A Very Inconvenient Truth (Part 5)

The “Quantity” argument. Click here for part 4

It is very interesting to observe that virtually all of the newer bible translations clearly side with the quantity argument in verse 6. One may verify this by visiting a site such as BibleGateway.com. Does this reflect a greater understanding of the original Word of God…or a greater distortion of It? Some of the older ones (such as the highly respected King James Version) do to, but certainly not to the extent of newer ones.

Now, if the quantity argument is so prevalent today, then it must addressed head-on. In other words, let’s now suppose that verse 6 does indeed speak of quantity. As we shall see, this passage then becomes a very complex and incomplete piece of scripture!

To make this verse speaks of quantity paves the way for all kind of confusion…and abuses!
Here we go. Is verse 6 speaking of quantity in absolute terms or in relative terms? Where is the cutoff point between sparingly and generously? It is at 5% of what you have, 10%, or 20%? If there is one such cutoff point, why is it not mentioned here? Here is something else…what if you give cheerfully (as verse 7 encourages), but only 2% of what you have…does your giving overrides the quantity to give requirement? And what if you give grudgingly (as verse 7 discourages), but a full 70% of what you have…does your giving overrides the attitude in giving requirement? There is yet something else. What if you and someone else are to give a certain combined amount, and whatever the other gives, you will give the rest…Did you give the right amount even if the other gave 95% of the amount and you 5%? And would not this last case imply that the quality of your giving is conditioned by the giving of another? Since when your standing with God is dependent on someone else’s?

To make this verse speaks of quantity make the first part of verse 7 irrelevant and downright confusing!

2 Corinthians 9:6, 7 –But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows on the basis of blessings will also reap blessings. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity;

According to verse 7, each one is to give as he purposes in his heart. But if that is the proper way to give, why are we being warned just before (verse 6) that giving little will have negative consequences? If verse 6 indeed speaks of quantity, then it effectively makes the first past of verse 7 completely irrelevant, and even – dare we say – very confusing. That is because the only correct amount to give, which is “much” was already stressed in verse 6. Who cares what one purposes in his or her heart…just give much, and you will right in the sight of God!

If there is a reference to quantity, it is in verse 7, not verse 6!
If there is one place in this passage referring to quantity, it is precisely the first part of verse 7. And the quantity requirement is that it should be the quantity one purposes in his heart, period! That is the quantity to give. And look, the verse then goes right back to the motivation in the giving, the whole purpose of this entire section.

It is our belief that there is simply no room for the quantity argument in verse 6. The very small sample of problematic questions that were raised in this article gives us a glimpse at the kind of abuses the quantity argument permits. This is the case because if the Bible does not answer those questions, then it effectively delegates this responsibility to our church leaders…and that is where all hell brake loose!  The fact that most newer bible translations side with quantity clearly reflect the deliberate choice our so called bible scholars and authorities have made. And we can understood why! And these are the bibles you and I read! How sad! How v-e-r-r-r-r-y sad!
Anyway…what’s next?  Well, after a brief look at the immediate context of this passage, precisely, verse 5, which further supports the motivation in giving argument of this series, we shall conclude with a reflection of the implication of this study. 

A Very Inconvenient Truth (Part 4)

Alright. So we essentially completed our review of the second part of verse 6, and we concluded from part 3 that it says…

2 Corinthians 9:6 –…and he who sows on the basis of blessings will also reap blessings.

It is now time to turn to the first part…

2 Corinthians 9:6 – He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly…
Interestingly, this part does not suffer from any of the two issues we identified in the second, namely, the poor translation of a word and the outright omission of another. But what we will argue is that the issue at a hand is simply a matter of interpretation of the adverb sparingly.

Sparingly…what means thou?
The Greek word for “sparingly” is pheidomenós and it comes from the verb pheidomai which means to spare, or to abstain. A search of this adverb in Merriam-Webster dictionary gives sparing, which is the act of giving or sharing as little as possible. It also refers to less plentiful than what is normal, necessary, or desirable. There is certainly a strong reference to quantity in this definition, and that is precisely how it is mostly understood in verse 6.

But there is something rather peculiar about sparingly. It turns out that 2 Corinthians 9:6  is the only place in the New Testament where the word pheidomenós is used. The implications of this fact is that there are essentially two options when it comes to defining this term. The first is to work with a secular dictionary such Merriam-Webster’s. The second is to stay right here in this verse and explain it from here. We are of the belief that the best option is to stay right here, in this verse.  So here we go!

A little bit of Set theory from Mathematics, shall we!?

IF we agree that verse 6 is
1) made of two distinct statements (one about sowing sparingly and the other about sowing on the basis on blessings), and that
2) these two statements are mutually exclusive (meaning that both cannot happen at the same time, i.e. one cannot sow sparingly and at the same time sow on the basis of blessings…it has to be one or the other), and that
3) these two statements are exhaustive (meaning that there is no other way to sow but these two ways)

THEN we can only conclude that,
The two statements of verse 6 are the exact opposite of each other.

The implication of this seemingly obvious conclusion is actually quite profound. The implication is that understanding of one of the two statements automatically leads to understanding the other. From part 3, the second part of verse 6 is quite clear… and he who sows on the basis of blessings will also reap blessings. Could not be clearer! Now, if we agree that the first part of the verse is the exact opposite of the second, then the first part must mean… he who “does not” sow on the basis of blessings will reap “something else” than blessings.

So what does that all mean?
The whole purpose of verse 6 is to state God’s perspective regarding giving. There are only two ways to give: either one gives 1) for the “sole” and “unique” purpose of blessing someone else or one gives 2) for “any other” reason than simply blessing someone else. Please note that the opposite of “on the basis of blessing” is any other reason than to bless.  “On the basis of cursing” certainly falls in that category, but so does “on the basis of money”, “…of fame”, “… of greed”, …of praise, “…of obligation“…of constraintetc. 

Just like “on the basis of blessings”, “sparingly” refers to the intention behind the giving, not the quantity given. But the intention in this case is any intention other than just blessing the other.

The argument in this article is that sparingly is nothing more than the opposite of on the basis of blessing. And because of it, understanding it properly should really not be a problem. The problem is that this simple understanding gets completely obscured when the second part of verse 6 is not properly translated in the first place. 

In addition, the fact that verse 6 is the only place in the New Testament where this adverb is used should cause us to be extra-vigilant when it comes to interpreting it. The argument postulated is that because of it, the best place for its interpretation should be this very verse  which is the immediate context of its use  rather than some secular source. And this allowed us to conclude that sparingly refers to the motivation behind the giving, to the exact same extent that on the basis of blessing does.  

Yet, one may ask…But what if, despite all the arguments presented in this series, there is still room for the notion of quantity in verse 6?. Could we be wrong all the way in believing that motivation is the one and only focus? We shall investigate that route in the next article. Indeed…“Suppose these terms really refer to quantity…”.