Reflections of a pedantic, hairsplitting, want-to-be academic

I’ve been charged with being too analytical. Two real-life cases in point.
First, a while ago I was cleaning the kitchen after dinner and my daughter was sitting at the dining table with her Macbook. She said, “Dad listen…” She then read this to me “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” I immediately said, “Ah, Philippians chapter 2, somewhere around verse twelve, thirteen, or fourteen.” Without hesitation and with a measure of frustration she responded “Dad! That’s not important!”

Second, when sitting in church listening to a sermon on the value of small groups, a pastor appeals to 2 Peter 3:18, which says in part “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The point made was that small groups and Christian community is a means God uses to “grow in grace.” Nothing whatsoever was said about growing in knowledge; only growing in grace. This really bothered me for a few reasons.

  • First, did Peter have small groups or Christian community in mind when he wrote that?
  • Second, is it possible to “grow in grace” but not in “knowledge” or vice versa? The Greek suggests this is a hendiadys (a figure of speech; literally, “one by means of two”), which means that although two nouns are used, only one idea is being conveyed. A similar English example might be “I am sick and tired of picking up after you.” The idea is really one, namely, “I wish you would pick up after yourself,” not that I’m sick on the one had and tired on the other. The Greek construction of 2 Peter 3:18 in fact shows that the two nouns (“grace” + “knowledge”), separated by a conjunction (“and”), being governed by one presupposition (“in”) are not two ideas but one. In other words, we do not grow in grace on the one hand and then grow in knowledge on the other. For you analytical types the Greek reads: “αὐξάνετε δὲ ἐν χάριτι καὶ γνώσει τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.”

    If this is a hendiadys (and I believe that it is), then we cannot grow in grace without also growing in knowledge. But as I said, nothing whatsoever was said about growth in knowledge.

Argh!

Based upon the illustrations above, I don’t deny that I’m somewhat analytical. Okay, maybe too analytical! But I wonder, maybe this is indicative of my entire approach to the spiritual life, namely, pedantic, hairsplitting, want-to-be academic. The dangers of this approach are painfully obvious to me and have been for many years. Quite frankly it’s a rather lonely place to be. So often I feel, with Socrates, that hemlock is my fate because the details seem so unimportant to others. But, maybe there’s something for me to learn from “others.”

In the first example above, my daughter was simply trying to get me to see that my attitude needed adjusting in light of the Philippians passage. She was not interested in a Bible trivia game! Where a passage is was not as important as what the passage means. I, on the other hand, was only thinking in terms of where the passage was instead of hearing what God was saying.

The idea that small groups are an important means used for our growth is clearly a biblical one (God’s declaration in Gen 2:18 seems to suggest that we’re “better together” and there are the “one another” passages that presuppose we need “one another”). Whether or not Peter intended a hendiadys is really a secondary concern. Though the pastor may have missed the mark in his use of 2 Pet 3:18, his point was spot on. [For a similar example, see my post “Is That What the Bible Means? On Having the Right Conclusions but the Wrong Support”.]

And so, I’ve been thinking alot about different approaches to the spiritual life. What I’m finding is quite a variety. One person skips through the forest of Bible reading and rarely bumps into the details of every tree. Others seem just to be enjoying the thirty-thousand foot view of the forest and have little concern with the fact that the forest is made up of individual trees. Then, there are those, like myself, who are so immersed in the details of every tree that we often fail to see the big picture! Despite the truth that not one of these approaches are necessarily the only approach to the spiritual life, and all of them clearly have their dangers, if we fail to hear the voice of God, then we’re sure to miss an opportunity to grow.

Lesson to be learned? Don’t let your analysis get in the way of your synthesis.

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