Sacred Grammar by Patrick Henry Reardon


Sacred Grammar

Patrick Henry Reardon on the Three Blessings of Timothy

In 2 Timothy 3:10–15 we have what appear to be among the last lines that St. Paul wrote on this earth. They were sent from Rome, probably during the two years of the apostle’s house arrest, as recorded in Acts, or perhaps somewhat later.

Paul, as he was preparing to die, reminded Timothy of the blessings of his youth. He wrote: “But you must continue in the things which you have heard and been assured of, knowing from whom you learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures”—or “holy Scriptures” (that’s the way it’s translated in most translations; the Greek says hiera grammata, “the sacred grammar”)—“which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Paul reminded Timothy that, as a boy, he had learned his Bible stories from his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother Lois, both mentioned by name in the first chapter of that same epistle. Raised in a Jewish family—though with a pagan father—he grew up with the inherited faith of the Scriptures. We should note in particular that the Scriptures referred to here are the Old Testament. At this point, the New Testament Scriptures are just in the process of composition.

Raised on Bible Stories

The Scriptures Timothy learned as a boy were the same Scriptures we learned as children, and which we, in turn, taught our families.

My wife and I remember our children being very fond of Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho. They dramatized that story by falling down like the walls of Jericho; it was all great fun. Besides, there was a song to go with it—something about Joshua “fitting” the battle of Jericho. They learned that song very quickly.

I also recall my children being very fond of the story of Elijah going up on a fiery chariot; there was also a song to go with that story. When we came to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, I explained that the Cities of the Plain were punished for not picking up their toys.

We raised our own children with these stories: the histories of Abraham and Isaac, the travels of Jacob and Joseph, the exploits of Joshua and Gideon, the tragedies of Jephthah and Sampson, the adventures of Daniel and his three musketeers, the perils of Jeremiah, the journeys of Jonah, and the romance of Boaz and Ruth. We were very fond of these stories. In fact, we had a little pair of finches bearing the names of Boaz and Ruth.

The first and most serious responsibility of those raising children is to teach them grammar. Grammar is a discipline chiefly conveyed through narrative; poetry as well, and maxim, but chiefly narrative, which tends more readily to grab the interest of young ones. Timothy’s mother and grandmother not only raised the boy in the faith, but also instructed him in the study of sacred grammar, the sacred Scriptures—the grammata, “those things written.” It was this early pursuit of sacred letters, conducted in the home, which grounded the soul of the boy Timothy and prepared him to become in due course an apostle of the Church.

Lifelong Study

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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