Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The Grammarian, III.
The Epistle appointed for the Third Sunday after Trinity is from 1 Peter 3. It was read in our church just tonight, since the Nativity of St. John the Baptist last Sunday displaced the propers for Trinity III.
Here are some of its words: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world" (KJV).
Now I admit to being partial to the King James Version, but when it comes to this particular passage, if you're using the KJV it is essential that you understand the grammar. "Whom" is object, not subject. It is a reference to "the devil," not to "whom he may devour." That is, in this particular passage, "whom" does not refer back to "whom"; its prior referent is not "whom" but "he," the devil. One would think this an easy thing for a pastor to understand; for even if he has difficulty with the grammatical construction here, he may consult the Greek. The case of the pronoun is dative, which in the case of the verb "antistemi (resist)" is the object. It says, simply, Resist him.
Yet I do remember a time many years ago when I heard an entire sermon on this verse wrongly parsed, in which the preacher based his whole point on the notion that the devil seeks especially to devour those who resist him firm in the faith. The preacher made his case from these words: he said that on the basis of this reading, the people the devil really seeks to devour are those who resist him, above anyone else he seeks to devour. Well, that may or may not be true, but sorry, you can't say that on the basis of this reading. That isn't what it says. It's "whom," not "who."
Let the preacher beware: consider the case, always. And you don't even need the Greek to do that.