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Significance and Semantics

Meaning in Narrative


It has now long been a source of amusement and edification in our family,  to consider HOW we sum up what has been said, especially but not only in a narrative situation.

Let us take the sort of case. Thus one might meet someone who casts some slight doubt on a situation or proposal without being actually dismissive. There might be just something short of endorsement, but decidedly not rejection. We could, for  example, have the words, which might be something like this, "Yes, well I suppose it has its points, but it is worth a look."

WITH these words there might be anything from a French shrug of the mystified shoulders to a small turning of the head with a slight moue suggestive of weighing a sensitive issue with some amount of displeasure, to a dog-like look upwards as if reviewing a strange scent.

This is also to be fitted into any gestures of the hands and context before and after,  along with the actual direction of flow of discussion, confrontational,  investigatory or wry.

These things being so, there is a sphere of understanding which is part of the total situation for semantics. If the latter has to do ONLY with words, then it is limited. If however there is EVIDENCE of actions, facial expressions, direction of flow of speech and actions and reactions, and a line concerning major attitudes inbuilt, then the  total signification which breeds  significance becomes broader than words, though totally expressive in them. Thus in the above case, the total  expressive summary of the case could, depending on the particular additives provided, be "cast some doubt on"  or  "was not particularly enthusiastic about"  to "had some interest in," leading to "expressed interest in," or "did not enthuse."

SINCE in the Gospels, very often the total situation includes all of the above, and much more, therefore in the choice of words to sum up what was said (and 'began  to say' tends to express a line of argument, a disposal of attitude over a number of words), there can be a greater or lesser attention to the additives to the actual verbiage employed.

What has to be realised,  as we have found in considering our own natural ways of expressing what has been said, in the place of  summary, outline and major comprehension composed to express the communication. Thus, the FORCE or the FUNCTION of what is said might be the point of the summary. The term 'said' can mean, in practice, without inverted commas: These are the words; this is the point; this was the thrust, this is the summary; or even, this is the part relevant to our present discussion.

In one case, in our own domestic life, there was a question of someone doing some work, who said a word about our being absent on that day, and the question of the best way, in that case, to settle the payment. Surprisingly, he said something like this, "Oh that is no concern to me." There was a TONE, and a MANNER in this statement, and it was in a context of my wanting to pay him soon, but his seeming to prefer to wait a convenient time, just when next the work was done.

In telling my wife of this, I did not say, "He said, 'Oh that is no concern of mine!' because I did not remember precisely how he phrased it, whether as above, or perhaps, 'That does not concern me,' or 'That does not concern me at all,' for example. Perhaps I could have remembered the words, but still there was more to communicate.

The entirety of the semantic situation, with the emotional overlays, the direction of  flow, the context into which the words were placed had a certain integrity, oneness to the mind; there was a distinct emotional flavour. I spoke quite naturally in recollection and said something like this, "Oh he said he was not fazed about the time of payment," because he seemed almost to reject a way to pay him at once. Then I told my wife, "You know, I am sure he did not use that word 'fazed' but this conveys the sense of what he transmitted to me overall, perhaps best in short form, in one word."

Now if I had instead wished to convey a more blow-by-blow presentation, not analysing and synthesising the analysis in an overall term, in this case 'did not faze', then I might have said, "He said it was of no concern to him," yet this could mislead. In the context, it was a number of words, a semantic unit, set in a situation with movements and flow and response to query in another direction, which had a resultant in words, tones and so on. Such words as these about being of no concern,  could even give the impression, if unadorned, that he was actually quite dismissive, whereas there was a more personal element in the overall flow, as if to say, By no means let this be of concern, because it really is not an issue with me. In the tone there was a certain warmth.

Any concept of being dismissive would therefore be wrong, and the words without the context could actively mislead. Communicating without inverted commas, therefore, one has to relay the overall result in one or more words, depending on the significance of the situation, the resolution of any doubt, the word count for the speaking, and above all, accuracy. The word 'not fazed' covered it as well as one could imagine in this case, and so the term was used, which he had not used.

