Please Explain the Negative

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DAL | Forum Activity | Posted: Thu, Sep 5 2019 11:45 AM

 I noticed that a lot of commentaries  when explaining things that are actually positive they say that it’s described in the negative.  Why is that?  English is my second language but I never quite understood that, so I’m trying to grasp the grammatical concept; so please bear with me.

 Here is an example:  “Love described in the negative does not envy,  does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, etc.”  Elders’s good qualifications are described in the negative as “not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, etc.”

 All these things are good for them “not to be“ but it’s still said that it is described in the negative. Why?

DAL

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Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 11:53 AM

I think your question is greek, not english?

But the negative is more amenable to specificity. Not drunk is not the equivalent of sober. It's a more extreme point of behavior that best describes.

The same principle occurs with Biblical descriptions of hell (many), and heaven (almost none).


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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 12:04 PM

Denise:

I think your question is greek, not english?

But the negative is more amenable to specificity. Not drunk is not the equivalent of sober. It's a more extreme point of behavior that best describes.

The same principle occurs with Biblical descriptions of hell (many), and heaven (almost none).

I guess is a Hebrew question also since the blessed man described in Psalm 1 is also described in the negative as someone who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands...nor sits...

Confusing grammatical concept!  

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PetahChristian | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 12:14 PM

It’s more concise to list prohibitions.

If It were a list of all the acceptable behaviors, it would be much longer, and not to the point. 

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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 12:28 PM

 So the only thing that would make it a negative sentence it’s because it uses “NOT” and not because it’s necessarily something negative? It’s still confusing because saying: “An elder must be hospitable” is still the same as saying “An elder must not be inhospitable.” The former is in the positive and the later in the negative, but both are requiring the same thing, no?

DAL

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PetahChristian | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 12:35 PM

DAL:

“An elder must be hospitable” is still the same as saying “An elder must not be inhospitable.”

Not really. The second is a double negative which is more difficult to parse, and is less grammatically acceptable.

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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 12:43 PM

PetahChristian:

DAL:

“An elder must be hospitable” is still the same as saying “An elder must not be inhospitable.”

Not really. The second is a double negative which is more difficult to parse, and is less grammatically acceptable.

“You can’t unsee that” is an acceptable double negative, no? 😂😜😁 the good old grammar lessons!

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PetahChristian | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 1:02 PM

DAL:
“You can’t unsee that” is an acceptable double negative, no?

Yes, I don't doubt that!

Isn't it interesting how the use of yes and no as affirmative answers might differ between languages.

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 1:10 PM

DAL:
“You can’t unsee that” is an acceptable double negative, no? 😂😜😁 the good old grammar lessons!

The classic joke about double negatives:

A linguistics professor was lecturing his class. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn't a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

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Tom Reynolds | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 1:14 PM

DAL:

“An elder must be hospitable” is still the same as saying “An elder must not be inhospitable.”

They are not the same thing. It's the difference between the silver rule and the golden rule. To be hospitable requires one to act in a hospitable manner. You can "not be inhospitable" and do nothing, you can be indifferent to the person. In a city people are generally indifferent to others because there are so many people and you can't be hospitable to everyone. In a village of 50 people everyone says good morning, etc. and are very hospitable. A stranger might even invite you home for lunch and people from the city are taken aback because it is so unusual for them to experience xenia.

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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 1:14 PM

Rosie Perera:

DAL:
“You can’t unsee that” is an acceptable double negative, no? 😂😜😁 the good old grammar lessons!

The classic joke about double negatives:

A linguistics professor was lecturing his class. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn't a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

Haha 😂😂😂 man I’m getting old! I heard that joke in middle school many moons ago!

QUESTION: Are there any grammar books in Logos that can help me brush up on my English grammar. I have greek and Hebrew grammar beyond the basics, but would like something for the English language.

DAL

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Rosie Perera | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 1:24 PM

DAL:

 I noticed that a lot of commentaries  when explaining things that are actually positive they say that it’s described in the negative.  Why is that?  English is my second language but I never quite understood that, so I’m trying to grasp the grammatical concept; so please bear with me.

 Here is an example:  “Love described in the negative does not envy,  does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, etc.”  Elders’s good qualifications are described in the negative as “not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, etc.”

 All these things are good for them “not to be“ but it’s still said that it is described in the negative. Why?

The commentaries are merely saying that it's phrased in a grammatically negative way ("not ..."), rather than that it is a negative (bad) quality for them to have.

There are a lot of things in the Bible that are stated as grammatical negations. Most of the Ten Commandments are in the form of "Thou shalt NOT..." rather than affirming positively how one should behave. The only positive ones are "Remember the Sabbath day" and "Honor your father and mother." Again, it's about grammar only, and negative grammar does not imply that it's a bad behavior being commanded, it means the command is rather to avoid bad behavior. Why does so much of the Bible command against bad behavior rather than commanding good behavior? Maybe it's because we are so prone to sin we need to be reminded what not to do.

I personally think (and psychology seems to agree) that it's usually better to instruct in good behavior than to forbid bad behavior. When training little children for example, if you tell them not to do something, it becomes like the forbidden fruit, and they are more likely to want to try it to test boundaries. It's better to say something like "Stay with me on the sidewalk and hold my hand" rather than "Don't run into the road!" But it's human nature to speak the forbidding word. We do it all the time.

