October 31, 2012

Long sentences in the Bible

Authors are told to vary the length of their sentences to make their manuscripts interesting and readable. Some authors ignore that advice. A search for the longest printed sentence gave me a list of six, beginning with 1,288 words for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. It says the longest sentence in English is from William Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom!

However, that sentence seems a mere phrase compared to another one. Nigel Tomm's one-sentence novel, The Blah Story was written without a proper subject-verb interaction. It contains 1,000,000 words.

In the Bible, the longest one in the King James version is the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-38. This sentence is more than 300 words. However, there are several long sentences in Paul’s epistles, particularly Ephesians. In the KJV, Ephesians 1:3-14 forms one sentence and is about 240 words. 

Right after it, verses 15-21 contain 167 words. It is this passage that contains today’s devotional thoughts.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:15–21)

The devotional focuses on the section where Paul tells how he asks that God will reveal Himself and enlighten the hearts of those on his prayer list. Yet this section is so rich, that I have trouble limiting my focus to only part of it. Besides, I’ve never liked to insert sentence fragments because I’m not sure how to punctuate them.

After digressing into our human penchant to ramble on without ending a sentence or giving our readers a place to come up for air, I tried to edit these seven verses into shorter thoughts. Not easy. Even a modern version like The Message uses the same amount of words, just more periods. My conclusion: Paul was so enraptured by what he had to say that he wasn’t concerned about being verbose or creating run-on sentences.

He was thankful for the faith and love of others.
He wanted them to experience God’s wisdom and His revelation of Himself.
He wanted them to know the full hope of their rich inheritance.
He also wanted them to know the great power of God, power that raised Jesus from the dead and put Him at His own right hand.

When I am at prayer, I’m sometimes similarly overwhelmed at the riches that God has revealed to me and deeply desire that others experience the same revelations and more. I don’t count commas and periods as I think about the greatness of God or as I try to verbalize my desire for others to my Father, the God of glory. 

Not only that, I don’t think God is standing over my shoulder and editing what I say. He is not concerned about the length of my sentences or if I put my commas in the right places. Just as we catch the heart of Paul when we read his lengthy outbursts of truth, God also catches my heart (and every heart) as we offer Him our fragments and run-ons, even our mixed-up and confused words of praise and requests for help. 

As a writer, I want my words to be clear so others understand, but when I communicate with God, I don’t worry about that. He knows the heart of me and listens to that and to the Spirit who lives in me, not my fumbling, tumbling words.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26–27)

For this reason, I do not cease to give thanks!

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