In saying, even this, 'He said that he was not fazed,' therefore, where inverted commas cannot be seen, and the point is to tell the reader what happened with an accurate depiction that cannot mislead, there is the provision of words of summary. As one has data, emotional, direction of flow, manner of interchange, thrust if there is more than one statement to supplement an original, or some additive, like 'really' and so on, so one has summary. In fact, in the case at hand, there may have been a word or two more added, as one often does, in mini-clarification.

Where the overall result is quite apparent, the conveyance of this is a matter of semantic deliberation, and often this is not at all conscious, for one can graphically recall the situation without any necessary analysis, and its overall thrust, such as one often tries to convey to another in multiple modes of communication, of eye, lip, shoulders, smile and so on. Where you have a good communicator, these things can be received with a wonderful degree of accuracy.

Where there is a sympathy of attitude, orientation and intention overall on the part of two who speak and who listen, then some things which of themselves have not a great deal of semantic substance, yet with one or two word selections may convey a situation of mutual knowledge from the past. Thus ONE word set in ONE situation sometimes between two parties is almost part of a mutual understanding because of some humorous or other element often referred to, or thought evocative. Communication can thus be far easier when one is dealing with such an array of understood background.

Even when the situation is confrontational, however, understood items of combat can be briefly evoked because of the common character of challenge in some area. Thus code words in an understood situation of clash can draw up a hinterland of meaning, which it is not necessary to invoke. It is understood.

These are only some of the total situations which can breed meaning, and enable words*1 to be selected, when the issue is not a particular word, abstracted from the total situation, but a single MEANING. This is really an issue of MEANING ANALYSIS. It is sometimes carried out in thought, sometimes in a sort of graphic review, enabling one to recapture imaginatively the spirit of discourse and its meaning input on all sides; and sometimes all this is simply a matter of recall of the total comprehension of the design of the communication from past understanding, hence needing no review.

If therefore, you wish to convey in one or two words, or even three, what took about ten or fifteen, or what was indicated in three or four sentences, or in disjoined parts of a short dialogue, it is not necessarily a choice of some of all the words that were spoken that best represents the summary. At times, you either present all or give a summary of the sense of the total communication. This is normally not hard, since we are so made that we have semantic-sensory-psychic antennae by which we comprehend what is being communicated and can relay it accordingly.

The communicator, knowing or acting on this, will  select the verbal and other means of expression, to discharge the content in the phase desired, both accurately and unambiguously. Again, at times people think something is ambiguous, when a differentiation between this and that interpretation is not intended, but only the basic idea. In sound  speech, you are given what is intended, but sometimes people want to exact more than is given in it: in that case what is felt to be ambiguity is simply a NOT GIVEN point, and you are to retract to the point of what is clear, not seeking to extort additives. There can even be a prying game in public discourse: Did you mean this or that ? In the case, neither may have been meant, but a generic which did not differentiate.

We find over and over again, the most interesting ways we use in communicating what was said or happened. When we wish to disparage or admire something, we use means to make this clear, such as tone or eye expression or code word, or bodily gesture; but when the enigmatic is not the intention, then for a reasonably good communicator, success is to be expected.

How reliable then is the resultant communication when one is telling what was said about something, in some conversation with another party, or even in some summary of the gist of some speech that was made, short or long, in segments or all at once ? In my own case, one of very many which we have checked, to see the nature of this kind of summary, on reflection, I found that 'was not fazed' was a delightfully apt two word impartation of the overall. If the intention is to impart, then the success is to have found what is imparted. IF there is question of meaning, THEN an analysis may be necessary, but one does not recall any case when, on analysis, the spontaneous way in which one described what was said, was in any doubt.

