Confusing Clarification

I am well aware that many of my attempts at clarity tend toward obfuscation. Sometimes, it’s even intentional. Therefore, I suppose this blog really isn’t designed for a massive readership, and I’m fortunate and blessed when anyone reads this stuff.

In my defense, such as it is, or is required (which I don’t think it is), I deal with Scriptures that often are confusing without being obviously confusing. So, my obfuscation actually clarifies the problem before I lamely attempt to clarify. It’s like so many that believe they must, and actually attempt to, “get people lost before they can be saved.” I always thought that was an insane approach to sharing the good news of Jesus, but I’m learning to appreciate it.

I realized that I’ve been confusing to clarify just this morning, although I wouldn’t have disagreed had someone brought it to my attention. I was working on a Greek passage in Hebrews that was difficult for me, but it wasn’t the vocabulary that was difficult. The different grammatical parts were unexpected, and difficult for me to conceptualize in English. So, there weren’t any difficult words to explain, only difficult grammatical constructions.

When we read a translation of Scripture, we’re getting the grammatical sort of confusion clarified for us. It’s only when we read a passage in multiple translations that we get some sense of the difficulty, and then, only when the translators disagree on how to translate the grammatical elements. So, it’s not always easy for us to spot confusing passages when the vocabulary used is familiar.

So, enough with my self-defense of obfuscating Scripture (or making clear the obfuscation already there). Here’s an example:

and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Hebrews 2:15 NASB

That seems simple enough, and most translations sound very similar. But here’s how I translated it:

and liberate these, as many as were caught by fear of death through slavery of every living thing.

my own translation

That’s a big difference, especially “every living thing” instead of “all their lives”. And, to be clear, I’m wrong. The problem I faced was that the grammatical construction in Greek was unfamiliar to me. The construction is composed of a preposition (through), a pronoun (all), the definite article (the), and an infinitive (to live), all in that order. For translators for hundreds of years, that means “all their life”. For me, I’m missing stuff like “them” or “their” in the construction. In fact, I think I completely missed the noun this phrase modifies. All the life of whom? Well, all translations seem to agree that the phrase modifies “those…subject to slavery” (see any other translation, even King James). I opted to modify “slavery”. Yeah, no.

So, I suppose my point is not simply that I’m wrong a lot, or that Greek isn’t easy (It’s Greek to me! You were thinking it). My point is that sometimes what seems merely odd is actually more peculiar than you imagine. And then, sometimes what seems clear actually isn’t. I consider part of my calling and gifting to perceive the ironies of our life with our Creator. I’m still working out how to communicate what I discover to others. Whether others care or not depends partly on my ability to communicate, and partly on who’s reading.

So, I’ll spend some time improving my understanding of Greek grammar. And I hope to be back with another entry, clarifying the obscure. Please forgive me if I obscure the clear on the path to clarifying. Irony is like that, sometimes, ironically.

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4 Comments

  1. Lauri Hawley says:

    I love the idea of defining “problems,” and then solving them for your readers. I hope to take a course in NT Greek soon, and I’ll know more about what you’re saying! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matt Brumage says:

      I highly recommend studying Greek. It changes so much of how I study now. But, as you see, it doesn’t answer everything, and you never stop learning. I’m constantly surprised and challenged by what I find.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lauri Hawley says:

        I already use Strong’s to understand individual words a little better, but could definitely use more understanding in the grammar and sentence structure aspects. Looking for starting in the spring!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Matt Brumage says:

        In some ways Hebrew is easier. In some ways, it’s so much more difficult. But Greek is typically where Bible students start. It’s a lot of work, but worth it. The secret is to keep using it. It’s a skill you can also lose. I use a computer which helps tremendously.

        Liked by 1 person

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