Like most languages, Greek and Hebrew use emphasis to focus our attention and add more meaning to a statement. The use of emphasis adds intensity and clarity to the Scriptures. For example, when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” He was stressing that He alone is the truth and the life. Emphasis lets us hear how the words of Scripture were spoken and feel the drama.
In any language, the meaning of a sentence can change depending on which words are emphasized. For example, see how the meaning of the following sentence changes as the emphasis changes.
I think Paul can. = I think Paul can, even though you don’t.
I think Paul can. = He may be able to do it, but I’m not really sure.
I think Paul can. = Paul can do it, not somebody else.
I think Paul can. = For sure he can do it; there’s no doubt about it!
So emphasis is an essential factor in discovering the fullest meaning of Scripture. In modern writing we emphasize words using underlines, italics or bold fonts. However, in Greek and Hebrew words are emphasized in several different ways, including their position in a sentence and their written form. For example, in 1 Thes 5:23 the NASB reads:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The original Greek for this verse literally reads:
“Himself now the God of peace may sanctify you wholly and whole of you the spirit the soul and the body blamelessly in the coming of the Lord of us Jesus Christ may be kept.”
When we read the Greek we can see that the word “Himself” seems out of place. Paul has taken the word out of its natural order in the sentence and placed it at the beginning to give it emphasis. He wants us to read: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely…” Through emphasis Paul is reminding us that it is only God Himself that can sanctify us entirely. He alone can cleanse us and keep us blameless in the coming of Christ. It is all His work.
Unfortunately, most modern translations of Scripture do not communicate the emphasis of the original Scriptures and so the richness and meaning of emphasis is lost in translation. The Discovery Bible solves this by highlighting the emphasized words in red and displaying a symbol that reveals the nature of the emphasis. This symbol can be clicked to get an explanation of the emphasis.
The conversation between Jesus and the Jewish people in John 6 provides another good example for the place of emphasis in understanding Scripture. In this passage Jesus calls Himself the Living Bread, and calls people to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
” ‘I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.’ Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ “
When we read the text without any emphasis, we can subconsciously add our own emphasis. For example, we may think that the Jews were wondering how Jesus could give them His flesh to eat. We would naturally expect that the issue was with the call to eat Jesus’ flesh. However, when we read it with emphasis, a different picture appears.
” ‘I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.’ Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.’ “
We see through emphasis highlighting, that the real issue for the Jews was not the call to eat Jesus’ flesh. Rather the emphasis shows that the Jews thought Jesus was nothing more than a mere man who was making claims to the divine. To the Jews, Jesus was this man. Jesus responds to their grumblings by using emphasis to challenge their pride and confirm His position both as the Son of Man and as God. It is His flesh that we are called to eat. It is Jesus (as God) that will raise us up on the last day. Jesus is more than a man. He is God; the One in whom we can abide and who can abide in us. When we then review the whole passage in John 6, we find that the emphasis is consistent throughout. Jesus is constantly drawing attention to Himself, which is especially clear in verse 40, where Jesus says: that whoever “beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus is the resurrection and life.
Through this, we see how the emphasis of the text brings out the subtle beauty in Scripture. By reading the emphasis within the Bible we can discover new realms of understanding as the Scriptures take on a greater sense of color, depth and meaning.
If you would like to be able to read the emphasis found within Scripture click here to download a trial of The Discovery Bible New Testament.