Reports in the end, either declare the exact words - and where there is a significant flow or a concentration and focus of meaning, something of deep portent needing reflection, then these might well be provided (always assuming that inverted commas are either not in use, or not known as to whether they are in use, or are not available). The Spirit of Truth is crucial here. If the heart is trying to disrupt, discount or make gain out of twisting truth, then there is abundant scope for false reporting, and where the heart is deceitful, long habituation to lies and fraud may make this very easy indeed. In fact, truth can be lost to the prince of prejudice in some kinds of communication, where the speaker wants only results by any means, such commonly called ruthless, as some politicians seem to be.

When then Christ told the disciples of the Spirit of Truth and that He would bring back to their memories all things that He had spoken, this was crucial. In the Spirit of Truth, there is no slant, no prejudicial intent, nor anything resembling in any way either conscious or unconscious slide, slip, slander, impertinent innuendo. What it is, it is this which is conveyed. All that it is, is known; the knowing itself is pure and integral. In communication of purity, facts are friends, however frenzied may be those who make them!

Here you can see the whole Trinity at work. The Speaker (rightly) speaks the word, the Spirit rightly conveys the word, either in verbatim form or in correct summary depending on the case and the need. What is guaranteed is this, that whatever is said is if verbatim,  correct as such, if summary, apt and just as such, conveying neither more nor less than what is relevant to the purpose of the presentation. Thus in speaking of something to a legal enquiry, the legal may be prominent, or to a popular dissent, the precision may be necessary to the word, to enable judgment by dissenters and so on.

TRUTH, that is, making the semantic situation a just and accurate representation of the historical event and its expression, with a perspective which neither omits nor includes things which culture may WANT  or  HATE, proceeds on the basis of what was in fact operative: this is the point. Its perspective shows this, and its wisdom holds, with divine utterance, all that is relevant in potential.

Who but God can accurately and adequately do this ? No one. By His Spirit however people can be enabled to do it, as He acts. This is in its perfection in the Bible itself, where not only is the substance of God's revelation shown, but its conveying in substantive verbalisation, so that the truth is obtained (I Corinthians 2:9-13, I Peter 1:25, II Peter 3:2, Matthew 4:4,5:17-20).  Here not only was the substance shown, but the wording was given (both relevant Greek words are used in the above references*2), so that even the words themselves are available if needed, for determination of meaning. Man shall live by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God, and to this Christ bound and floored the devil.

Since Christ, in one of His objectives in coming to this earth, had to act as the TRUTH (John 14:6, 18:37), and give  testimony to it, then both in what He said, the way in which He said it, the summaries of His references to past occurrences and regarding what was and is to come, accuracy is assured. Where the need is that there be a bypass of totality-situational understanding, so that the words alone, the semantic selection be in focus, then this is done. Where the need is that the imprint of the communication be kept and interpreted briefly and rightly, this is done. It is all possible; but the Spirit of Truth is the underlying assurance. Without this, man is a muddle; just as without words, he is a mystic enterprise. He has both, and so has a double communicative provision.

Similarly, and in parallel, the Word of God is the presentation made, concerning which this underlying assurance is given. It is as shown in SMR Appendix D. Thus when Jesus spoke as in the New Testament record, we find whatever record is just to the summary, whatever selection is needed for relevance to a point, and the mode of expression for that selection which is able to prevent any kind of distortion of any aspect of the case in the selection, in what is chosen. Thus all is presented in accord with the very Spirit of Truth.

God is like that. Not only IS He the truth, but the Spirit of Truth as well, and it is His word which presents it, His Spirit which inspires its record and which brings to the heart the understanding, as with friends who are grown accustomed to each other. Thus there are pearls which do not relate closely to some who are merely in rebellion, but which await their coming home, back to base. There is milk for early coming and meat for later coming; but it is all one, apt in a way, as in a school for each phase; and nothing misleads those who seek with all their hearts. Nothing is implicitly obscure, though much may be obscured by rebellion and resistance (cf. Proverbs 8:8, and Proverbs 1). If you have mathematics, then it is quite unlikely that Einstein's works will hold much appeal, or that your perceptive input will be felicitous.

