Saturday, August 22, 2015

Church Grammar

Our branch was cancelled for today because of draconian restrictions on public movement. (Just our branch; the other branches weren't inside the closure area.) So my home worship includes this church-related blog post.

How many times do you have to read this sentence to understand it?

By combining the resources of many people, banks, brokers, and other financiers provide capital for economic development. [Lucas and Woodworth, Working Toward Zion, p. 123]

It seems to me that the natural reading is that people, banks, brokers, and other financiers constitute a compound object of the preposition "of." Not until the 13th word of the sentence is there any indication that my reading is errant. The verb "provide" shows up where I am expecting the subject of the sentence.

The authors could have solved this with wording such as "Combining the resources of many people allows banks, brokers, and other financiers to provide capital for economic development." No ambiguity there.

Second item of ambiguity.

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

What are we willing to do and what are we actually doing? I read this thus: we are witnessing that we are willing to take upon us Christ's name, that we are willing to always remember Him, and that we are willing to keep His commandments. I think the "to" in "to take" also applies to "always" and "keep," which means the "willing" does, as well. Otherwise we are witnessing that we are willing to take upon us His name, that we always remember Him, and that we keep His commandments. That reading is troublesome to me because none of us keeps His commandments with complete certainty. If that's what we're witnessing when we partake of the sacrament, we are liars, and if that's what it takes to have His spirit to be with us, none of us has it.

This came up in a Sunday School lesson I taught three weeks ago. The "we can obey our way to heaven" crowd disagreed with my reading. I grant that the words don't grammatically require my reading to be true, but I think theology does.

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