In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we are guided to a new way of living (positive rather than negative). I'm reminded of Col 2:20-23: "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence." And yet there are still some negative commands in the New Testament. E.g., Philippians 2:3: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves." And 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil." (Both of those have both a negative and a positive aspect.)

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Dave Hooton | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 1:37 PM

DAL:
Are there any grammar books in Logos that can help me brush up on my English grammar.

As you understand idioms like "brush up", I doubt that there will be any books to help with your English grammar. I could have stated "it is likely that there will be no books", but you asked if there will be "any" books, so I had to answer more negativelyBig Smile

Dave
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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 1:44 PM

Dave Hooton:

DAL:
Are there any grammar books in Logos that can help me brush up on my English grammar.

As you understand idioms like "brush up", I doubt that there will be any books to help with your English grammar. I could have stated "it is likely that there will be no books", but you asked if there will be "any" books, so I had to answer more negativelyBig Smile

Gotcha! 👍😁👌

Thanks Rosie! 

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DIsciple II | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 2:40 PM

DAL:

QUESTION: Are there any grammar books in Logos that can help me brush up on my English grammar. I have greek and Hebrew grammar beyond the basics, but would like something for the English language

These are where you might want to start DAL.

Beyond them maybe take a look at these two:

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DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 3:05 PM

Thanks, Disciple II 🙏

I’ll be looking at the sample pages to see which ones will work better.  I do like the companions to the Basics of Biblical Greek and Hebrew. I’d probably kill 3 birds with 2 books in this case (Hebrew, Greek And English).

DAL

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Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 3:21 PM

DAL:
“An elder must be hospitable” is still the same as saying “An elder must not be inhospitable.”

Actually these two statements are not equivalent in meaning.

To be hospitable goes beyond "not being inhospitable".

Although each statement can be given a range of interpretation, we could imagine them as follows on a "hospitality" scale.

inhospitable = -10 (flaw)

neither inhospitable nor particularly hospitable = 0 (neither)

hospitable = +10 (quality)

Example:

1. I have opportunity to invite people or to be welcoming, but I don't doing that and so I don't = I am inhospitable.

2. I generally seize opportunities to invite people and am usually welcoming = I am hospitable.

3. I don't go out of my way to invite people but do from time to time and I welcome people from time to time = I am neither inhospitable nor hospitable.

Now of course, this is the logos forums, so I am expecting several people to disagree with me. But hopefully they will hospitable rather than inhospitable to my comments though I suspect many might be neither.

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Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 3:41 PM

Francis:

Actually these two statements are not equivalent in meaning.

To be hospitable goes beyond "not being inhospitable".

Francis' point is quite good. And explains why being  righteous (OT) only demanded don't be bad.  Recognize the right Diety and you're good to go.

But Judaism introduced a 'not good enough' righteousness (positive works), and its subsequent entanglement with grace. Best contrasted among the protestant denominations.


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Al Het | Forum Activity | Replied: Thu, Sep 5 2019 3:46 PM

I don't think it is that the commentaries explain the passages you mention as negatives, when they really are positive.  I think that the actual passages mean them in the negative way.  And, I would submit that the passages are often written that way, not to be more emphatic, but to be more precise.  Sometimes stating a negative means something different than the opposite, positive version might. For instance, in your example of 1 Tim. 3, Elders are not to be quarrelsome.  The author could have said, "peaceful," or commentaries could focus on peacefulness, but I presume that the Apostle Paul specifically didn't want leaders to be people who look for arguments.  That fits in the realm of "peaceful," but isn't specifically the same thing.  Likewise, "not given to drunkenness," "not a lover of money," are fairly specific.  There are also positive attributes listed as well ("faithful," "temperate," self controlled," etc.).  However, I think the passage is saying, these guys should have these positive attributes, and not have these negative attributes, because they are negative.

Other times, the passage is pointing to what we perhaps recognize in the negative.  Your example about love from 1 Cor. 13 is a very good example of that.  I believe that the writer was focusing on elements that the reader might see in their "loving relationships," but are not a part of love.  Therefore, pointing out that love is not jealous, not arrogant, does not boast or seek it's own, is written this way to show the reader that perhaps if you see any of these elements in your "loving relationship," you are missing what actual love is (the love that is defined by God).

Likewise in this passage, the statement that "love never fails" is somewhat different than if he had said, "love always succeeds."  Both could be said to mean the same thing, but they are communicating slightly different nuances.  "Never fails" is something you might say to someone who is down, and worried about what might be coming.  "Always succeeds" is something you might say, being aspirational.  Also, "always succeeds" has the feeling of having a goal that it succeeds at.  Never fails feels more like "won't let you down." 

One caveat:  I haven't looked at that particular passage in Greek for a while, so I'm not making a definitive statement about the definition of the particular Greek word usually translated as "fails" in this passage.

All that to say, I think much of the time, the negatives in these passages are there for greater specificity, greater accuracy, if you will.  Not having these negatives might be good for you, but the intention is often that these things are negatives, and should not exist.

Oh, and double negatives (and triple, and quadruple) ARE fairly common is Greek...  A translator's dream, to then translate that into correct English.

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