If you’ve done much traveling around the globe you know all about the issue of language. If you get on a plane in Atlanta and get off in the Punjab it will help if you’ve boned up on your Gurmukhi vocabulary. Years ago my friend, Lloyd, went to Bolivia as a student missionary. Alas, he had not really mastered the Spanish language and during choir practice one day he was trying to help them understand the cue and when they should start singing. But he got the words for arms and legs confused and said – in perfect Spanish – “when I raise my legs you begin to sing.” They almost didn’t make it through the song.
As long as you’re in the airport you can get along – English is pretty universal. But once you get off the tarmac you’re going to do a lot better if you can speak the language of the locals.
Ever since the Tower of Babel language has been a complicated and frustrating tool of understanding. Not only are vocabularies different from one place to another, but so are grammar, sentence structure, even humor. And that’s only half the battle – languages change within each country. If you look back in an old English dictionary from the 1800’s you will likely find the definition of the word “uranium” to be “a worthless white metal not found in the United States.” If you cite that definition on a test paper today the teacher is probably going to ask you to stop by her desk after class.
Then we go to church. I grew up with the King James Version of the Bible. Any memory verses I learned, I learned in 1611 English. It didn’t matter that we didn’t use thee and thou and thy any more, it just sounded so…so spiritual. I didn’t understand then that the Greek language in which most of the New Testament is written was called “marketplace Greek.” In more recent years we have access to newer translations (not paraphrases, that’s a whole different issue), and it makes a lot of folks really nervous.
Hear me out; I’m not attempting to convince you that you should study from a more recent translation of the Bible. I’m just asking you to be patient with me when I do. I need all the help I can get when I seek to know the mind of God. I want to understand what it meant to those to whom it was directly written because that will help me understand what He wants me to hear today.
And I often preach from the NIV or my favorite, the NLT, because I feel it my duty to help my listeners understand God’s message to their hearts today. I don’t want them to have to sort through 400 years of changing English language to hear the voice of God. So many feel the Bible is outdated anyway, I want to make sure what they hear from the pulpit still speaks to their generation.
By Don Jacobsen