What are the
most important words in the Bible? They are not “God”, “Jesus”, “love”, and
“gospel.” My students are surprised when I say this.
even more shocked to hear my own suggestion: the most important words in the
Bible are conjunctions.
are words like because, therefore, however, so, etc. These
are the type of wordsthat get us into the mind of the writer. They help us
understand the inner logics of a passage.
are incredibly practical. When reading the Bible, we want to grasp how to apply
the text to our own life. However, that will only be possible if we can think
the biblical writer’s thoughts after him. Conjunctions matter because obedience
Tempts Us to Omit Conjunctions
was in the desert, the devil tries to tempt Jesus by grossly manipulating an
Old Testament passage. Consider Matt 4:5–6,
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the
pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw
yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a
The devil quotes from Psalm 91:11–12.
Intriguingly, this passage includes a glorious promise. One wonders why the
devil would remind Jesus of the goodness of God. Ironically, the devil tries to
provoke Jesus to sin by highlighting the grace of God.
How is that possible?
The devil conveniently omits key
conjunctions in the psalm. The promise of vv. 11–12 is based on the “because”
in v. 9.
Because you have made the LORD your dwelling
place––the Most High, who is my refuge…[therefore] he will command his angels
concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you
up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
What is the devil’s strategy? He only highlighted God’s promise (v. 11–12) in order to
provoke presumption, yet left out the precondition (v.
Promise – Precondition = Presumption
is the same formula used by those who preach the prosperity gospel. Not only
that, this sort of logic appeals to us all. It’s what undergirds any
temptation. We want to get something but without counting the cost.
observe vv. 14–16, where God’s promises depend on multiple conjunctions.
Because he holds fast to me in love, I
will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When
he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue
him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.
The devil does not quote the
conjunctions and instead only highlights God’s blessings. The conjunctions indicate
the reason why God will act on behalf of the one who is faithful to Him.
Protection Against Presumption
How often do we succumb to a similar
temptation to overlook conjunctions and forsake important applications of God’s
We should not be presumptuous and
think that little words like “because”, “therefore” and “so” are of little
consequential. God inspired them just as He inspires the rest of Scripture. (This
is why I was dumbfounded to find that the Chinese translation of the Bible
deletes the words “because” and “therefore” over
50 times in Romans 1–11 alone!!)
I sometimes hear people say
something like, “I just want to be practical. I don’t want to get tied up in a
lot of theology.” These people tend to minimize the importance of theological
study, the biblical languages, and other “abstract” concepts. They are quick to
ask why this or that idea practically matters for their ministry. I have heard
individuals criticize “theologians” for having more head-knowledge than action.
There are two obvious problems here.
First, we can only apply what we understand. This leads to a second problem.
Every person on the planet has a gap between the knowledge they have and their
applying that knowledge.
Because this topic is so important
(yet so neglected), I will use the next post to show the practical importance of conjunctions in Paul’s writing. His
conjunctions prevent his theology from simply being “abstract” philosophy.