Beautiful Temple or Beautiful Gate?

Candice M. Coleman, Ph.D.


Sometimes we may not understand what we read and it can be frustrating. If we’re reading silently, we can go back and reread as many times as necessary to figure it out. We might also go to a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, or paraphrase the section to try to clarify the meaning.

But what happens if we’re reading the book or article out loud to a congregation or audience? They have only one chance to get the meaning. They generally can’t stop us while they take a moment to think. It’s our job as oral readers to help them understand. We can do so by reading logically and conversationally. We can’t always make the meaning absolutely clear, but we can certainly make it clearer.

For example, Acts 3: 1-2 (to;):

Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;

In the phrase, “the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful,” it seems as if “which is called Beautiful” modifies “the temple.” After all, it’s right next to it. However, when we look at verse 10, we find that “which is called Beautiful” actually modifies “gate.” It’s the Beautiful gate of the temple, not the Beautiful temple.

But, how do we make that clear for our listeners?

Let’s use an Analytical Reading phrasing principle Lamar calls “Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Modifiers” from Giving the Sense: How to Read Aloud with Meaning, (p. 87). You may remember from the article Restrictive and Nonrestrictive … What ?! that a restrictive modifier is essential to understanding the word, phrase or clause (called the antecedent) being referred to. It helps limit or restrict that person, thing or action from all others.

A nonrestrictive modifier is simply added information. It could be omitted without losing or changing the meaning.

For example, if I tell you, “My friend who lives in Tucson is coming to visit.” The modifier is “who lives in Tucson” and the antecedent is “My friend.” The question then becomes is the modifier essential to the meaning or added information? Since I have more than one friend (I hope!), isn’t it important for you to understand which one I’m talking about?

So, in this case, the modifier is restrictive. We want to keep it as close as possible to the antecedent by not pausing between them. “My friend^who lives in Tucson is coming to visit.”

(Quick Tip — When marking your copy you might use a caret (^)to indicate a connection, a slash (/) for a pause.)

However, what if I said “My husband who is driving from Cleveland will be home tonight”? Isn’t the modifier “who is driving from Cleveland” simply added information? How many husbands do I have? So the modifier is nonrestrictive and there would be a pause between “husband” and “who is driving.” “My husband/who is driving from Cleveland will be home tonight.” (The pause after the modifier is optional.)

So far, so good?

Back to our biblical example. We’ve determined that “which is called Beautiful” is not restrictive to “temple,” but to “gate.” While we can’t connect the modifier to “gate” to make the meaning absolutely clear, we can at least disconnect if from “temple” by pausing between them — “the gate of the temple/which is called Beautiful.”

Let’s look at another example from the same story -- Acts 3:9 -10 (to:)

And all the people saw him walking and praising God: And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple:

If “which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple” is the modifier, what’s the antecedent? Isn’t it “he”? Is the modifier restrictive or nonrestrictive? Would you pause or connect? If you aren’t sure, think it through analytically. You’ll see it, but If not send me an email. ;o)

(Quick Tip — Try leaving out the modifier and see if it makes sense.)

One more. Matthew 9:8.

But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.

What’s the modifier? What’s the antecedent? Is it restrictive or nonrestrictive?

You might think this is also restrictive, but it’s sort of a trick question. Can anything limit or restrict the Infinite God? Isn’t the modifier simply added information? Wouldn’t the verse still make sense without it? Obviously, you wouldn’t literally leave it our because it still contains important information. It just doesn’t “restrict” God. If you agree, you’d pause between the antecedent and the modifier:

… glorified God,/which had given such power unto men.

(Quick Tip — Generally when you have “God” as the antecedent, the modifier will be nonrestrictive. One caveat, if there’s an article before “God” (“the God,” “a God,” etc.) what follows is usually restrictive. Why? Because the article already implies a limit.)

Wouldn’t it seem as if the comma after “God” should show us where to pause? Be careful. The punctuation, (especially in the King James Version) can lead you astray even more often that it might help. We pause because of the meaning, not because of the punctuation.

As we’ve seen, appropriate pauses and connections can make a meaningful difference to the clarity of what we read out loud. Be kind to your listeners. Use logical phrasing to make it as easy as possible for them to understand quickly, the first time. Analytical Reading is a big help!

For more information on voice and speech, you might want to download The Expressive Voice Audio Coach and other learning resources.

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©2019, Say It Well! Permission is given to reprint this article if the following is included: Reprinted by permission of Dr. Candice M. Coleman. She can be reached at 386-402-7047.