Thursday, March 18, 2010

Which came first -- the love or the forgiveness?

I recently received this question about Luke 7:47 from a student in our Greek class,
I know this is a bit beyond where we're at but its there away to tell from the Greek if her love or being forgiven came first? "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

There are a few questions that may help us answer this question:

1. What are the verb tenses? Do these tip us off to the timing?
2. What is the meaning of the conjunction "for"?
3. What seems to be the logic of Jesus' statement?

To answer question 1, we would definitely be getting ahead of ourselves in our Greek class, but the short answer is - there is nothing I can see that dictates that love came after or before the forgiveness. "Loved" is a simple, aorist verb that is undefined in time; it is just a generic past tense idea.

Regarding question 2, the Greek word is "oti" (or "hoti" with the rough breathing mark). Mounce defines this conjunction as "that, since, because." This might suggest the woman was forgiven BECAUSE she loved God so much. Most translations simply say "for."

However, notice these two translations:
Holman Christian Standard Bible Luke 7:47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; THAT'S WHY she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.

NET Bible Luke 7:47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, THUS she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.

These two translations see her love as the RESULT rather than the CAUSE. This is one legitimate use of "hoti." Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics says this about result conjunctions: "This use gives the outcome or consequence of an action. The focus is on the outcome of the action rather than on its intention. Major conjunctions used this way are: ὥστε, ὡς, ὅτι, and less frequently, ἵνα. This use can be translated that, so that, or with the result that. By far the most common is ὥστε."

When we come to question 3 (Jesus' logic), I think the idea clearly is that the woman kissed and anointed Jesus' feet BECAUSE she loved Him so much, and she loved Him so much BECAUSE she knew her many sins had been forgiven by God.

Thus, from both a logical and a grammatical standpoint, it seems best to see love as the result to forgiveness. May all of us be equally grateful to Christ for the forgiveness He bought for us with His blood.

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