Is there definitely something wrong here?

Once when I was perhaps five my father took me hunting with him. We walked quite a ways. There was a lot of tall grass which was difficult for me to walk through. When we came to the tree my father stopped. It had good shade. Dad got out our lunch and we ate it.

OK, now re-read that paragraph which I just made up. Look for the definite article “the” and think about whether or not it sounds appropriate in the context of just this amount of story. Does that “the” sound right to your ears? What other word might sound better instead of “the”?

In my next post I’ll tell you how this relates to English Bible translation.

14 thoughts on “Is there definitely something wrong here?

  1. Karen says:

    I agree with the last comment…is it specific or not? If not, I suppose it could read “a tree with good shade, my father stopped.

  2. daniel says:

    “…a particular tree…”
    “…the tree he was looking for…”
    “…the traditional lunch-eating-under tree…”

  3. Jake says:

    I read this with no idea of the trick you were pulling at first and simply assumed it was in reference to an often-visited tree. Thus, the tree.

  4. Cameron says:

    I’ve lived in the city way too long. My first answer was, ‘The man took a five year old hunting? Somebody ring the authorities…’

    I think I see your real point. I can hear the sermon now…

    “Brothers, don’t be fooled by the evil one when your imagination tells you the hunters were in the forest. Don’t think the young boy had a choice of trees. No, that is a conceit of story tellers and card makers since our beloved Scriptures were delivered unto us.

    “I was meditating on the original English this week and the Lord (in his grace) showed me that small, apparently insignificant word, ‘the.’ He climbed *the* tree, definite article. Not an indefinite ‘a’ tree. That would mean there were many trees. No, there was only one.

    “This means that we only ever have one real choice in the question of… (yawn,…zzzzzzz…..)”

    A fair reading would probably suggest that the boy meant to say “When we came to the tree *under which we had lunch* my father stopped.” We cut those corners all the time, don’t we?

  5. Pat says:

    In English, “the tree” presupposes that the tree has already been introduced somewhere, either earlier in this story (but obviously not) or in an earlier story of which this is one of a series and which we, as “outsiders,” are not privvy to. Some of the earlier comments have the sense that there “are” these earlier stories, and thus the “the” reference is OK. However, if this is the first story, and there is nothing before this portion of the story, then in order to convey an appropriate sense, English requires that it be “a tree,” perhaps with additional description to differentiate it from other trees, before it can be “the tree.”

    To turn this around and look at it a different way, suppose a story starts out, “One day, we were walking down the street and we saw a man walking towards us,” and then several paragraphs later we read, “On our way home, we saw a man working in his garden,” we would naturally assume that they are two different men because they are both being “introduced” (signalled by the “a”). However, if the sentences instead were “One day, we were walking down the street and we saw a man walking towards us….On our way home, we saw the man working in his garden,” (assuming no other men had been introduced in between) we would assume that they were the same man.

    In Wayne’s story above, it is the first part of this last example that is missing — the introduction of the tree. To refer to something without having introduced it “properly” can cause confusion to the reader/audience — “tree? what tree? which tree? should I already know something about this tree? But I don’t…”

  6. Pat says:

    Oops, pardon me for one more musing on the subject… As far as Bible translation goes, though, what do you do with something like John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”? There has been no previous introduction of “the Word” and yet I don’t think we can say “a Word” which would imply one of several — “In the beginning was a Word…” We can perhaps assume that John’s original audience would have understood, but what can be done for today’s English readers?

  7. Chandler says:

    Everything has a definite article in Greek. It does not sound right in this context, but it might be the most literal “word for word” translation of the Greek.

  8. Pat says:

    Sorry, thoughts come in pieces… But then again couldn’t the “nonintroduction” of something be used to pull the audience into the story? In some ways, don’t we want Wayne’s story to go on and talk about what’s special about this tree? “As I sat there eating my lunch, I leaned back and looked up into the huge branches of the tree. ‘So this is the tree Dad has been talking about — the one that he and his friend would climb up in to watch for pirates on the open seas, the one that he sat in to read on hot summer afternoons…'” And isn’t that what the beginning of the gospel of John does? “In the beginning was the Word…” What Word? What is this “Word”? Tell me more about this “Word”! And John does, for the whole rest of the book.

  9. LeRoy says:

    Jn 1:1 εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θν και 2 θς ην ο λογος ουτος ην εν αρχη
    3 προς τον θν πατα δι αυτου εγενε το και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδεν ˙
    NOUNS IN THE PREDICATE. These may have the article also. As already explained, the article is not essential to speech. It is, however, “invaluable as a means of gaining precision, e.g. θεος ην ο λόγος.”

    So in Jo. 1:1, θεος ην ο λόγος, the subject is perfectly clear. Cf. ο λόγος σαρξ εγένετο (Jo. 1:14). It is true also that ο θεος ην ο λόγος (convertible terms) is the non-trinitarian belief that the Heavenly Father, and Son are two distinct persons and the Holy Spirit is the invisible power which proceeds from God..

    See also Jo. 17:17), God is the truth; the truth is God; are convertible terms and the article is quite frequent with the predicate in the N. T. and in strict accord with old usage.

    The words that are identical are convertible as in the older idiom.
    Thompson, Synt., p. 46.
    Moulton’s rule of identity and convertibility apply. In a word, then, when the article occurs with subject (or the subject is a personal pronoun or proper name) and predicate, both are definite, treated as identical, one and the same, and interchangeable. The usage applies to substantives, adjectives and participles indifferently. Moulton MOULTON, W. F., and GEDEN, A. S., A Concordance to the Greek Testament (1897).

    The accusative case (or objective case) is used to indicate the direct object of a verb, the objective complement, the complement of certain exclamatory words and their modifiers and appositives.
    και θυ ην ο λογος and God was the word (Direct object) The accusative may also indicate the indirect object after certain verbs: WAS
    Furthermore, the προς is regarding τον θν
    or the at the very most,it could be translated “with regard to God”.
    4314 προς regarding, toward, for, besides, except, with regard to, concerning; (specification) 89.7 See regarding. → headword © Oxford University Press 1995, 2002

  10. Davis says:

    I think it is fine. using “the tree” can simply mean the-tree-we-stopped-at-and-ate-lunch-under. Maybe some kind of forward pointing? So I don’t think it has to be introduced before you can use “the.” Pat’s previous example is telling: “One day, we were walking down the(!!!) street and we saw a man walking towards us,” no special introduction is needed for what street they are walking down, “the street” is simply the-street-we-were-walking-down.

  11. Gary Simmons says:

    I’m with Tim. I would assume it’s kataphoric (forward pointing), if this was the beginning of the story. If this specific tree had been cut down, and everyone was standing around reminiscing about the tree and telling stories about it, I would then take this as anaphoric (backward pointing), of course.

  12. Daryl Campbell says:

    I’m assuming it was simply a scribal error and dismissing it as insignificant to the spirit of the story. (he says tongue-in-cheek) Let’s figure out what the author “meant” to convey, not what was actually written.
    When we become master of the text it gives us greater liberty to criticize it and to find errors.
    If we become slaves to the text we then must submit to every word.
    Critical thinking does not follow the biblical mandate of comparing spiritual with spiritual, or scripture to scripture; but rather it compares spiritual to intellect or knowledge. The problem with critical thinking is that is makes us the master of the text.

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