Punctuation is like traffic signals: you can ignore them and perhaps make it ok; but pay attention to them and you’ll be much better off. Lately, I’ve been reading the Scriptures with an emphasis on punctuation, and it’s become a refreshing and illuminating exercise. Let’s look at one punctuation mark in particular: the colon.
The period stacked on a period, the business end of an over-under shotgun, the wonderful colon (:). We use it all the time and yet we rarely recognize its significance.
For example, as you read a certain gospel tract, you are told to read John chapter three (3), but wait a minute, there is a colon, followed by a 16— John 3:16. 16 adds more clarity to chapter 3; it tells you where, exactly, in John 3 you should read. The colon tells the reader “hey, what follows me will add definition, more detail, to what was just before me.”
The colon connects the clause, or some key thoughts/ words, prior to the colon, with a definition, or additional information, about the first clause. Let’s illustrate:
1.) Clause 1 (an actor and action)— 2.) : (colon) —3.) More light, more details about the actor or action of clause 1.
“(Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.) 1 Sam. 9:9. - ( colon emphasized).
The colon indicates that more definition is immediately following, and in this example, the term “seer” is defined, post colon. Go to the seer is the initial action, but, perhaps this statement is confusing, or appears ambiguous; therefore a colon is inserted, followed by a definition of a Seer. The second clause (the post colon clause) is all about serving, helping, explaining, the first. This punctuation mark (:) is an indication of definition, of details, to follow; this is not the purpose of the comma (,), nor is it the primary purpose of the semi-colon (;).
One more example from the Proverbs, where the ‘post-colon’ clause is often the ‘flip side’ of the initial clause:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he”
The clause “he that keepeth law, happy is he” defines “no vision, the people perish” by contrast, by opposite comparison. It illuminates the first clause and should not be excluded or segregated in exposition.
When you read the Bible and you see the colon (:), consider what it’s revealing to you: realize the next clause is acting like a dictionary, defining the text before the colon.