When it comes to good cooking, the University of Maryland ranked lemon, soy sauce, and Dijon mustard as their top-three “most underrated ingredients.” But I found this comment on the website called Serious Eats: “The most underrated ingredients I would say are water and flat-leaf parsley.” Other serious cooks weighed in their affirmations. Prior to my reading all of this commentary from thoughtful folks for whom the culinary arts are no laughing matter, my thought would have been: “Parsley – who in the world needs it?”
That may be how you feel about – dare I utter it – grammar. “Grammar” isn’t likely your favorite word, unless you were (are) a bit nerdy like I was in middle school. (If you think I’m still nerdy, please keep that thought to yourself.) But I just can’t do a hermeneutics blog series without at least mentioning the importance of grammar. We must pay attention to the grammatical construction of any passage that we’re studying.
In order to investigate the grammar with some degree of competence, we must look at the sentence, prepositions, pronouns, verbs, nouns, and phrases. Are there any dependent clauses? Are there any subordinate phrases? Take note. We must carefully consider how the words relate to each other in the sentences, and in the paragraphs, in order to study carefully. The careful interpreter will observe even all the little things!
In Matthew 28:19-20, for example, we find what we often call the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … teaching them to observe all that I commanded you …” (NASB). As we first read the text, “Go” sounds like a verb. “Make disciples” sounds like a verb. “Baptizing” sounds like a verb. “Teaching” sounds like a verb. But as we study the sentence, we find that there’s only one verb: matheteusate (“make disciples”). “Go” is a participle. “Baptizing” is a participle. “Teaching” is a participle.
So what’s a participle? (Just in case you need to review.) A participle is a word formed from a verb and used as an adjective or a noun. Burned biscuit, for example. Or, “Don’t burn the biscuits if you want to be applauded for good cooking.”
Why does this matter? Because – back to the Great Commission – it means that “go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” all modify the main verb: MAKE DISCIPLES. What Jesus commissions us to do here is, “Make disciples and teach.” When we understand that, the weight of the meaning comes out of the text.
It’s never a good idea to approach the Bible like the guy who said, “I’ve already got a sermon. I just have to find a verse for it.” That’s having a preconceived idea and then attempting to find some Scripture to support it. If I try to make a sermon, I wind up forcing the Bible to fit my sermon. But if I try to comprehend a passage, then out of my understanding of that passage will flow God’s message. And that’s the only message we’re really after!
Speaking of the kitchen, the only things we want twisted are our giant salted pretzels. We never want to twist the Bible to make it say what we want it to say. That would leave a bad taste in everybody’s mouth.