Why Words Are Powerful And Why They Matter

spell-check-1090781-mWe have all heard the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Is this phrase true, that words are powerless? I am sorry but this phrase is not true. In fact, I believe it is the exact opposite. Words are powerful. They communicate; they deliver information, express feelings, inspire others, give guiding protection, teach, and so forth. It is amazing that “mere puffs of wind should allow men to discover what they think and feel, to share their attitudes and plans, to anticipate the future and learn from the past, and to create lasting works of art.”[1]

Indeed words are not mere puffs of wind or sheer sounds with vacuous meaning, but rather they exercise a wholesome power over our souls, not to control and coerce but to form and to teach, to bring our lives to the point where we may speak the truth and thereby engage in the work of thought. And if our souls are shaped by words, then words can give adequate expression to what is in them. Indeed, words are just the thing we need to be human, creatures made in the image of God who speaks the truth.[2]

This wholesome power of external words is especially realized with respect to the Word of God, for God’s Word “is not a unidimensional, flat, interior, intellectual word. It is a dynamic, eventful Word that goes forth from God into the real world with powerful effects.”[3] God’s word is effectual; God’s Word makes all things out of nothing; the Word is alive and active.[4] The Word of God is “energized by the Holy Spirit.”[5] Yes indeed, “all words are eventful, only the Word of God is fully creative and powerful. The Word of God is theologically eventful because in it God is a work doing what only He can do.”[6]

Besides giving shape and meaning, words also express a person’s reason within a specific cultural context. They express truth claims and are manifested signs of people exercising their own reason.[7] Thus, words communicate more than descriptive information, they are declarative. Robert Sokolowski comments on the declarative use of speech saying,

it captures and expresses me, the rational agent, right in the actual exercise of my reason. It is time-specific and indexical. It is a kind of pinnacle in the manifestation of the person, the person at work here and now. It exhibits me exercising my power to be truthful. . . . Declarative speech gives us the primary intuition of the personal in its actual presence, the rational in its actual exercise, and the original distinction of the person from his context.[8]

As stated by Sokolowski, words are manifestations of a person’s reason. Reason though, is embedded in a particular worldview and sourced from particular epistemological sources. So words are not independent or autonomous, but have layers of depth behind them and in them. For example, the Word of God is not only effectual, but it also supplies meaning to the Christian’s use and implementation of words. Otherwise stated, Biblical words are encoded with meaning. Both the origin of Biblical words and the meaning attached to these words are derived from the Scriptures, accordingly forming the Christian’s Biblical semantic package. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit, through the Word, converts the Christian’s syntax by training him how to talk about God, himself, and his neighbor.[9]

fomenteu-la-lectura-810896-mAll of this is important to understand because if a person’s epistemological source changes or slightly yields to a different epistemology, the person’s epistemic assumptions will change as well, and thus altering the framework in which language manifests itself from. Otherwise specified, encroaching foreign epistemological sources will impact the semantics of words, which then impacts the syntax of sentences, which then impacts the meaning of sentences, and so forth.

Different worldviews and epistemologies are also important to note in respect to receiving and interpreting words. As already stated, both the origin of Biblical words and the meaning attached to these words are derived from the Scriptures, accordingly forming a person’s Biblical semantic package. However, a person who adheres or gives way to non-Biblical epistemological sources will advertently/inadvertently use un-Biblical semantic assumptions to decode Biblical words, hence yielding/interpreting different word meanings. Otherwise stated, these different semantic presuppositions will in essence change the meaning of a received Biblical message by recoding various Biblical words with the listener’s own meanings. This semantic reconfiguration has far reaching implications into the realms of syntax, sentence meaning, and so forth.[10]

Besides semantic reconfiguration, the message of the Bible may also be susceptible to inferences that come about due to a hearer’s supplemental context. Hearers have networks of information, backgrounds of information, and specific contexts of time and place that they utilize in understanding incoming messages from others.[11] Rather than interpreting a Biblical message according to its own semantics, syntax, time, place, and context, a person may regrettably absorb the Biblical message into their own context (i.e., what does this text mean to me rather than what is this text saying), which will result in a change of the original meaning of the message, which then leads the person to “infer something neither explicitly stated nor necessarily implied.”[12]

Indeed words are powerful and they certainly do matter!

To read more on this subject, CLICK HERE.

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[1] Eugene H. Peterson, “First Language,” Theology Today 42 (July 1985): 221.
[2] Phillip Cary, Outward Signs: The Powerlessness of External Things in Augustine’s Thought (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), xii.
[3] Jacob A. O. Preus, Just Words: Understanding the Fullness of the Gospel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2000), 17.
[4] See Romans 10:17 and Hebrews 4:12.
[5] Preus, Just Words: Understanding the Fullness of the Gospel, 18.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Robert Sokolowski, Phenomenology of the Human Person (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 13.
[8] Ibid, 15.
[9] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms As Tools For Prayer (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1989), 42-43.
[10] John Searle: Philosophy of Language: Lecture 6,” [n.d.], video clip, accessed July 14, 2013, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbwAzu8k76c.
[11] Ibid.
[12] W.F. Brewer, “Memory for the Pragmatic Implications of Sentences,” Memory and Cognition 27 (1977): 673.

