Logical Gal – descriptive v. prescriptive statements

22 Jan

If you love me, keep my commandments!

If you love me, you will keep my commandments!

What’s the difference?

The first one is PREscriptive – it tells us what to do.

The second one is DEscriptive – it elaborates how something actually is.

In grammar terms, the DO THIS is called the imperative and the THIS IS HOW IT IS goes by the name of the indicative.

As you can see, the verb tense makes a weighty difference.  Welcome to another example of how distinctions can shed light on the meaning of a term or doctrine in this case.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who is condemning the Bible because of certain historical events recounted in its pages? They might bring up polygamy practiced by the patriarchs, for example, or rape.  What makes the Bible so believable is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the past.  In fact Jesus’ lineage includes a prostitute, schemers and murderers.  Does it follow, then, that God is promoting these behaviors? Not at all!  This is one way the prescriptive/descriptive distinction is so useful!

But getting back to the 2 translations of the John 15:14 verse at the beginning.  What’s up with having two subtle but very different senses?

The first one is actually an incorrect rendering of the Greek.  The original language in fact DESCRIBES the behavior of a follower and lover of Jesus.  The KJV and the NIV translators, for whatever reason(s), were either unable to understand the verb tenses or unwilling or ASSUMED what Jesus said and meant.

But why would someone want to add a burden to a child of God? (Earn this!)  Because the idea of GRACE, of the gift of a relationship with God that one doesn’t have to work for, sounds too good to be true!

Question: Have you misinterpreted a descriptive illustration for one that is prescriptive?

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