I’m an English major and a self-proclaimed grammar nerd. Why do the mechanics of the English language excite me? I don’t know. That’s just how God has wired me.
When I study the Bible, I write down entire verses or passages of Scripture and mark them up in my journal. An arrow here, some underlining there, and a few scribbled notes in the margins.
Recently, during one of these episodes, the grammar nerd in me started to notice something. The apostle Paul was a big fan of using the passive voice.
This stuck out to me because passive voice is a major no-no in the writing world. English professors everywhere feel pretty strongly about it.
And because I know that not everyone gets the same thrill from grammar that I do (fair enough), I’ll give you a quick refresher.
Basically, every sentence is written in either active or passive voice. See the example below:
Active voice: Rachel is writing this blog post.
Passive voice: This blog post is being written by Rachel, (or) This blog post is being written.
As you can see, with active voice, the person or thing who is performing the action comes first (Rachel) whereas with passive voice, the action (writing of the blog post) comes first and is sometimes followed by a specification of who is performing the action. English professors don’t like it because it lacks clarity.
But Paul didn’t shy away from passive voice, and the more I read, the more I started to see a pattern. Let’s look at these examples:
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:11 NIV)
By whom have we been chosen?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
By whom have we been saved?
And you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:10 NIV)
By whom have we been given fullness?
Here in these verses, Paul is telling the members of the early church and—by extension—he is telling Christians today that we have been chosen, we have been saved, and we have been given fullness. All of these things are true of us, but we could not have not achieved them by any effort of our own.
Rather than performing an action, we have been acted upon. And when we look to see who has been acting, we see God’s love and Christ’s saving work on the cross.
Friends, we have been chosen by God. We have been saved by Christ. We have been given fullness in Christ by Christ’s saving work.
We are at the mercy of passive voice. It would be impossible for Paul to say those things about any Christian who has ever lived if he were forced to use people as the ones performing the action.
We are at the mercy of God, the ultimate Actor. Fortunately, that is not a bad place to be. God is faithful, trustworthy, and abounding in love. Paul shows how God can lavish His grace on us through something as mundane as grammar.