Unless you’re one of those increasingly rare fans of grammar, you may find the title above to be…shall we say…uninspiring. Who cares about prepositions? Can we even define the word? Why should I care about prepositions? Well, like a man lost in the woods once said: “Just bear with me.”
First, Miriam-Webster defines a preposition as “a word—and almost always a very small, very common word—that shows direction (‘to’ in ‘a letter to you’), location (‘at’ in ‘at the door’), or time (‘by’ in ‘by noon’), or that introduces an object (‘of’ in ‘a basket of apples’). Prepositions are typically followed by an object, which can be a noun (‘noon’), a noun phrase (‘the door’), or a pronoun (‘you’).” The most common prepositions may be words like “at, by, for, from, in, of, on, to, and with.”
Pretty boring, right? These words don’t seem to have a lot of substance to them. We use them all the time without much thought. They’re not very big. And we treat them as “transitions” of sorts before we get to the REAL, IMPORTANT content of phrases and sentences.
Well, not so fast; prepositions are extremely important. If we didn’t have them, communication (verbal or written) would be significantly more difficult. That also goes for the Bible; I recently discovered just how meaningful prepositions can be when studying God’s Word.
Take John 1:1-18, the “apostle whom Jesus loved” introduces Jesus with bold, shocking, and audacious claims. If you read these verses and think to yourself, “Wow, John sure was convinced that Jesus is the Son of God”, then you read them correctly. But believe it or not, the prepositions John uses throughout this passage carry a ton of weight. Here’s a list of prepositions in the first five verses alone:
“IN the beginning” (VS. 1)
“WITH God” (VS. 1 and 2)
“THROUGH him”, “WITHOUT him” (VS. 3)
“IN him” (VS. 4)
“IN the darkness” (VS. 5)
These may seem like simple, easy to overlook prepositions. But what do they tell us about Jesus?
VS. 1 and 2 tell us that God the Son has always existed. He is eternally “with” God – because he is God. VS. 3 teaches us about Jesus’s supremacy over creation. The Son – being God – is not a created being. In fact, he is the Creator! VS. 4 reminds us that life resides in Jesus. He not only brought temporal life into existence in the past, but is the source of eternal life always and forever. And VS. 5 reminds us that the Son – the eternal, coequal, creating, and life-giving God – took on flesh in a world darkened by human sin. The one true God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (VS. 14).
So thanks to just a few measly prepositions, we’re exposed to some deep theology. We learn about Jesus’s divinity. We learn about Jesus as the source of life and light in a world of death and darkness. And we learn about his incarnation. These “transition” words matter after all! I suppose this shouldn’t surprise us; when we consider that we’re reading a book written not only by human authors, but inspired by the Holy Spirit, every word (not just the big, fancy, “theological” ones) is important.
So next time you’re reading your Bible – whether in John 1, or somewhere else – pay attention to prepositions. They may have more to teach you than you realize.