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June 5, 2007 / beidson

Bad English and Great Theology: Double Negative Equals a Positive

I was told when I was in elementary school to never use two negatives in a sentence; it wasn’t proper English. I realize now that that is not necessarily true. There are times when it is appropriate. And may I suggest one such time?

Hebrews 4:14-15 reads, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Why didn’t the writer of Hebrews just say, “For we DO have a high priest who is ABLE to sympathize with our weaknesses”? I’m not sure, but it is overwhelming to dwell on the fact that we DO NOT have one who is UNABLE. He is absolutely able, because he was human, and he was tempted. He knows me, and he knows my weaknesses, and praise God, he is able to sympathize with me. My high priest, Jesus Christ, the Righteous, is definitely not unable to sympathize; he is able.

So “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16). Why? Because Jesus is not unable to sympathize with me. I think these two negatives go together quite well. It may be sufficient for bad marks in elementary school, but it is surely sufficient for my moment of need, and there is nothing negative about that.

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