Words Mean Things

In the Christian World yesterday it was Resurrection Sunday, where Christians celebrate Jesus’ being raised from the dead after execution on the cross a few days before. Why is this important? Basically Christians believe that we humans will never be able to meet God’s standard of absolute perfection — every one of us, at some point in our lives, has stolen something, or told a lie, or used God’s name in vain. Just once is enough to disqualify from perfection which by definition has no flaws at all. Since God also loves every individual person and wants to bring every single person home to Him in heaven (but the standard for heaven is absolute perfection) He sent His Son Jesus (fully God and fully man) to endure God’s separation so that, if we accept that Jesus paid our penalty FOR us then we are legally forgiven and reconciled to God. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is proof that the price has been paid for us in full. Hence the celebration.

In the Sunday service yesterday we received a bulletin of the church program. As I studied it, I realized there was something bothersome in the verse on the front. Can you see it? Take a look for a few moments at the verse (transcribed from the bulletin) before you read down.



— Philipians 2:10-11

Did you catch anything? I’m seeing what to me is a substitution of the word SHOULD for SHALL. I had to check my Bible to make sure. Yes, SHOULD is there.


When I was a little girl I went to church every week. There was a lady there named Miss Mary who constantly had us sing Bible verses in song for Sunday School. Week after week, a half hour at a stretch after the felt board lesson for at least eight years of my life. And I sure remember this one. I can still hear Miss Mary’s quavery voice as she led us kids in song while her sister Miss Ruth pounded the piano:

“Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

In dictionary.com “Should” is defined as:

1. simple past tense of shall.
2. (used to express condition): Were he to arrive, I should be pleased.
3. must; ought (used to indicate duty, propriety, or expediency): You should not do that.
4. would (used to make a statement less direct or blunt): I should think you would apologize.

“Shall” is defined as:

1. plan to, intend to, or expect to: I shall go later.
2. will have to, is determined to, or definitely will: You shall do it. He shall do it.
3. (in laws, directives, etc.) must; is or are obliged to: The meetings of the council shall be public.
4. (used interrogatively in questions, often in invitations): Shall we go?

These definitions of SHOULD and SHALL are pretty close. The first definition of “should” is really good since it matches “shall” EXCEPT not every knee has bowed yet, so in this verse it can’t be used as a past tense. The other definitions of “should” have some element of conditionality to them, whereas “shall” is a definite action that WILL happen.

So if you didn’t know better, which word, SHOULD or SHALL, would seem to be a better fit for this verse? Was Miss Mary wrong all those years ago?