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Those Juniors, Part 29: The Echoes of Teaching

by Eric B. Hare

Last week: There is a great amount of difference between connotation and denotation. If these two concepts are clearly understood, the teacher will be able to help their students understand things better.

When Paul exhorted Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine,”1 I am inclined to think he included among other things, his words, his voice, and his manner of speaking, for Paul was very particular about being understood when he spoke. Writing to the Corinthians, he said, “I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”2

You will agree that an unknown tongue need not be a foreign language. If the one who prays buries his face in his hands, if the secretary mumbles and mutters so that we cannot understand a single thought, that is without doubt an unknown tongue.

In Paul’s exhortation about unknown tongues notice these striking sentences, “Even things without lifegiving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy [margin, “significant”] to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.” “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.”3 One can but notice the emphasis on the significance of the words, the many kinds of voices, and being understood.

“Understandest thou what thou readest?”4 asked Philip of the eunuch.

“How can I, except some man should guide me?” was his reply.

We could ask our Sabbath Schools and our Missionary Volunteer congregations, “Understandest thou what is read?” and the reply would too frequently be, “How can I, for the words were not given any significance?”

Note this instruction to teachers:

“Voice culture should be taught in the reading class; and in other classes the teacher should insist that the students speak distinctly, and use words which express their thoughts clearly and forcibly. Students should be taught to use their abdominal muscles in breathing and speaking. This will make the tones more full and clear.

“Let the students be made to understand that God has given to everyone a wonderful mechanism—the human body—which we are to use to glorify Him. The powers of the body are constantly working in our behalf, and if we choose we may bring them under control.

“We may have knowledge, but unless the habit is acquired of using the voice correctly, our work will be a failure. Unless we can clothe our ideas in appropriate language, of what avail is our education? Knowledge will be of little value to us unless we cultivate the talent of speech; but it is a wonderful power when combined with the ability to speak wise, helpful words, and to speak them in a way that will command attention.”5

Let us take several passages of Scripture and let us notice how, with a little practice, we can give such a significance to our words that they will not fail to command attention.

2 Timothy 2:1, 2, 15–26. This is an excellent example of exhortation. Let the voice generally be slow and measured as an elder would speak to a young man, but without any ecclesiastic monotony in it. The word “strong” needs to be prolonged and heavy to give a picture or significance of strength. “Ashamed” is spoken softly with a picture of shame in it. “Vain babblings” is spoken quickly and abruptly as water bubbling in a pot. “Strive” is spoken from the throat with the hint of growling and quarreling in it, while “gentle” and “patient” are spoken sweetly and softly.

Proverbs 1:2033. Read this through once, and get a picture of it. It is a personification of wisdom. Verses 20 and 21 are spoken in the voice of the narrator just introducing the speaker. Then with verse 22, lift up your voice noticeably and call out the words of wisdom to the passers-by. Put subtle laughter into “laugh at your calamity” and mocking into “mock when your fear cometh.” Put scorning into “despised all my reproof.” Then put assurance and quietness into “shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.”

Deuteronomy 6:49, 2025. Here is a beautiful example of a dialogue between a father and his son. First come the words of Moses in general exhortation and introducing the father and the son. You notice there are no quotation marks in the Scripture, but you can find the words of the boy and the answer of the father. Picture the little boy sitting on his father’s knee and the father with his hand lovingly on the little boy’s shoulder. Modulate your voice for the boy’s words a little higher and quicker than the narrator’s voice and the father’s voice a little lower and a little slower.

John 4:1–26. Here is one of the most beautiful dialogues in all Scripture. There is the voice of a narrator, of Jesus, and the woman of Samaria. Practice the parentheses in verse 2 and in verse 8 by speaking the words set off in a voice distinctly softer and quicker, so that the thought can be picked up in the following verse in the same tone in which you were reading before the parentheses. What color you can put into the woman’s words! She is saucy in verse 9, sneering and proud in verses 11 and 12, curious in verse 15, and amazed and convinced in verse 19. Draw out “perceive” and count two or three on the period after “prophet,” before changing to the new thought in verse 20.

Mark 11:27–33. Fill with craft and cunning the subtle dialogue between Christ and the chief priests and scribes.

Luke 10:25–37. In the dialogue between Christ and the lawyer, in which He tells the story of the good Samaritan, mark your direct speech carefully. Note where the narrator’s voice comes in. Give the final question all the weight you can. Give the answer of the lawyer, “He that showed mercy on him” in the words of a man who hesitates, not knowing what kind of trap he is being led into.

Matthew 25:14–30. This reading is a masterpiece. Try it with five people; a narrator, the five-talent servant, the two-talent servant, the one-talent servant, and the master of the servants. Mark the direct speech carefully and then make the first man happy and excited. Have the master practice “well done” until you can almost see him patting the good servant on the back. Put hatred and fear into the words of the one-talent man and judgment into the reply of the master.

Will you now permit me to write a suggestion of my very own? No one ever taught me this. I have never seen it in any book. It is something I have discovered all by myself. Well, here it is. The Bible was written in the language of the Hebrews and the Greeks hundreds of years ago. Its figures of speech frequently refer to things and habits that were perfectly proper to talk about back there, but which are embarrassing to our modern ideas of modesty. Indeed, not only embarrassing, but very thought- and giggle-provoking to our juniors.

For years I have followed the practice of omitting a short phrase, or giving it a modest translation, and I am so highly pleased with the results that I pass on a few examples for you to experiment with.

This is the way I read 1 Thessalonians 5:3: “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them; . . . and they shall not escape.” It sounds all right, you say? It is all right, but I have omitted “as travail upon a woman with child,” and as far as juniors are concerned the omission has omitted embarrassment and possible tittering also.

Which of these translations do you prefer?
  • Isaiah 66:12, 13. “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.”
  • Psalms 110:3. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.”
  • Isaiah 66:12, 13. “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye be nursed, and ye shall be borne in her arms, and fondled on her lap. As one whom his mother comfort- eth, so will I comfort you.”
  • Psalms 110:3. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the birth of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.” 
In case you don’t care for the following translation, turn to the King James Version and see what you would otherwise have to read for Luke 1:30, 31, 34, 35:

“The angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt bear a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus.” “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall be the child’s father; therefore shall He be called the Son of God.”

I feel that no violation has been done to the text, and if the results are any proof, the idea is worth thinking about.

It is said that the eminent Greek philosopher Plato was one day singing in his room. As he paused for a moment’s rest, he heard two little urchins in the street, mimicking him. He listened, a little chagrined, and then said to himself, “Plato, you must learn to sing better, you must learn to sing better.”

Are we altogether satisfied with the echoes of our teaching? It may be that some attention to our words and the modulation of our voices will help us to teach better.

(Next week: “Six Honest Serving Men.”)

1. 1 Tim. 4:16.
2. 1 Cor. 14:19.
3. 1 Cor. 14:7-10, 15.
4. Acts 8:30.
5. Counsels to Teachers, p. 216.

Copyright © 1973 by Eric B. Hare. Used by permission

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