As long as I can remember, I have always loved reading good books. Ironically though, when I was in junior high and high school, whenever grammar, sentence structure, and verb tenses came up in English class my eyes glazed over quicker than a donut on a Krispy Kreme conveyor belt.
It wasn’t until Greek and Hebrew class in college that I began to appreciate and love, those elementary school grammar lessons. Language, grammar, and words are important in our daily life. There’s homework at school, projects at work, and correcting the autocorrect on our text messages. Not to mention, a little comma is all that might stand between a polite dinner reminder and outright cannibalism. “It’s time to eat, Grandma.” or “It’s time to eat Grandma.” You see, grammar saves lives.
Words, grammar, and language are not only important in our daily lives at school or work, but in our Christian lives as well. Words matter. Theological words have important definitions, meanings, and significance in the Christian faith. This is one reason why Martin Luther filled his Small Catechism with a simple, yet memorable question: “What does this mean?”
Think about how important words are in the Christian faith. By His Word, God speaks creation into existence: “Let there be light”, and it was so. By His Word, God promises Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that all nations of the earth would be blessed through their Offspring, who is Christ. By His Word, God spoke in many and various ways to the prophets of the Old Testament and to the apostles and evangelists in the New Testament. By His Word, God promised that the Word would be made flesh for us in Mary’s womb. By His Word, Jesus raised the dead, and promised to die and rise for you. By his Word, Jesus promises to forgive our sin in Holy Absolution. By His Word and water, Jesus adopts us, clothes us, and cleanses us in Holy Baptism. By His Word with bread and wine, Jesus promises to feed us with His Body and Blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.
To communicate this good news, God uses words. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ,” St. Paul tells us in Romans 10:17. God’s Word comes to us in words. To bear His message of salvation, God uses writers, language, and grammar, all guided by the Holy Spirit. God used the linguistic skills of the prophets and apostles together a rich tapestry of verb tenses, sentence structure, and language that communicates, proclaims, and delivers God’s saving Word to us.
In our Christian life we are called to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s Word. It is our food, life, and light. We do this when we study the words that are written as well as how they are written. We can better appreciate what God is communicating to us through his Word when we better understand how He is speaking to us through language.
One of the primary ways the Gospel is communicated in the Scriptures is through a rhetorical device known as metaphor. Metaphors are figures of speech—a way we communicate by relating one thing to another. Scriptures and some of our beloved hymns are full of metaphors. The Psalmist declares that our Lord is a shield and buckler, our refuge and strength. Martin Luther used metaphors like these in his famous hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. In the New Testament, John’s Gospel is full of metaphors that Jesus declares about himself. We call these the “I AM” sayings.
I AM the Bread of Life. I AM the Light of the World. I AM the Door. I AM the Good Shepherd. I AM the Vine. I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I AM the Resurrection and the Life.
Does this mean that the Gospel itself is metaphorical, or somehow untrue? By no means. To say that God communicates His Word to us through parts of speech, such as metaphor, doesn’t mean that the Gospel is fake, false, or that God doesn’t mean what He says. Quite the opposite. The historical events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us are communicated to us through language. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the prophets and apostles make use of rhetorical devices, such as metaphor, simile, and many others, to communicate the very real, historical, and true Good News, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.
Jesus truly is our Bread of life who gives us His body in the bread of Holy Communion. Jesus truly is the Light of the world who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Jesus truly is the Door, who gives us access to the Father. Jesus truly is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us, His sheep. Jesus truly is the Vine who grafts us wild branches into His tree of life, and pours out His saving blood for wine. Jesus truly is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for us. Jesus truly is the Resurrection and the Life in His death and life for you.
So, it’s not just good English grammar that saves lives. God’s Word is unlike any other word. When God speaks, our sins are forgiven, the dead are raised, and new life is given, all through the blessing of his Word. God’s divine grammar saves us.
Metaphors, Grammar, and Scripture, Oh My!
By Rev. Samuel Schuldheisz