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Why Words Are Powerful And Why They Matter — 17 Comments

  1. Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Complete Poems. 1924.

    Part One: Life

    LXXXIX

    A WORD is dead
    When it is said,
    Some say.
    I say it just
    Begins to live
    That day.

    ___________________________________________________

    Sticks and stones are hard on bones aimed with angry art. Words can sting like anything but silence breaks the heart.

    Phyllis McGinley

    (1905 – 1978)

    __________________________________________________________

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God: and the Word was God.

    The same was in the beginning with God.

    All things were made by It, and without It, was made nothing that was made.

    In it was lLife, and the Life was the light of men,
    and the light shineth in the darkness,
    but the darkness comprehended it not.

    Then God said:

    William Tyndale ( c. 1494–1536 )

    _________________________________________________________

    And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

    Consider

  2. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,
    the same was in the beginning with God.
    All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.
    In Him was life and the life was the light of men. John 1:1-4 KJV

    God is not “It”; God is three Persons.

    Words do indeed mean things!

  3. Looking into the question you raised, The Greek text allows for Him. But Tyndall for some reason legitimately used It which is supported by the Greek. Tyndall was the first to English the NT directly from the Greek.

    1:3 πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν

    While Tyndall was a avid Trinitron, maybe a better Tyndall Scholar than me can answer the Question.

    http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G846&t=KJV

  4. ” Tyndale’s translation of John 1:3-4 reads, “All things were made by it, and without it, was made nothing that was made. In it was life, and the life was the light of men.” As you can see, Tyndale used “it” instead of “him.” “It” is a translation of the Greek “autou” meaning he, she, or it. What this tells us is that Tyndale did not read Messiah into the “logos” or “word” of verse 1 and he was not influenced by the Latin Vulgate or Wycliffe. ”

    Thank You Helen for raising your “Problem” with Tyndale’s Translation. After some further research; yes indeed, Words Are Powerful And Why They Do Matter. The use of “It” is fully supported by the Greek. Like it or not that is what the Greek says and means. The translation was not infelicitous. William Tyndale was Martyred for this among other reasons. His Translation did not fit with Institutional Corporate CHURCH. Even the current Greek word for Church in most cases in Scripture is Congregation. I could give you a laundry list of such examples but will not bore the general reader. I apologize for heavy handed response to you but I am very sensitive where William Tyndale is concerned. A humble Man of God Brutally strangled and burned at the stake. There are some reports that He regained consciousness before His death. ΙΧΘΥC ΖΩΝΤΩΝ

  5. @Mark Huntemann #5
    As you can see, Tyndale used “it” instead of “him.” “It” is a translation of the Greek “autou” meaning he, she, or it. What this tells us is that Tyndale did not read Messiah into the “logos” or “word” of verse 1 and he was not influenced by the Latin Vulgate or Wycliffe. ”

    Thank you for giving the links to a copy of Tyndale! The sentence was not as I learned it, so it seemed wrong.
    [You are spelling his name two ways; is either acceptable?]

    In this generation, one is allergic to “neuters”! (Sorry about that! ;)
    I don’t suppose it was a problem for Tyndale/Tyndall!

  6. While Tyndall was a avid Trinitron, maybe a better Tyndall Scholar than me can answer the Question.

    I’m not a better Tyndall scholar but I’m pretty sure he was not an avid Sony TV. :)

  7. William Tyndale (sometimes spelled Tynsdale, Tindall, Tindill, Tyndall ………)

    Why yes he was definitely ahead of his time but did not have to deal with rogue spell checkers!

    “Why Words Are Powerful And Why They Matter”

    See the above……………

  8. @Mark Huntemann #5
    Like it or not that is what the Greek says and means. The translation was not infelicitous. William Tyndale was Martyred for this among other reasons.

    I should really leave this alone, but I spent some time with Google last night.
    Various sources point out that Tyndale was being hunted by Henry VIII because of a paper he wrote against the divorce(s).
    He was also being sought because the Roman Catholic church did not want the Bible to be produced in the vernacular… in Tyndale’s case, English.

    [Henry eventually changed his mind about an English Bible, but Tyndale was dead by then.]

    So Tyndale was martyred for making the translation, yes… for that particular phrase, no.

