Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hebrews 6:4-6—what?! No finite verb?

[Sorry this is out of sequence]

Hebrews 6:4-6 is one of the Bible's interpretive hotbeds, certainly. The issues of perseverance and security are all over this passage. As a thoroughly convinced Calvinist, I'll admit openly it's one of the ones that demands a strong response. And, simply as a Christian, I think it's one of the scariest passages in the Bible, no matter what your theological position.

In fact, I'll say this dogmatically: if you don't find this to be a scary passage, you're not reading it right.

Having said that, on this read-through I was struck by one particular grammatical phenomenon. Look at the passage as a whole:
Αδύνατον γὰρ τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας, γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου καὶ μετόχους γενηθέντας πνεύματος ἁγίου 5 καὶ καλὸν γευσαμένους θεοῦ ῥῆμα δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος 6 καὶ παραπεσόντας, πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν, ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ παραδειγματίζοντας.
What's missing?

No doubt the title has already clued you in. There isn't a finite verb to be had for love nor money in the whole thing. Look it over. I count thirty-nine words: one 2X4-board-on-the-forehead adjective (Αδύνατον), followed by one, two, three, four, five aorist accusative participles, then a present infinite... and then two more accusative participles, for good measure — though these are present-tense.

There actually is a sixth participle amid that first string, μέλλοντος; but it usually functions pretty much as an adjective, in my reading. Yet it does make for a grand total of seven participles (of which four are aorists) and one infinitive, and zero finite verbs.

Would a finite verb have made exegesis easier?

Hm; probably depends on the verb, doesn't it?

1 comment:

Faith Pedaler said...

As a reader of the NASB, I am speechless at the fact that the first word in the Greek is "impossible." NASB places it in v. 6. What an incredible piece of literature! I had a similar "wow" the first time I read the Greek of Ephesians 2:1-8. I don't think a structure with a finite verb can come close to matching the impact of the nominal structure in this case.

I am curious - what is your interpretive take on this?

Thanks for presenting this.

Alan