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Missions 101

The Most Important Words in the Bible

Apr. 20, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

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.

They are even more shocked to hear my own suggestion: the most important words in the Bible are conjunctions

Sandro_Botticeb10738c3fcConjunctions 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.

Conjunctions 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 matters.

 

Satan Tempts Us to Omit Conjunctions

When Jesus 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 stone.’” 

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. 9). 

Promise – Precondition = Presumption

Basically, this 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. 

Similarly, 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 word?

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.

Jackson Wu (PhD, SEBTS) teaches theology and missiology in a seminary for Chinese church leaders. Previously, he also worked as a church planter. He has just released his second book One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization. In addition to his blog, jacksonwu.org, follow him on Twitter @jacksonwu4china.

Tags:  bible study, theology
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