Some Very Positive Negatives

There are many similarities between Greek and English.  But there are also many striking differences.  In the English language for example, it is considered a grammatical faux pas to use a double negative in a sentence (example: I'll never, never eat asparagus).  But the Greek language has no such rule.  In fact it is a point of style to add multiple negatives to increase emphasis (our sentence would read "I absolutely will never eat asparagus").  Let's compare two examples:

In the Upper Room on the night of his betrayal, Jesus turned to his disciples and told them that each one of them would desert him (Mark 14:27).  Peter immediately disagreed with Jesus and said he would not deny him, even though all the others would fall away (Mark 14:29).  Interestingly, Jesus agrees with Peter.  He says that Peter will not deny him like the others.  He will deny him three times, and he will do it before the dawn of the next day.

This brings us to Peter's second disagreement with Jesus: "But he very vehemently kept insisting, 'Even should it be necessary for me to die with you, I absolutely will not deny you'" (my translation).  Peter uses the double-negative here saying "I will not, not deny you."  The ensuing hours would bring Peter's three denials and his heartbroken weeping.

Now, I don't for a moment doubt Peter's sincerity. Nor do I question the depth of feeling behind his words, nor the intensity of his intention and full expectation to fulfill them. Peter meant every word he said. Yet he failed. He could not deliver on his promises.

Peter seriously overestimated his own strength of character and will, his resolve, his ability to withstand temptation in his own strength. So when the trial came, the pressure soared and Peter came up short - far, far short.

Now let's compare this with Hebrews 13:5.  The writer to the Hebrews (probably Apollos) states "Your way of life must be without love of money, being content with what is at hand; for He Himself has said, 'I absolutely will not abandon you, nor will I ever, ever desert you" (my translation).  

God tells us that we don't need to be focused on money and possessions because we have the promise that God will always be with us.  He will provide our needs and comfort us with his presence.  This is a wonderful promise-a wonderfully emphatic promise.  The Greek student can count no fewer than five negatives in this statement: "Not, not will I abandon you, neither, not, not will I desert you."  This passage (and its negations) is said to be the inspiration for the hymn text "How Firm a Foundation

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes.
That soul, though all Hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake. (Count all five of them)

It is another emphatic promise, like Peter's.  But we should consider the differences.  When God makes a promise to us, is there any chance that his estimations of his ability to fulfill the promise will be off? Is it possible that God did not foresee how difficult we can be? Did he not know about your weakness, flaws, your follies, your defects?

Did He not know of the difficult life you'd have? The marital problems you would encounter?  How your job would go? What would happen to your income, your church, your health? Is it possible that God overestimated the power of His grace to be sufficient for you? That He thought too highly of His ability to keep you, and control every last one of your circumstances (Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 21:1; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11)?

As a believer in Jesus, you have the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for your God.  His promises are better than the best solid gold.  Trust him.

 

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