In grade 5, Mr. Rawlins taught grammar and handwriting. Can you imagine the ecstatic fist pumps and high-fives? If you can, then you have never met nine-year-old children or been a kid. Our exciting after-school ambitions involved Space Invaders (new and cool in 1982), not handwritten conjugation homework. Yet, when I met grammar for the first time: boom; waves crashing; trumpets blaring. I fell in love with verbs and nouns and words in general. Grammar refers to the arrangement and function of words, influencing their meaning. The study of words – also fascinating – is known as etymology. Together, grammar and etymology contribute considerably to how we understand scripture. If I had known such a profession as etymology existed, my academic path would have led me there. Etymology sounds like ‘entomology’ (the study of insects), which would have been a great ice breaker at parties to which I would not have been invited because no one wants to stand around a punch bowl talking about syntax.
I thought copula or copular verbs (a.k.a. linking verbs) were winning Scrabble words, but they were also so much more. The infinitive ‘to be’ and its forms (are, am, were etc.) refers to a state of being: ‘I am a word nerd.’ ‘Mr. Rawlins is going to blush when he reads this.’ The predicate, ‘is going’, shows a copular verb linked to ‘going’, indicating Mr. Rawlins’ future state of being when he looks himself up on Google and finds this post. If you’re reading this Mr. Rawlins, thank you and I’m sorry if I make a mess of your beloved grammar.
Copular verbs excite me because one of the most famous verses in the Bible is ‘I Am Who I Am’, spoken to Moses by God, recorded in Exodus along with ‘Tell them I Am as sent you.’ Who is ‘I Am?’ What can God possibly mean? Here’s what I think.
I Am Life
Etymonline.com has helped me tremendously. Here I found confirmation that ‘to be’ is a reference to existence itself. When God tells Moses to refer to Him as ‘I Am’, Moses can take this to mean ‘Existence has sent you.’ He could be saying ‘I Am Existence.’
What about the New Testament? Where does Christ fit into this copular verb stuff? Remember 2 Corinthians 5 where the writer says ‘He became sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God’? ‘Became’ and ‘might become’, forms of the passive ‘to be’, refer to a past event and one which tells the future for those who profess Christ as their Saviour.
Why does this matter? It’s the ‘active vs. passive’ contrast readers should notice here. One does not actively achieve existence or salvation. Christ did all the work. Christ didn’t just take the punishment for our sin; His existence at the moment when God turned away was sin. Christ, being human, absorbed everything it meant to be human without sinning.
When I accepted salvation, God breathed life into me and the Spirit instilled new life without any help from me. I died to my old self and was raised up again by the Father, a new person, one with Christ just as the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Father are One because of the work done for me on the cross which altered my existence. Oh. My. Goose feathers. Let that sink in.
Let’s be clear: we are not given righteousness as though it’s in a bag we can put down and lose somewhere when we are distracted by shiny things and puppies; we ARE holy, set apart, entwined with the Trinity. This is part of our existence now too.
So, thank you Mr. Rawlins. Equipping me to find these truths and uncover hope within single words or groups of words brings me great joy. I’m just sorry to tell you, though, that my handwriting is still atrocious. At least you tried.