What then is the case in the New Testament record, where reference is made to this or that utterance, word, dictum, saying, retort or response on the part of Christ ?

It is this. Summaries and outlines and syntheses of things said into this or that word or phrase, therefore, in this or that Gospel,  are not to be viewed as merely additive, but expressive of the truth of what occurred, whether in summary, selection for a purpose or dicta, being kept pure in its mode of representation to avoid any distortion in the process. We do this all the time, and it is not necessary to cease to be human in order to understand, but rather the more to be human, in not bringing in artificial ideas concerning the way our minds are able to inspect, select, compress, essentialise and so forth.

We expect truth in spirit and in substance, and where the words are shown in context to be intended to be the actual semantic units used, then we expect that. ALWAYS we are in principle capable of telling the truth; though in pathological practice, motives and motif alike may misalign, either consciously or beyond ideas, what is said. Not in vain did Christ indicate the the devil is the father of lies, since the truth does not dwell in him (John 8).

Incapacity to find truth is assuredly a highly developed pathological situation, but it is one, with a flavour attached of warped desire, to which Christ refers as seen in Matthew 13:15 ...

 "Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they closed lest ..." 

Lest what ?  it is lest

"they should see with their eyes

and hear with their ears,

lest they should understand with their hearts

and turn so that I should heal them."

Let us then proceed with human communication.

While therefore a selection of what is said on one occasion may be made in order to convey the RELEVANT point in a discourse on a given topic or theme, quite rightly, for we do not need to know what happened to eyebrows or feet, if this is totally irrelevant and words did the job in isolation and with a pith suitable to the size intended for the review as a component in the communication: this is no more a distortion than that for any other purpose. It is just that the omission must not be such that the residue in view, from what was totally said or communicated, becomes either misleadingly ambiguous or distorted.

A just mind would seek this, and it takes work; but it can be and should be done. The work of foxes is to use these considerations in our wonderfully apt total means of communication, to disturb the truth, to impress an ulterior motive on the recapitulation and to mislead by guile. There are many foxes, and Herod, according to Christ, was one of them (Luke 13:32).

One of the human passions is for justice. This can far transcend any personal involvement, even any national one, and reaches for ground to our source. Thus when some authority clearly misleads concerning an occurrence (as when the Communist Party may make someone who spoke truth with an intention of gaining justice, and is made into an automatic criminal because it is deemed true that ANYONE saying ANYTHING against the Party Line and its ideas, must be criminal), the sense of justice may be outraged.

 Such tyrannies are in the spirit of deception. If the Communist Party were God, then total knowledge would make this so, and God IS reasonable (Isaiah 1, I Peter 3:15 cf, Let's Be Reasonable, for God is!); but since it has neither god nor God, and its model is that of a merely materialist propulsion of combatants who would make all things to each according to need, and has main need for the Party, this is infinitely far from the case. The Party is one sporting a body of ideals which cannot exist on its own basis. other than as desires, one which indeed mocks morals, while both erecting and not keeping its own, which exist on no basis, and contrary to any possible basis on the model chosen (cf. News 19, 98).

Justice is a major pre-occupation of many who are cynics or skeptics, since they feel that this or that OUGHT to be different, and since it is not so, therefore their cavils or questions or hatreds are stirred. This passion is not always linked to a love of truth, since in disparagement based on offence, people often twist things or fail to consider them, so great is their inherent sense of outrage. Wisdom however does not wantonly select, but considers all things, and using logic validly, finds answers, made easy since God has spoken as is readily demonstrable*3.

Thus many CANNOT find the truth for various reasons, and outraged sense of justice, in accord with superficial stoppage of the work of comprehension before its scope is covered, is often one reason for this. It is not that righteous indignation is wrong, but that an engulfment in rage can destroy reason and muddle consistency.

