...

Thomas C. Miersma is pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

We have been considering the principle laid down in Scripture and taught us also by the reformers, that Scripture is its own interpreter. Thus far we have focused our attention upon the words and phrases of Scripture and upon doing what are called word studies. The purpose of such study is to listen carefully to the text of Scripture and to submit our understanding to the Word of God. This is also true of the study of the grammar of the text.

The word grammar may well bring to mind much that we learned in school about the structure of the English language, the distinctions between nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, prepositional phrases and various kinds of clauses. It may bring to mind also such things as diagramming sentences and other such devices which serve to analyze what is written. These tools, terms, and devices which serve to teach good English composition also have a place in Bible study with our English Bible.

We believe in the verbal, word for word, inspiration of Holy Scripture. This includes not merely the words but also the grammatical form of the words of Scripture. On the basis of this principle we require that our ministers not only know the Biblical languages, Greek and Hebrew, but that they also use them, While it is not possible to bring directly into English the grammar and forms of these Biblical languages, nevertheless our King James Bible as a faithful translation does reflect them in English. For the student of the English Bible the study also of the grammar of the text is a means to understand more clearly and carefully the Word of God.

There are limitations to this approach as we are studying a translation and not the original. Nevertheless the analysis of the grammar of the English text can at the very least serve to place before our minds more clearly the main thought of the text and the various subordinate elements which illuminate and expound that main thought. Determining the subject, verb, and object of the sentence of the text will usually give us this main thought. Diagramming the text also will help to set visually before our mind the various elements of the text and their relationships. As these tools are available to us, and also taught in our schools there is no reason not to use them in Bible study.

Someone may well respond at this point that this is all fine for my children or grandchildren who are in school but I am long out of school and have forgotten most of these things and they were difficult and uninteresting at the time I studied them. What, barring a refresher course in English grammar or borrowing my children’s textbooks, am I supposed to do? In the first place, the idea of spending some time reviewing or relearning some of these things is not as idealistic as it may sound. It is essentially no more difficult than using a cookbook or a repair manual as a reference tool. True, this may involve some effort in an area in which we are not perfectly comfortable or at home. But God has also given us minds for the purpose of using them. If our concern is for more meaningful Bible study and understanding of God’s Word, this is certainly worth the same kind of effort we would bestow upon the other affairs of life.

In the second place, however, there are also other means available. In part, the grammatical study of the text of Scripture involves using what we already know and simply paying attention to the text before us. In addition to studying the words of the text and their meaning, we can add to that study careful attention to the various terms of the text which serve a grammatical purpose, This involves noting the various connections in a passage between verses and sentences, and considering their relationships. This is not difficult. For example, in one of the epistles of the New Testament, when a verse begins with the word “for” it often indicates that the verse is giving a reason for or an explanation of some aspect of the preceding verse. Noting these grammatical connections is a matter of paying attention to what we read.

Here again our English dictionary can also serve as a useful tool. It, will give us not only the meaning of words but their grammatical use and importance as well. It will do so without a refresher course in English grammar. It is especially the small words which we think we know well and would not ordinarily look up in a text which are often grammatical terms which draw relationships between verses and words in a text. Looking them up in the dictionary has a different purpose than word studies with dictionary and concordance, but the procedure is the same and may be as fruitful or more so.

To use an example, the English word “of” is probably so familiar that we might ordinarily spend little time with it. But this small preposition has a wide variety of different meanings, as will be plain from a good dictionary. This word reflects an important grammatical relationship in the original languages, and a clear understanding of a text can depend on it. The expression “the righteousness of God” can have a number of different meanings in Scripture, all dependent on the meaning of that word “of.” It can refer to God’s own righteousness, that righteousness which belongs to or is possessed by God as a divine attribute. It can also refer to that righteousness of which God is the author or source, of which He is the subject and we are the recipients or objects. Looking at the meaning of this word “of” in a dictionary will make this clear. In the example mentioned, ‘”the righteousness of God,” the importance of this in understanding the opening chapters of the book of Romans is crucial. It was the perception that this expression in Romans did not refer to the divine attribute, God’s righteousness, but to a righteousness which God gives to us, that led Martin Luther to an understanding of the truth of justification by faith. In a sense we may say that the Reformation itself was rooted in this discovery of the meaning of this one word in Romans.

This kind of study belongs with word studies as an integral part of it. The more you do it the easier it becomes. The use of a dictionary in this way consistently will also result in a better understanding of Scripture as a whole, and of English grammar as well, so that we read the Word of God with more clarity and understanding. As Scripture interprets Scripture, such study also needs to be confirmed by using our concordance to see whether Scripture also confirms the results of our study.

It may be well to emphasize that such study will also raise certain problems and questions. While the study of Scripture in this way is spiritually profitable and rewarding, it also has certain limitations. In the first place, we must keep in mind that the study of a translation is not the study of the original text. Our King James translators have done an excellent job of rendering into English the Word of God. But there are things which nevertheless can never be fully translated from one language into another and elements of grammar which one language has which do not exist in the same form in another, This is true of our English translation of the Word of God as well. This does not mean that our Bibles are not trustworthy or that they are unreliable, but it does mean there are limitations.

In the second place, we are ourselves limited in our understanding. Our study is imperfect by reason of sin. This means that two children of God studying the same passage may come to different conclusions on minordetails of a passage. Within the boundaries of the whole teaching of the Word of God, there must be room for differences of interpretation. By this is not meant that the meaning of Scripture itself is relative, but only that our understanding is imperfect. Nor does this mean that the main lines of the truth of God’s Word are unclear or that the doctrine taught in Scripture is open to question. The truth of Scripture is plain and clear, a matter of faith or unbelief, and not a matter of lack of clarity in Scripture or understanding it.

Furthermore, the proper place for such Bible study is not in isolation from the church, or the study of fellow saints but exactly in the communion of the saints and in the fellowship of the church. This means too that the child of God may use the commentaries and other tools which are the fruit of the Spirit’s leading in the church, and are the work of faithful servants of God. The fact is that doing our own faithful Bible study will also make such tools as commentaries more meaningful and useful as well, for we will more clearly understand the issues being discussed in them.

It is exactly in the way of such faithful Bible study, in the communion of the saints, that God leads His church to develop the truth of His Word more clearly and to understand His Word more deeply. Thus He guides His church by His Word and Spirit into all truth.