my observation). To say “For me, grits are a perfectly acceptable alternative to cream of wheat” sounds a bit better than saying, “To me, grits are good.” Similarly, to say, “For me, worship is more broad than what is implied by ‘contemporary music’ is a better statement than “To me, contemporary worship music is kinda cool, but it represents only a piece of the pie.”
² These infinitives have one antecedent word each, but it is not easy to translate them into English with but one corresponding word. Another reasonable, substitution for “make it your ambition” might be “aspire ardently.”