Grammar for Apologetics

I have *once* in my life wished for a greater grasp of the rules of grammar.

In college I felt thankful to have enrolled under the last possible catalog (year) that allowed me to graduate with a journalism degree without taking a full 3-credit semester of straight grammar (“History of Grammar” I could see enjoying. Three months of lecture and practice, not so much).

A lot of my peers were annoyed with me (I need to someday do a post on this being annoyed at a non-braggy people who’ve got it better than one).

Anyway, I’ve read enough (or something, I guess) that I never felt a lack in my education until I was sitting opposite a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), “discussing scripture.”

On a side note, my mother did point out ahead of time this is rarely a good idea, but I had already-sort-of said yes when they asked to come back, and didn’t really know how to change that.

The reason discussions like this (I now agree heartily with my mother) are generally not a good idea, is that the average layperson (you and me) will not be as prepared for discussion as the average JW going from door to door.

Or, you may be about as prepared as the younger of the two, but *definitely* not the older one.

Any discussion will only affirm in the “missionaries'” minds that their position is the firmer, more reasonable one, because they are the ones who have the answer to everything.

I can’t know this for sure, but my guess is that they bring the younger JWs to these discussions to build their faith– in their elders as well as their doctrine.

Anyway, the JWs have their own translation of the Scripture that eliminates the deity of Christ (they see him as another incarnation of the angel Michael), but encourage you to look up references in your own bible.

Sitting “tailor-style” in a dining room chair, I did this, following their argument, and suggesting alternate interpretations and verses myself.

Then it happened: we got to one of those “modified” verses of theirs. I don’t remember now what it was. Their translation said something different than mine, and I said so.

It was one of those passages full of hims, hises and yous (Did I get that right, Kaye? What’s the plural for ‘his’?).

I reread aloud it from my translation and the women acted politely confused. “Isn’t that what we just read?”

“No,” I said, recognizing my my helplessness. “This ‘you’ is referring to someone else.”

“What makes you think that?”

And I realized that all my instinct from years of reading meant nothing here because I didn’t have a name for what I knew to be true.

5 thoughts on “Grammar for Apologetics

  1. Your question sent me back to the Chicago Manual of Style. According to rule 7.14: “Words and hyphenated phrases that are not nouns but are used as nouns form the plural by adding -s or -es.” So, according to this rule (and as there is no plural form listed in the American Heritage Dictionary), “hises” would be a correct form.

    The CMS goes on (in 7.14) to say “To avoid an awkward appearance, an adjustment in spelling (or sometimes an apostrophe) may be needed.” In other words, “his’s” would be as correct as “hises”–it just depends on which you prefer to look at and which you think would be easier to read!

    How’s that for a clear, concise answer? :) I love my job.

  2. Thinking about this some more…I don’t know how helpful English grammar would be in a discussion like that, because you’re working with translated material. In the class I mentioned above, our final project involved examining a passage from literature for the parts and building blocks of the sentences, and diagramming a number of them, and analyzing the writer’s structures. We were not allowed to use anything that was not originally written in English – no translations, which also meant no Bible passages. Because translated-into-English language works differently from written-in-English language.

    So I think the MORE helpful thing in that situation would be a good knowledge of Greek grammar and a Greek New Testament. That would show which side had translated the original intent correctly.

  3. Yes, Becky, you are right about grammar not “fixing” this problem (honestly I don’t think the Greek would have helped either), but getting stuck at *this* point in the conversation was like breaking my leg before the forest trail had petered out.

    I mean, odds were it would, but now I’ll never know. And, theoretically, it’s something I could have known.

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