It’s a pleasure to join the ranks of these dozen or so authors at ESM. When Garrett asked if I’d join, with a particular emphasis on language, I was excited to do so but with some hesitancy. I need to say at first that I know very little about Biblical Hebrew, and I am by no means an expert in Biblical Greek. I have been studying the latter for about a decade, however, and I have a pretty firm grasp on much of it. I am continuing to learn Greek by way of personal translation and study all the time.

Additionally, while I have not studied English grammar formally, much of my higher education has required proficiency within it, so excelling in language has been somewhat of a passion of mine. My reasons for this passion have nothing to do with finding participial phrases and basic grammar independently exciting, however. My passion is rooted in a theological preconception that guides every moment of my personal and corporate Bible study.

In this first piece, I simply want to give you my thoughts as to why you should excel in language. More precisely, why is it that excellence in language is not only profitable but necessary (to a degree) in our Bible study? Giving some context to these questions is my purpose for the next few minutes.

I remember when I was younger in my faith, and I thought to myself—I prayed, actually—“God, would you please talk to me? Let me just hear your voice audibly, once! Let me know your precise wisdom for my circumstances. I know you have the power to do so, so please speak to me.”

How much easier would that have been for me? God has the power and ability to communicate his will to people directly. In fact, he did so all through Israel’s history and even for the first part of the church’s history. How many countless prophets received dreams or visions or direct words from the mouth of the Lord as he called out to them? “In many times and in many ways, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1).

It did not matter how many times I prayed that prayer; however—the Lord did not respond. At first, I questioned why. I wondered if my prayers were lacking faith. Or perhaps I needed to correct some behavior, I thought. But in time, I grew to understand something of spiritual and theological significance. In a moment, we will look at it, but before we do, let me give you a primer to help orient you.

What is the shelf life of a spoken word? The child’s game of telephone indicates it ain’t very long. Spoken words are only known to those who hear them, and if they aren’t recorded, they can be quickly forgotten. And even if they aren’t forgotten, the precise nuance, inflection, and context of a spoken word can never be replicated again. In fact, even if they are replicated, they will inevitably change—even in profound ways—over the course of time. For instance, consider how legends are developed. With the passing of time, the once-human figure is transformed into a godlike hero. And while he may always maintain a sliver of truth based on his historical character, the story and details have all been profoundly exaggerated. Grasping these realities helps us understand why God did not preserve his word orally. If a word or a will is to be timelessly preserved, it needs to be in writing.

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul told Timothy,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Greek word for Scripture literally means “writing.” Paul is telling Timothy that God preserved his will in a written form, and those writings are what equip us for every good work.

We need to pause and consider the implications here. God chose to preserve his will for all time by written language. The whole of God’s will for mankind has been preserved in written sentences, with main clauses and supporting clauses, participial phrases, written imperatives, syntactical nuances, and so on.

Knowing language is about knowing God. It is about knowing his will. It is about gaining heavenly wisdom which profits you for all eternity.

When I write about “excelling in language,” I’m really making the appeal that you excel in your understanding of the written Word of God. Since God preserved his will in writing, isn’t there an implicit demand that people learn how to read? Somebody has to read, or we cannot know his will! By virtue of the Bible having been preserved in ancient (dead!) languages, isn’t there an implicit demand that some learn those languages and become proficient in translating them for modern speakers in Africa Asia, and India, wherein they maintain thousands of unique tribal dialects? Of course, not everyone is called to that, but someone must. Shouldn’t it be a member of the Lord’s church? If the apostles and prophets penned the will of God in ink, and if they did so to keep God’s Word unstained until his return, shouldn’t we learn to pay attention to grammatical cues (commands, transitions, rhetorical devices, verb tenses, etc.)? We are called to excel in language. Granted, the degrees will vary from one person to the next; nevertheless, we are all called to excel in some way.

I’m struck by the fact that, quite often, we miscommunicate via social media and other written platforms (email?). We are far too imprecise with our words today. This is truly what sets Scripture apart. The Bible is profoundly precise. To illustrate this point, in my next installment, I will demonstrate how a single verb tense in one passage sets the precedent for a major Christian doctrine. The Bible is so precise, even down to the most minor grammatical subtleties. And I have found that the more I pay attention to language, whether it be Greek or generic grammar, the more wisdom I gain from the Lord. For this reason, I hope you will join me as we excel in language.

Daniel Mayfield
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"Daniel serves as a preacher and teacher at the Oldham Lane Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. He does this work with the invaluable aid, wisdom, and encouragement of his wife, Miranda. They have two young sons, Judah and Zion, and one beautiful daughter, Eden. Daniel had served in Oklahoma for nearly five years, before which time he and Miranda served as missionaries in the Caribbean. Daniel is a graduate of both Bear Valley and Oklahoma Christian University. His greatest passion is to preach the gospel of Jesus to anyone who will listen."