Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: perfect

To better understand English, learn a little French

In its grammatical structure, English belongs to the Low German language family, a group of languages that developed from a common early Germanic root. The group includes Flemish, Dutch, Frisian, Afrikaans (the Dutch that is spoken in South Africa), Plautdietsch, English and Scots (not Gaelic but the variety of old English spoken by the lowland Scots, such as the poet Robbie Burns).

However, something like 40% of English words come from French. Oftentimes meanings, spelling and pronunciation have shifted to the point that the French roots are almost invisible. Take geezer for instance. This is a word that was originally applied to someone who went about in a disguise, or more simply, in the guise of someone different from himself. Since guise is a word of French origin it was originally pronounced geez. Over a few hundred years the meaning of geezer shifted to where it is now used only for an older person who has become a little different in appearance and mannerisms.

In many other words the French roots are plainly visible, though often not understood by English speakers. Take grammar for instance, which is what I want to talk about in this article.

laptop-3087585_640

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

All English grammatical terms are French, beginning with grammar itself. Grammar comes from grammaire in French, which comes from a Greek word meaning the art of reading and writing. A noun is the name of a thing, chair for instance, and comes from the French word nom, meaning name. Most other grammatical terms are spelled the same, or almost the same, in English as in French: verbe, adverbe, adjectif or adjective, préposition, article, objet direct or indirect, conjonction, etc.

It may be helpful for English speakers to understand the roots of terms like tense and mood. Both are mispronunciations of French words, which led to misspellings, making them homonyms of English words with completely different meanings.

Tense comes from temps, which means time. Past, present and future should be called times, not tenses. Obvious, eh? But the French pronunciation of temps is something that is beyond the capacity of the vocal apparatus of someone who grew up speaking English, so it drifted over to become tense.

There are three basic past tenses: simple past, imperfect and pluperfect. Perfect is another word of French origin that we often misunderstand. It simply means finished or complete, or, in the case of people, grown up or mature. Neither in grammar nor in the Bible does it ever mean faultless. Imperfect means incomplete and refers to an action that began in the past and is not complete. Pluperfect (plus-que-parfait in French) means more than complete and refers to an action that was complete in the past before something else happened.

For instance: I had gone (pluperfect) into Tim Horton’s and was ordering (imperfect) a coffee when my cousin walked (simple past) in.

Mood comes from the French word mode and should be mode in English also. Once again, a native English speaker cannot really duplicate the sound of mode in French. Nevertheless, the grammatical term mood in English refers to a mode of expressing one’s meaning.

The indicative mood (mode) is used for an action that has actually happened, is happening, or that we know will happen. The conditional mood (mode) is used for actions that could, should or would happen if some other condition is met, had been met or will be met.

Examples: The plane will be landing in fifteen minutes (indicative).
The plane should be landing in fifteen minutes if it left Toronto on time (conditional).

And then there’s the subjunctive mood, but that is going to require a whole article of its own.

Perfection and humilty and servanthood and leadership

Is it possible to be perfect, humble, a servant and a leader all at the same time? According to the New Testament, God expects us to be all of the above. If that seems impossible, perhaps we have gotten hung up on a misunderstanding of the meaning of one or more of those words.

Many well-meaning Christians will insist that the only perfection that we can ever attain to is to be found in Jesus Christ and then His perfection becomes ours. I was going to say that this is a cop-out, but that would be too harsh. It is just a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it calls us to be perfect. The basic meaning of the word is complete when referring to things, and fully grown or mature when speaking of people. It does not mean to be utterly without flaw or blemish. In the AV, the Greek word teleios is translated 17 times as perfect, once as men (“in understanding be men” 1 Corinthians 14:20) and once as of full age (“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” Hebrews 5:14).

Thus, what the Bible is asking of us is maturity. A person who is mature does not think that he knows everything, that he never makes a mistake, never misunderstands. Someone who is mature is quick to own up to his mistakes, apologize where he has caused offence, and to fix what he has broken.

Looked at in this way, perfection begins to sound a lot like humility, doesn’t it? They really are like the two sides of the same coin. A person who is perfect and humble can be entrusted with responsibility. He will do his best to fulfil that responsibility, without running over anyone who might get in the way. In other words, he see himself as a servant. He is not simply trying to please himself, but whoever has entrusted him with this responsibility. Ultimately, he sees himself as a servant of God and of his fellow men.

Such a person is a leader. He does not see himself as lord over those whom he is leading, but rather as their servant. He goes ahead to show the way, to avoid dangers, to help all to reach their goal. We are all called to be leaders in some way, in the home, at work, even at play.

We will not always do everything just right, or say everything just right. We will be misunderstood; we will be criticized, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. Either way, if we respond to the criticism with kindness and respect we will grow and become more useful. This is the way of perfection. If we respond with impatience and anger, we will shrivel and become less useful.

The mommy cat did it

I was visiting with my neighbour’s one hot Sunday afternoon, sitting outside with them on the shady side of the house by the back door.  Their children were playing around us and going in and out the door.  After a while, a half-grown kitten came out the door and we all took note that the hair along its back had been roughly shorn off.

“Who did that?”, demanded the mother.

“I think the mommy cat did,” responded their four year old daughter.

She was innocent enough to think this might sound like a reasonable possibility, and seemed surprised that her mother considered her answer a dead giveaway.  When tufts of hair and a pair of scissors were found on a bed, and Mom expressed her certainty that the mommy cat did not do it, the little girl confessed that it was indeed she who had done it.

The tendency to want to blame someone else when things go wrong stays with us as we grow older.  We just learn to make more reasonable sounding excuses.  A few days ago I saw a greeting card in a store, with the grand-daddy of all excuses: “Counselling has taught me that it’s not my fault.”

The Bible instructs us in many places to be perfect.  Our tendency is to assume that perfect means without fault, which we know to be impossible, so we say this speaks of the perfection of Christ which is imputed to us.  It is true that our sins are covered by the blood of Christ, but I believe these passages are speaking of something else.

The root meaning of perfect is thoroughly done.  Likewise, the Greek words translated perfect mean have the meaning of complete or fully grown.  In the following verses, a Greek word that is translated perfect in other places is translated men and of full age.

Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.  (1 Corinthians 14:20)

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:14)

As I read these, and other verses that speak of being perfect, it seems that we are being admonished to be mature and accountable.  A perfect man then would not be one who always does things just right, but one who accepts responsibility for his actions and doesn’t try to blame the mommy cat.  One who admits when he has done wrong, confesses it and tries to make amends.

Is there any other kind of man (or woman) that God can use?

%d bloggers like this: