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Unpacking 83 words from Paul

I was about to read Ephesians 1 for the umpteenth time and I never got past verse 10! What’s up with that? It’s because I was mesmerized by one of the Apostle Paul’s uber-long sentences in verses 7-10.

In the ESV and NKJV (two highly literal translations), those four verses are an 83-word sentence. A study quoted on onlinegrammar.com stated that:

When the average sentence length was fewer than eight words, readers understood 100 percent of the story. Even at nine to 14 words, readers could understand more than 90 percent of the information. But move up to 43-word sentences, and comprehension dropped to less than 10 percent.

Martin Cutts, in his Oxford Guide To Plain English, suggests that writers should maintain an average sentence length of 15-20 words in order to improve readability. So perhaps this is why my brain was stalling on Paul’s 83-word sentence!

But that wasn’t even what got my attention. What stopped me in my tracks were some key words I kept seeing over and over. In those four verses, there are ten personal pronouns in reference to God, plus a direct reference to “Christ” (in the NKJV). Compare that to just 3 personal pronouns in reference to people. In other words, this is what got my attention:

Him, we, His, His, He, us, us, His, His, He, Himself, He, Christ, Him

So even though Paul’s meaning wasn’t immediately clear to me as I first read this marathon sentence rather quickly, it was almost like his repetition of those words was causing an important impression to grow in my sub-conscious: …Ken, this is about HIM… not you.

Then when I looked back, I noticed something else that added to that impression…

    • Things Paul mentioned that God is doing or will do: 5redemption, forgiveness, made His grace abound toward us, made known the mystery of His will, gather all things in Him.
  • Things Paul mentioned that we are to do: Zero.
  • Attributes of God mentioned: 3grace, wisdom, prudence.
  • Our qualifications mentioned: Zero.

The essence of Paul’s 83-word sentence was getting clearer and clearer as the impression became a message in my mind: Get my eyes onto God and off of me!

That is so helpful! In other words, if this sentence was a painting, one could say that we would appear as very small but very strategically placed under a massive waterfall of God’s infinite grace and wisdom that dominated the scene and sent saturating showers of God’s blessing into the atmosphere all around!

With all this in mind, if I were to now paraphrase this sentence in about half as many words as Paul used, I would write:

God has pulled the curtain open to reveal a wondrous scene: a magnificent and powerful waterfall of His glorious grace and wisdom are washing away all the sins of a people He has redeemed through Jesus so that we can be with Him forever and ever!

Lord, may I always remain and live in the embrace of the endless waterfall of Your grace!
© 2015 by Ken Peters

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