Saturday, December 1, 2012

In Praise of Punctuation

"That I may meditate on Your word"
Psalm 119:148

I feel like celebrating punctuation today.  Wanna join me?

I love the English language.  I love grammar, and all its idiosyncrasies.  I love the rules, and the exceptions to the rules.  And I love diagramming.

I love parts of speech ~ nouns, pronouns, gerunds, predicate nominatives, prepositions, the works... I try to teach my Awesome and Amazing kids that every word has a job in the sentence, and grammar is all about identifying what each word is doing.

And I love punctuation.  Written language is such an amazing form of communication, every word and every mark is part of it; not only transmitting information from writer to reader, but also conveying tone, character and feeling.  That's the job of punctuation. And punctuation may seem small or unimportant, but Matthew 5:18 says, "For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled."  Every little bit of it matters.

So I sometimes pay a great deal of attention to the punctuation in the Bible, enjoying the parts those little marks play in conveying God's message to me, and today I'd like to appreciate a few of them.


We're going to start by celebrating the question mark.  Take a look at John 13:3, when Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, why can I not follow You now?"  Or how about Habakkuk 1:2 ~ "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?"  I love the question mark in the Bible, because it reminds me that it's okay to question God.  You may not get an answer.  Or you might get an answer you don't like, but you will not be penalized for asking.

Another good place to appreciate question marks is Job 38 and 39, as God asks Job a lot of questions in response to Job's questions.  God's questions are those such as:  "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?" and "Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?  Do they report to you, 'Here we are.' ?"

While we are welcome to ask God questions, there is nothing more sobering than when God asks us a question. 


Next let's look at the exclamation point.  Or as my nephew calls it, the "excited mark".  {Love that kid!}  For that, let's head to the Book of Romans, and the prolific Paul.  In Romans 5, Paul tells us that we can be saved, despite our inability to obey God's law, by taking advantage of God's grace and forgiveness.  And then chapter 6 begins with these words:  "What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!"  Paul is making a strong point here, and the exclamation point helps him do that.

Another use of the exclamation point is to convey awe.  In Genesis 28, Jacob had a dream wherein he saw a ladder reaching to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the Lord spoke to Him.  What an experience for Jacob, and what a visual for us!  And then in verse 16:  "When Jacob awoke from his sleep... he said, 'How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!"

Don't you love that God created the emotions of excitement and awe?  And it is so appropriate that we should be awed and excited about how awesome and exciting God is!


Okay, next, the comma.  I love the comma and its role in writing.  I love that, a lot of the time, it's a judgement call as to whether situation needs or deserves a comma.  But my motto is, if you're not sure, use a comma.  Is that a motto or a credo?  What's a motto?  {Nothing; what's a motto with you?}  Okay, I just looked them both up, and a credo seems to be a lot more spiritual and profound, so I guess that doesn't apply to commas.  Commas are the stuff of mottoes.

The reason I love commas in writing is that they make the written language more, you know, conversational.   They are pauses, hesitations and inflections.  Commas are the difference between monotone and lyric.

Commas, in short, are the Psalms.  Beauty and wisdom in verse.  How about Psalm 19 ~

"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, 
Yea, than much fine gold."

That was verses 7-10.  Simple, concise, melodious, utter truth.


And finally, the period.  The joy of the period in Scripture is, I think, its directness.  The period is about statement.  About fact.  Direct and to the point.  Hey, I wonder if that's where that expression came from!  Nah, it probably has something to do with graphing...

Anyway, let's celebrate the period with statements like Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  He was there.  And then the earth was there.  Because He said so.

Here's another good one:  Exodus 3:14 ~ "And God said to Moses, "I Am Who I Am."  

How about Matthew 5:14 ~ "You are the light of the world."

Facts about Him; facts about us.  We need to know this stuff!


Everything in the Bible is there for a reason.   Even the little things.  Don't just read it, enjoy it!

~ "Your word is very pure;
therefore Your servant loves it" ~
Psalm 119:140


  1. I love punctuation too, but I don't think Paul used exclamation points! And those "jots" and "tittles" Jesus was referring to in the Law are the diacritical markings that help with pronunciation in the Hebrew, aren't they? Surely he wasn't referring to commas and periods. Those were later inventions.

    Our beloved old KJV doesn't have exclamation points in Genesis 28 or Romans 6, but maybe it should have had. I do agree with the spirit, if not the letter, of your post! Well done!

  2. RWP, you're exactly right about the jot and tittle. I meant to illustrate that even the little things are important in Scripture, but I could have been clearer about the difference between those, and punctuation. Thank you for clarifying!

    And yes, the versions do make a difference. Does the KJV really not have any at all? That's too bad. Maybe King James and his ilk needed to emote a little more!

    That's "ilk," not "elk," of course. I don't think elk and their ilk emote very much at all... :)


  3. From another perspective, maybe the exclamation points in 20th-century (and 21st-) are part of the general dumbing down of America and the publishers decided we need help recognizing the exciting parts because we can no longer recognize them on our own? I'm just saying....

    cynicism off

  4. I'm more inclined to believe that publishers or punctuation authorities decided to acknowledge what was already in existence, i.e. excitement. At least I hope that's the case. Cynicism being held firmly at bay.

    I do know, as a teacher, that when my kids have to determine if a sentence is exclamatory or declarative, it's always a judgement call. "That's wonderful." and "That's wonderful!" all depend on the speaker.