Who thought one little letter could mean so much?
The Gospel of John declares “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, New American Standard Bible). Historically, centuries of translations accurately printed this. However, when the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) printed their translation a small change occurred: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word as a god” (John 1:1, New World Translation).
They added one little letter: the indefinite article “a.” As a result, capital “God” became lower-case “god”—and an entire theology which changed the Person and work of Jesus follows.
The Bible is full of small words that impact meaning in big ways. In part 1 of 2 below, we’ll look at five New Testament words to pay attention to when reading our Bibles: little guys easy to overlook, but who nevertheless pack a punch.
Amen – Do you ever wonder why we end our prayers with this word? (What would happen if we didn’t?!) “Amen” is used to express a strong affirmation. You will read it after a statement made of God: “To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:36). Also, translated in English as “truly,” you will read it introducing a solemn declaration (pay attention to what follows): “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). So, keep ending your prayers with “Amen” … and maybe start a few this way, too.
So that – One word in the Greek, these two little words often tip us off to purpose. You may see it also appear as “in order that” or simply “that.” Consider how Paul used this word in his reasoning for the existence of the Old Testament Law. One might ask, “Is keeping the Law my key to pleasing God?” Paul answers: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). The purpose of the Law is to show that you have no argument or defense before God. It is to give us a “knowledge of sin” (v.20)—and lead us to Christ!
You – Here is a word where we do lose something in translation. In Greek, it is clear when the writer means “you” singular (as in, just one person) or “you” plural (as in a group, “y’all”). Singular appearances account for 37% and plural appearances account for 63%. Look at how Jesus uses both to teach in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You (y’all) have heard that it was said, ‘You (singular) shall love your (singular) neighbor and hate your (singular) enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you (y’all), love your (y’all) enemies and pray for those who persecute you (y’all), 45 so that you (y’all) may be sons of your (y’all) Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43–45)
Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18, maintaining the singular force of the command. But He amplified it, applying it corporately to His people. No Christian life is lived in isolation, rather believers are indelibly connected to one another. While we may not be able to tell the difference reading our English Bibles, we can be aware of the differences that exist.
But – This little word often expresses a contrast. Two differing items, ideas, etc. are being set against one another. Consider the vast importance of its use here: “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy … made us alive together with Christ …” (Ephesians 2:3–5)
For – Here’s one we don’t see coming. Appearing 1,031 times in the New Testament, this little guy is, ironically, pronounced “Gar” in Greek (!) The word has a number of uses. It provides 1) an explanation, 2) a confirmation, 3) a clarification, or 4) an emphasis. Perhaps most common is its use to explain. An angel uses it to explain to Joseph the reason for the incredible events unfolding in his life: “Mary will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
You can read and understand your Bible. Keep reading … keep observing. With the affection of Christ, Pastor Michael