Grammar vs. Text

I read this gem from Leithart today:

Some commentators claim that John 6 cannot be talking about the Lord’s Supper because the verbs (in vv. 52-59) are aorist. This is very implausible to me. John recorded a discourse of Jesus in which he speaks of eating flesh, drinking blood – both resonant with Eucharistic associations, and he wrote this discourse to churches that commemorated Jesus with a meal of Jesus’ flesh and blood. And yet, we know that John didn’t intend to talk about the Eucharist because of the verb tense! If John didn’t intend his readers to think of the Eucharist, he’s chosen a singularly odd way to do his business. It almost seems like a trick: Everything in the chapter SOUNDS like Eucharist, but John leaves us the subtle clue of the verb tense to let us know it’s not. A wider point about grammatical-historical exegesis: This is an example of grammar trumping the text; the verb tense controls what the passage means, rather than the whole passage controlling what the passage means. This is not the way we normally use language; when we use rich and resonant imagery, we expect our readers to notice it, and not to focus on verb tenses and not to let the verb tenses control (or cancel out) the imagery. (This is not to say that the verb tenses of Scripture are irrelevant or unimportant. They are, as is every jot and tittle. But there is not reason to make the verb tenses controlling.)

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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