A Lesson In Grammar
One of the most serious failings of modern educational systems is in the field of grammar. The diagramming and parsing of sentences is almost an obsolete field of study in many modern schools. And the tragic loss of understanding of simple English composition as a result of this is nowhere more apparent than in the field of Biblical exegesis. One becomes increasingly impressed with this as the discussion centers on the simple meaning of some statement from the Bible. Take, for instance, James' declaration: "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27)
Now, what does that mean? Does that sentence lay an obligation upon Christian individuals, or on congregations, or on both? Is there any way of determining from the sentence exactly what is comprehended in the injunction given?
For almost a decade now brethren have been arguing that matter, often with more heat than light, with more energy than understanding. But a simple lesson in grammar (such grammar as was learned in the seventh and eighth grades of a generation or two ago) would have clarified the case, and have avoided a veritable flood of articles and propaganda on mistaken and false conclusions as to the meaning of the verse.
Brother A. C. Grider helped give such a lesson in grammar to brother Guy N. Woods at the Louisville debate last summer. (See the report of this discussion elsewhere in this issue.) Brother Woods has been debating this question for several years, and has consistently misapplied and misunderstood James 1:27 — all of which controversy (over this verse, at least) could have been obviated by a brief diagramming of James 1:27. Here we give a simple diagram of the sentence, similar to the one which brother Grider used in his Louisville discussion:
Study this diagram carefully, and then note the analysis of it as given by brother Grider:
Chart Goes Here
A simple declarative sentence.
"religion": Simple subject, nominative case, with compound modifiers: "pure," "undefiled" and "before God and the Father."
"is": intransitive linking verb which ties the subject with the predicate nominative.
"this": pronoun of the nominative case, used as predicate nominative, which completes the predicate; linked to the subject, it explains the subject, and is in a sense identical with the subject
"to visit, etc. .... to keep, etc.": compound infinitive phrases, used in apposition with both "this" and "religion," and tell what each is; being in apposition they agree in case. The compound infinitive phrases are used in substance as a noun clause, and are inseparably linked to one another with the coordinate copulative conjunction "and." There can be no separation of these two infinitive phrases. Whatever "to visit" is for, "to keep" is for. Both MUST have the same subject. If to "keep" is to the individual, then "to visit" is to the individual.
"himself": a compound, reflexive, personal pronoun of the third person. Every pronoun must agree with its antecedent (whether that antecedent be expressed or implied) in person, number, gender, and case.
"unspotted": an adjective modifier of "himself." Grammarians might differ slightly in the exact form or
pattern of their diagramming techniques; but there would be an absolute unanimity among them in the one supremely important item in the above diagram and analysis: viz.
the two infinitive phrases, being bound together by the copulative "and" MUST have the same subject.
And what is that subject? Is there any way to determine it? The key to that question is the reflexive pronoun "himself:" this requires an antecedent (implied in this instance), such as "man," "person," "one." It obviously cannot have "congregation" as its antecedent, since the reflexive pronoun "himself" could not possibly refer back to a congregation! And since the implied subject ("man," "person," "one") is clearly the subject of the infinitive phrase "to keep" it is, of necessity, the subject of the co-ordinate phrase "to visit." Both infinitives MUST have the same subject. Actually, the true antecedent of "himself" would be some such phrase or expression as "pure religion for a man," or "pure religion of himself is for a man," etc. Brother Grider very correctly noted that:
"It takes two things to make 'pure religion:' to visit and to keep. If 'to visit' were all, a drunkard might visit widows and orphans, and thereby be practicing 'pure religion.' It is both a positive, and a negative religion."
We sincerely hope that this elementary lesson in grammar will be of assistance to all. Our liberal brethren are well supplied with men of formal education and training who could long ago have used this simple technique to help determine the true meaning of James 1:27. It is most unfortunate that they did not do so, but rather flooded the country with articles, pamphlets, books, and sermons setting forth an erroneous interpretation; and committed the defense of their false position into the hands of brethren who had not the training or background to use the good old-fashioned methods of diagramming and parsing to get at the true meaning of a sentence. Let it be understood once and for all, that James 1:27 does NOT refer to congregational action; grammatically it MUST refer to individuals, not congregations.
— F. Y. T.