    I consulted also with a friend, (LCMS, M.Div, PhD) who said:
    Well, the Greek autou in John 1:3 is masculine and not neuter, so “he” and not “it”. Is there any other translation that renders the pronoun “it” instead of “he”?

    Bible Gateways has one, which I copy below, with its lengthy series of notes:
    (The notes for John 1:3 are interesting, but of course this is 60 years later for the text, and ? for the notes!)
    John 1:1-4
    1599 Geneva Bible (GNV)
    The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, According to John

    1 That Word begotten of God before all worlds, 2 and which was ever with the Father, 14 is made man.  6, 7 For what end John was sent from God. 15 His preaching of Christ’s office. 19, 20 The record that he bare given out unto the Priests. 40 The calling of Andrew, 42 of Peter, 43 Philip, 45 and Nathanael.

    1 In [a]the [b]beginning [c]was [d]that Word, and that Word was [e]with God, and that [f]Word was God.
    2 This same was in the beginning with God.
    3 [g]All [h]things were made by it, and [i]without it [j]was made nothing that was made.
    4 [k]In it [l]was life, and that life was [m]the light of men.
    Footnotes:

    John 1:1 The Son of God is of one, and the selfsame eternity or everlastingness, and of one and the selfsame essence or nature, with the Father.
    John 1:1 From his beginning, as the Evangelist saith, 1 John 1:1, as though he said, that the world began not then to have his being, when God began to make all that was made: for the word was even then when all things that were made, began to be made, and therefore he was before the beginning of all things.
    John 1:1 Had his being.
    John 1:1 This word, That, pointeth out unto us a peculiar and choice thing above all other, and putteth a difference between this Word, which is the Son of God, and the Laws of God, which otherwise also are called the word of God.
    John 1:1 This word (With) putteth out the distinction of persons to us.
    John 1:1 This word (Word) is the first in order in the sentence, and is that which the learned call (Subjectum:) and this word (God) is the latter in order, and the same which the learned call (Predicatum.)
    John 1:3 The son of God declareth that same his everlasting Godhead, both by the creating of all things, and also by the preserving of them, and especially by the excellent gifts of reason and understanding, wherewith he that beautified man above all other creatures.
    John 1:3 Paul expoundeth this place, Col. 1:15 and 16.
    John 1:3 That is, as the Father did work, so did the Son work with him: for he was fellow worker with him.
    John 1:3 Of all those things which were made, nothing was made without him.
    John 1:4 That is, by him: and it is spoken after the manner of the Hebrews, meaning thereby that by his force and working power all life cometh to the world.
    John 1:4 To wit, even then, when all things are made by him, for else he would have said, Life is in him, and not life was.
    John 1:4 That force of reason and understanding, which is kindled in our minds to acknowledge him, the author of so great a benefit.
    >>
    1599 Geneva Bible (GNV)

  9. I do not dispute the above information.

    Modern Biblical Greek has come a long way! In fact we are just learning the full importance of the Greek particle.

    The technical correct translation of St. John 3:16 is:

    For in this way God loved the world, so that he gave his one and only Son, in order that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.

    γὰρ 2 ] Οὕτως 1 [ ‹ ὁ 4 θεὸς 5› ἠγάπησεν 3 τὸν 6 κόσμον 7 ὥστε 8 [ ] ἔδωκεν 13 τὸν 9 ‹ τὸν 11 μονογενῆ 12› [ [ υἱὸν 10 ] ] ἵνα 14 πᾶς 15 ὁ 16 πιστεύων 17 εἰς 18 αὐτὸν 19 } 21 μὴ 20 ἀπόληται 21 ἀλλὰ 22 ] ἔχῃ 23 αἰώνιον 25 ζωὴν 24

    _________________________________________________________________

    ” So Tyndale was martyred for making the translation, yes… for that particular phrase, no. ”

    No, But his clinging to the Greek made him NO friends in THE CHURCH even to this day.

    ___________________________________________________________________

    ” I should really leave this alone, but I spent some time with Google last night. ”

    We are too much alike !

    Blessings !

    ΙΧΘΥC ΖΩΝΤΩΝ

  10. As the LCMS it would be faithful to use and apply God’s Words and will-Law/Gospel-Sin/Grace-with no expediency and tolerance of sin-at any and all levels of the church. Unity is need on teachings and practice as Jesus would have it as commands and not suggestions

  11. @Mark Huntemann #5
    “It” is a translation of the Greek “autou” meaning he, she, or it.

    “Aut*ou*” can mean “she”? Not in any Greek I’ve ever learned. “It”, perhaps. But the most natural and contextual translation still is “He/Him”.

    Btw, vs. the JW’s on “and the Word was *a* god”, there is the “grammatical rule”–can’t think of the guy’s name. But simpler yet is to simply stick with the Greek word order: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and *God was the Word.* Not “and the Word was [a?] God.”

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