Man is in such a case that unless He listens to God, he can become unable to find truth, being an alien from God who is the truth (Ephesians 4:17-19), sometimes proud of it, complacent about it, unwilling even to think of it, and becomes a sort of handbag of scars which twist flesh, but this in the mind.

It is refreshing to one's desire for truth, justice and reality, a multiple, ineffaceable though distortable result of the image of God thrust into man in his construction, in his creation, to find it all available. With its glorious companions is the truth itself,  where alone it can be found, the conclusion of the whole matter. It is, as it now needs to be, in a propositional format in the Bible, and in a personal format in the Saviour. Not only is here truth found, absolute, but what it IS,  is a verifiable*3  wonder in itself.  Indeed, on the majestic  splendour, grand care and certainty of this wonder,  see for example  Ch. 6 above, and SMR pp. 582ff., 520ff., 611ff., with TMR Ch.  2, together with *3 below).

Together, the word and the work of the Spirit of God (I Corinthians 2:9ff.), it is a gift to man. He himself has his own spirit and his words and his production of words. It is easy to understand once he thinks and opening his eyes, finds the Truth which made him,  instead of being a cultural captive to whatever warp becomes popular in his contemporary world. Then the words of God in the Bible become mutually supportive because understanding is given, realisation arrives of meanings and impacts, and each part reinforcing or amplifying the understanding of the other, as in a sort of semantic stereoscopy, produces a depth needful in this as in all things, for a good comprehension. In this, however, since it is God Himself who is dealing with us, depth is paramount!

Thus semantics leads us on toward salvation, and understanding can be bestowed most liberally in its acceptance (Proverbs 1:20ff., 8:32ff.), foxes or no foxes. This in turn leads to gratitude and joy unspeakable in the Saviour (I Peter 3:5-8) without whom man in his muddle, merely illustrates in endless seeming wars and distortions, the depth of his sinful pathology, and need of the Saviour.





See Jesus Christ, Defaced, Unfazed: Barrister of Bliss Ch. 4.



See Appendix D, SMR in its early section.

It is both interesting and edifying to note that


1) In I Corinthians 2:9-13, we learn that both substance and wording
is given from God, for the scriptures. The  word chosen is


2) In Matthew 4:4, Christ tells the devil that every word of God must man live by.
The letters of the word chosen are


3) In I Peter  1:25, the word chosen in  telling us
that the word of God will endure forever, is likewise


4) In II Peter 1:21, we learn that men of God who wrote the scriptures were moved,
or driven by the Holy Spirit,  so that it is indeed true to say
that the prophetic word is a light in a dark  place,
since not from any purely internal meditation did these men speak,
but as moved by the Spirit of God, the explanation making clear the meaning

(cf.  Bible Translations, Words About Words Ch. 1).


5) Indeed, in Matthew  5:17-20, Christ goes even further.

There are prophetic statements and there are fulfilments.

As  to the  latter, nothing will be left out, not in the slightest degree.
Here we proceed not only from the word (
logos) in a more general sense,
to the word (
rhma), with the more distinctive rendering of grammatical unit,
as in Peter's reference to the prophetic scriptures,
and Christ's to the words proceeding from the mouth of God,
every one of which is for man to live by
(no  verbal tolerance,  so that although interpretation must be sound,
what is to be interpreted is secure beyond cavil - cf. Reflections... Ch. 9).

We go further. As to fulfilment, since it is God who is in view, neither the smallest  letter in the Hebrew alphabet (we have 'jot' in the translation),  nor the slightest obvious difference (we have 'tittle' in the English translation between two similar letters) will be  null. ALL will be fulfilled. What God gave as it was, is true to the letter and to the letter particle, no  confusion, no diffusion. That is the precision of the original deposition, and it will be carried out to performance.



See for example:

SMR, esp. Ch. 1, TMR,






See also Barbs ... 6    -    7.