The Love of God
A Grammosophical Lesson 

 by Ike Tennison  

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Like all languages of which I am aware, the English language has its own “rules” of expression.  From the perspective of ancient Greek and Latin, one of the most noticeable “rules” of the English language is that of little or no “inflection” of nouns.  Put simply, “inflection” means that the forms of nouns in ancient Greek and Latin were changed to indicate different functions of the word in a given sentence.  English, on the other hand, while it does change the forms of nouns to show singular and plural (book/books, woman/women; child/children; ox/oxen) and possession (boy’s or boys books, child’s or children’s toys), does not change the form of nouns to indicate that it is the subject, direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition, etc.  The inflection of Greek and Latin nouns, however, did show a change in the form of the word to indicate subject, direct object, indirect object, etc.

Consider the following Latin examples.

1. God sees the children.

Deus videt pueros.

 

 

The ending “-us” on the noun indicates subject.

 

The ending “-os” on the noun indicates object

 

2. The children see God.

 

Pueri vident deum.

 

 

The ending “-i” on the noun indicates subject.

 

The ending “-um” on the noun indicates object.

Because the forms of the words helped the ancient Romans to identify the functions of the words in a sentence, the order of the words in a sentence was relatively flexible.  For example, the two Latin sentences above could have been spoken or written just as easily in the orders given below--with the same meaning (but different emphases) as translated above.

1. Deus pueros videt.     Pueros deus videt.     Videt pueros deus.     Videt deus pueros.

 

2. Pueri deum vident.     Deum pueri vident.     Vident deum pueri.     Vident pueri deum.

In like manner, other forms (i.e., endings) of ancient Greek and Latin nouns did other kinds of things.  Most notably, some of the endings on a simple noun call for a translation into English by means of a prepositional phrase.

 

dei = of God

deo = to God, for God

 

  For example, the indirect object of a sentence would have been put in what is called the Dative Case (the second example above, deo).

 

1. God gives gifts to the children.

Deus dat dona pueris.

 

 

The ending “-is” indicates indirect object.

 

2. The children give gifts to God.

 

Pueri dant dona deo.

 

 

The ending “-o” indicates indirect object.

 

Notice that just one Latin word accounts for the meaning “to the children” (three English words).

 

One of the trickier forms of Greek and Latin nouns is what is called the Genitive Case (the first example above, dei).  The reason it is trickier has to do with the functions performed by the Genitive Case when compared with the same functions in the English language.

 

1. The children’s gifts were given to God.

Dona puerorum data sunt deo.

 

 

The literal translation of the Genitive Case is “of the children” (Gifts of the children).

 

2. God’s gifts were given to the children.

 

Dona dei data sunt pueris.

 

 

The literal translation of the Genitive Case is “of God” (Gifts of God).

 

It is clear that the Genitive Case in these examples is used to express possession.  Although the literal translation of the Genitive Case is “of the children” and “of God,” the English rules for showing possession (apostrophe “s” or “s” apostrophe, etc.) can be substituted in the translation, as given above.  This use of the Genitive Case is rather easy to determine when the noun of the thing being possessed is a “concrete” noun, like “horse, dog, tree, book, house,” etc., etc. However, when the noun is a “verbal noun”--i.e., a noun expressing a verbal idea, like “fear, hate, love”--the determination of the use of the Genitive Case is not so easy.

 

To illustrate the point, how would you interpret the following statements?

 

1. The fear of the enemy is a healthy thing.

2. The fear of the enemy caused us to cringe.

3. The fear of the enemy caused us to rejoice.

 

It seems obvious that the third example indicates that the fear belongs to the enemy, not us, whereas the second example indicates that the fear belongs to us, not the enemy.  The first example, on the other hand, may indicate that the fear belongs to the enemy or to us or to both.

What we are dealing with here are two functions of the Genitive Case that are very important to understand.  The two functions are described technically as Subjective Genitive and Objective Genitive.  That is, if you convert the verbal noun into a verb, what function is played by the person(s) in the Genitive Case: as subject of the verb, or as object of the verb?

 

2. The fear of the enemy caused us to cringe.

 

This use of the Genitive Case is the Objective Genitive--i.e., we feared the enemy (the word in the Genitive Case functions like a direct object of the verbal idea in the noun “fear”).

 

3. The fear of the enemy caused us to rejoice.

 

This use of the Genitive Case is the Subjective Genitive--i.e., the enemy feared someone or something unspecified (the word in the Genitive Case functions like a subject of the verbal idea in the noun “fear”).

 

The word in the Genitive Case in the first example (“The fear of the enemy is a healthy thing.”), however, may serve as either subject or object of the verbal idea in the noun “fear.”  Perhaps a larger context would resolve this “interpreter’s dilemma,” but in isolation, the sentence may be either or, perhaps, both of the uses.

 

A prime example of the interpreter’s dilemma resides in the expression “love of God.”  Without a context, it is evident that this may mean that God loves someone or something (Subjective Genitive) or that someone or something loves God (Objective Genitive).  A good illustration of this dilemma is provided in I John 3:17 (author’s translation).

 

“But whoever has possessions of the world and sees his brother having a need and shuts off his compassion from him, how does the love of God remain in him?”

 

Does this mean that the person no longer loves God (Objective Genitive) or that God no longer loves the person (Subjective Genitive)?  The evidence seems to favor the former, but there is also evidence that the latter may be the case.  See, for example, I John 4:13-21.  In verse 16, there is a statement that “he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him”--with the implication that if the person does not abide in love, s/he does not abide in God, and God does not abide in him/her.  Does it follow that God’s not abiding in a person means that God does not love the person?  There is a strong suggestion that this is the case.

 

This lesson has introduced some grammatical principles in order to make a philosophical point (hence, “grammosophical”).  We all need to be more aware of the subtleties of languages, in general, and, in particular, to be aware of the interpreter’s dilemma when we encounter the expression “love of God.”

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