Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Lord's Name in Vain

In anticipation of leading an extended adult ed study of the Gospel of Matthew, I'm reading the new "theological commentary" on the Gospel by Stanley Hauerwas. Now it's clear to everyone who knows me that I am in thrall to this curmudgeonly codger and will defer to his judgments on almost all matters. (And this volume is really enjoyable and helpful!) But there is one path down which I will not follow him, and it drives me crazy to see him tread it.

Throughout the commentary (and I have never noticed this before in his other writing; he must not refer much to Jesus by name), he insists on making the possessive of "Jesus" to be "Jesus's." How can this be? By tradition and rule, the possessive of "Jesus" sounds exactly the same as "Jesus" and appears in print as "Jesus'." On this I thought there was very little dispute; on this I think there should be very little dispute. The Chicago Manual of Style, my arbiter of grammatical and typographical orthodoxy, makes it very clear that while the possessive of other names and objects ending in "s" is formed with "s", it is nevertheless traditional and preferred with the Biblical names "Moses" and "Jesus" to form the possessive with a lone apostrophe (that is, to skip the additional "s").

Now, I violate CMS by making all possessives of words ending in either one or two "s"es with a lone apostroph. (Because I cite it doesn't mean that I follow it rigorously.) But when I stray, I know that I'm doing so -- and usually, I think I serve the value of euphony when I do. I have a problem enunciating sibilants without hissing: It's much easier for me to say and for my auditors to listen to me when I forego additional "s"es as much as possible. But in the case of Jesus and Moses, it is simply wrong not to follow tradition and CMS. When Hauerwas speaks of the temptations of Jesus (notice the circumlocution by which the problem can be avoided), he makes the name of Jesus sound like the hissing of the very serpent with which the devil is identified in Genesis in the original temptation. That seems wrong on so many grounds.

So I say to any of you who (oh, oh: I've fallen into the trap Jenson so hates: the you-hoo construction) preach or teach: Please mend your ways if you follow Hauerwas on this.


Anonymous said...

Brother Dwight, you would be proud of me. When I preached last month I did have a possessive Jesus' in my sermon, and I did it your way without even knowing it was an issue--with anybody.

- Dash

Dwight P. said...

You have benefitted, obviously, from faithful modeling and example and exemplary education (even if wasn't at Concordia, Moorhead, but that "other" Minnesota Norwegian school). May countless blessings flow down on you!