Thursday, March 10, 2011

thought straining language until it cracks

In studying for Sunday's sermon on 2 Corinthians 2.12-17, I'm struck again by how the Apostle Paul writes a letter. In 2.12 & 13, Paul is commenting on his travel itinerary (which some in the Corinthian church were using as grounds for an accusation that Paul could not be trusted -- that he was unreliable).

But then in 2.14, his thought suddenly takes a wild turn -- and yet, it's a thought that naturally grows out of what he had been saying. But he doesn't return to his travel itinerary until 7.5.

He just breaks off the thought altogether -- moves into another thought -- develops that thought for several chapters -- and then returns (in chapter 7) to the thought he had left hanging in chapter 2.

I love it!

It reminds me of one scholar's lively & colorful description of Paul's writings:

"There never was a writer whose style more clearly reflected the mood and purpose of the hour. It completely reveals the man, and its rapid changes are just the lights and shadows flitting over his face. It indicates the pulses of his feeling, shows him quivering with nervous excitement, and anxiety, or flashing with indignation, jubilant with Christian triumph, or calm with the hidden depths of Christian peace. It is not polished or careful as to form, rather the reverse; it not seldom labors under the burden of thought, becomes involved, digresses, goes off at a word, draws clause out of clause in telescopic fashion as one new idea suggests another, until the main purpose is almost forgotten, and there is either a violent turn to recover it, or an abrupt conclusion and a new start altogether.... the thought straining the language until it cracks in the process -- a shipwreck of grammar."

Some other fun examples:
  • his "first" in Romans 3.2... a first that never really has a second or a third
  • the 202 word sentence at the very beginning of his letter to the Ephesians

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