Signs of Love
Among the many parts of Holy Scripture that merit closer regard respecting grammar, I would include St. John’s simple admonition, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
In John’s combination “word and tongue,” we readily recognize what grammarians call a hendiadys, which means that John conveys a single idea by a double expression. That is to say, in John’s “in word or in tongue,” there is no real difference between “word” and “tongue”; both are metaphors for speech. John means simply, “Let not our love be just a lot of talk.”
Now respecting “word and tongue,” these comments are perhaps too obvious to require critical attention. Let me suggest, however, that our parsing should be carried over to John’s second pair of words, “deed and truth.” It is important to see that this second combination is likewise a hendiadys. In context, both expressions mean the identical thing. In regard to love, there is no real difference between truth and deeds. The truth of love is composed of what we do.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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