Gen. 1.1-3 And Discourse Grammar

A quick back up and very brief introduction to aspects of discourse grammar.


Gen. 1.1-3

1 ⇐בראשׁית ברא אלהים את השׁמים ואת הארץ

2a⇐⇐⇐ והארץ היתה תהו ובהו

2b⇐⇐⇐ וחשׁך על פני תהום

2c⇐⇐ ורוח אלהים מרחפת על פני האמים

 3a ויאמר אלהים

 3b יהי אור

3c⇐⇐⇐ ויהי אור

1 ⇒In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

2a ⇒⇒⇒And the earth was formless and void

2b ⇒⇒⇒And darkness was upon the face of the deep

2c ⇒⇒And the spirit of God was hovering upon the face of the waters

3a And God said

3b Let there be light

3c ⇒⇒⇒And there was light

I have inserted arrows at the beginning of clauses to demonstrate tabs which I am not sure how to do on FB. What the tabs show is varying degrees of primacy in the text – i.e., mainline clause and supporting clauses. The clauses without tabs are the mainline clauses as shown by the specific Hebrew verb form. Clausal forms and elements are the grammatical clues to the hierarchy of the clauses in their relationship to each other and to the overall text. In this text we have a mainline narrative text and a mainline hortatory (imperatival) clause (3a, 3c); a background action clause (1), a back ground activities clause (2c) and three setting clauses (2a, 2b, 3c).

In evaluating a text I normally remove the verse markers to get rid of any influence of the versifier and evaluate the text as a literary block. When done this way it can be seen how the text was meant to be read.

The grammatical markers (clausal structure mainly) are the indicators that the author used to show how he wanted the text to flow and what the main point was and what was backgrounding and support structures. I find it useful to think of a stage or a movie scene. You have the background or setting of the stage or scene. Then you have the background activities-things movie around giving more contextual information. Then you have back ground action – things happening closer to the front of the stage but not quite the main action. Then, closest to the audience and in focus you have the main action. The author of a text sets the stage and demonstrates the action by his clausal elements and structures.

The creation at the beginning (1) sets up what is to follow but did it in such a way as to provide background action to the main action – the creation of light. 2a-c gives the state of the creation prior to the creation of light; it provides the setting and background activity to the stage structure before the main action.

The main action is God speaking light into existence. It is very distinct in the Hebrew text by virtue of the verb form and the fact that that form is always found at the front of the clause.

1-2 is all background and setting. Structured the way it is it can take up any amount of time – microseconds to billions of years. The grammar of the text allows that. Day 1 does not begin until 3a. If you look at the rest of Gen 1 each day begins the same – and God said . . . ; and ends the same – there was evening, there was morning, day umptifratz.

The Great Commission

Matthew 28.18-20

As you know, the Great Commission reads ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded  you.’

And you know that very many people teach that the ‘go’ should be taken as an imperative even though it is a participle. Too often this has been used to beat people over the heads about ‘going’ and becoming foreign missionaries (ever notice those so urging haven’t gone themselves?). Now, I have absolutely no problem with someone who sees God calling them to foreign missions but bad grammar should not be used to present bad theology. If the ‘go’ is to be taken as an imperative then only those who ‘go’ are the ones who are to make disciples—the rest of Christendom is left out of the Great Commission.

What follows is based on good grammar—discourse grammar specifically (check with Bob Bergen).

In discourse grammar the participles form the ‘background’ of situations—they are ‘offline.’ This is true of Hebrew, and it is true of Greek, especially the highly Hebraized Greek of the LXX and NT. That being true then the ‘going’ is back grounded. It is much better translated as such and not as an imperative. It should be, ‘wherever you find yourself placed by God, make disciples.’ Or ‘wherever you are going, make disciples.’

The grammatical structure of the text has all Christians, wherever they find that God has placed them, making disciples, not those who are specially called to ‘go.’ In my thinking, two of what could be argued are the most effective fields are nursing and teaching. I have taught junior high and high school in addition to the lofty teaching of seminary and I am married to a teacher and the father of a teacher.  Teachers are the ones who encounter kids who are in the throes of growing up and learning to encounter the world. They desperately need a teacher who is a Christian and who presents a Christ like example to them.

So too nurses. Nurses, especially those in hospitals or hospice care, are encountering people in the most desperate of situations (I have been there with our sons, Michael and Nathan) and who most seriously need to be encountering on a regular basis a person who knows the LORD and who has a lifestyle and words to convey hope to those who most desperately need it.