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On the Importance of Prepositions

September 7, 2009

I have two examples that illustrate the importance of prepositions, one that is serious and one that is a bit more humorous. Basil of Caesarea, one of the three so-called Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century, wrote an entire treatise in order to argue about the proper prepositions to use when ascribing glory to God. Basil used the formula “Glory to the Father with the Son together with the Holy Spirit,” while the more common form in the Greek-speaking churches was “Glory to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.” The former formula implied more than some were willing to concede about the Spirit, and so Basil had to defend the deity of the Spirit against the Pneumatomachoi. For Basil, prepositions were important, and could even carry massive theological implications. He eventually concluded that both formulae could be used, since one described God as God, and the other described God’s plan of salvation.

Now for a bit of fun. My wife and I have recently been teaching my three-year old daughter to pray for President Obama, something commanded by Scripture. However, she is still trying to work out the exact definitions of prepositions. As a result, she began insisting that we should pray to President Obama, rather than for him, an innocent mistake that communicated far more than she had in mind. Of course, we responded by telling her that we only pray to God. As you can see, even the smallest words can carry a lot of theological weight. The difference of a few letters can mean the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 8, 2009 5:14 pm

    Kids do say the funniest things!

    Maybe we should write Obama’s speech writing staff and encourage them to put this story in that speech he is set to give to the schoolchildren of America? It’s a good lesson, after all!

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