A Little Punctuation Can Make a Big Difference

A few years ago someone gave me the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss and I loved it!  It’s a book about (now brace yourself) punctuation.  Yes, I said, “Punctuation!”  Who knew that such a book could be so humorous, informative, and popular?  The title comes from an old joke, written in its entirety on the back cover. 

A panda goes into a café and orders a sandwich.  He eats the sandwich, fires a gun in the air and walks towards the door. The confused waiter asks, “Why did you do that?”  The panda throws him a badly punctuated book on wildlife and says, “Look it up!”  So the waiter does.   “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

This illustration confirms that one little comma can make a big difference in what something means!  A little punctuation here and there can clarify or confuse. 

Many people do not know the Bible was originally written with no punctuation.  I recall one person who said, “If the King James Version of the Bible was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”  Ah-hem…King James wasn’t around when Jesus was alive.  Neither was our present system of punctuation.   

Sometimes a comma placement in the Bible can determine a whole doctrine.  For example, when Christ was on the cross speaking to one of the thieves, he made the following statement in Luke 23:43: 

 verily i say unto thee this day thou shalt be with me in paradise 

One interpretation is “Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”  This could mean the thief would be in heaven with Jesus that very day.

However another interpretation is, “Verily, I say unto thee this day, thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”  This version indicates that the “this day” refers to the time when Jesus is actually speaking.  Therefore, there might be a possibility of Purgatory or people remaining dead until a resurrection.  There is the argument that even though a person may be physically dead, his spirit would go to heaven with Jesus.   

How do we know which version is correct?  One would have to research what other passages say about the subject and mesh it together.  Since those passages don’t have any punctuation either, it can be a little tricky. To add to the confusion, bear in mind, that when the Bible was written there were no spaces between word or paragraphs or chapters or verses. Also, some words just can’t be translated from one language to another without some interpretation.  The Bible has several words for “love,” each with a different meaning; we have only one.   

Does this mean we can’t understand the Bible?  I think God made it possible for us to understand what we need to understand.  But just being knowledgeable about the history of punctuation may protect us from getting bent out of shape over some differences of opinion.   

And let’s not forget, your perspective may determine how you would punctuate and/or interpret sentences.  For example, how would you punctuate the following? 

 woman without her man is nothing 

Men might say, “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Women might say, “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.”

Which goes to show you – a little (;-“!:’?,) can make a big difference. 

P.S. Someone just gave me another Lynne Truss book entitled Talk to the Hand:  The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door.  I think I’m going to like it!



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