Poetic License? But Why?

Bad grammar ruined this popular Christian song (for me).

Standard English took a blow below the belt with the rise of rock ’n’ roll music, and it was only a matter of time before the assault on the mother tongue would be sanctified by Christian artists writing Jesus Music.

I was no grammar snob as a teenager and young adult, and neither was I a grammar slob. But I lived for the rock ’n’ roll music of Randy Stonehill, Daniel Amos, and other pioneers of the Christian rock genre. I slapped on my Pioneer stereo headphones, cranked up the volume, and blew out my eardrums on a regular basis to songs like

He’s the rock that doesn’t roll, He’s the rock that doesn’t roll; He’s good for the body and great for the soul—he’s the rock that doesn’t roll.[1]

If you loved that classic by the “Father of Christian Rock,” Larry Norman, give me a hearty “right on!” I played the vinyl LP until the grooves had worn down and then recorded it on my cassette player and listened to the tape until it had stretched out of shape.[2] It wasn’t deep theology. But at least it was grammatically correct, which can’t be said of all Jesus Music of that era.

And then I grew up—an assertion my wife and grown children might not corroborate. After all these years, what sometimes passes for songwriting in contemporary Christian circles leaves me scratching my head—both from a musical standpoint[3] and from a grammatical point of view. The latter is the focus of this essay.

A recent popular song features the recurring lyric,

The same power that rose Jesus from the grave . . .

When I first heard that, it was fingernails scraping the chalkboard—an egregious affront to my grammatical sensibilities. Why? Why would an ostensibly literate songwriter use rose when he should have used raised? We’re not talking a different form of the same verb—we’re talking two different verbs. Yes, they are related, but they are different verbs.

Here’s a twenty-five-cent tutorial on the difference between the two:

Rose is the past tense of the verb rise, which is intransitive. An intransitive verb has no direct object—the subject performs the action by itself/himself/herself. (E.g., “The sun [subject] rose [verb].” “The spectators [subject] rose [verb] when the judge walked into the courtroom.”

Raised is the past tense of the verb raise, which is transitive. A transitive verb has a direct object—the subject performs an action on something. (E.g., “The flag monitor [subject] raised [verb] the American flag [direct object] each morning,” or “The farmer [subject] raised [verb] a crop of corn [direct object]” or “The same power [subject] that raised [verb] Jesus [direct object] from the grave . . .” How would it sound if we said, “The flag monitor rose the American flag,” or “The farmer rose his corn crop”? It might be jes’ fine if we was tryin’ out fer de part o’ Jed Clampett in The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies, but otherwise not so much.

In the song in question, the songwriter chose the incorrect verb. Even considering the possibility that he intentionally selected rose instead of raised in the name of poetic license, I can only ask, Why, for Pete’s sake? My friend who drew this convoluted bit of song lyric to my attention this past week pointed out that raised is closer in sound to grave than rose is. So for the sake of poetry alone, the writer should have used the correct verb: The same power that raised Jesus from the grave . . .

Okay, I’ve probably alienated half my readership with this post, and to those five folks, I’m sorry. If that song is meaningful in your life—wonderful! May God bless you for it. And if I get to heaven and find out it was one of God’s favorites—oopsie! He may have to give me a timeout on a stool in the corner for a couple of thousand years.

But for now, for me, it’s only scrape, scratch, scritch on the chalkboard of my mind.


[1] Larry Norman, from his In Another Land album, circa 1976.

[2] Not really. I’m using hyperbole to make a point.

[3] By “musical standpoint” I’m referring to a song’s singability in a congregational setting—a topic I could write multiple posts on because so much contemporary Christian music that is popular on the radio is simply unsingable in the context of congregational worship. But the emphasis of this post is on lyrics, not music.

© 2017 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

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Author: Dean Christensen

Educator, copyeditor, writer, voiceover guy, baseball bug, logophile, classical music afficionado, classic rock 'n' roll lover, classic-movie buff, bibliophile, former this, used to be that, and future who knows what. Every day is an adventure in learning.

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