"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jesus & "Sacred Languages"

"If your God is so great, why doesn't He speak our language?"

In 2008 I read a book that included this quote and it has stuck with me ever since. A man had given a Spanish Bible to a tribal lady in Latin America, and though Spanish was widely spoken in the area, she questioned why her local language was unknown by God. This question motivated the man to translate the Bible into the Cakchiquel tongue. Indeed God knows even these local dialects!

In Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, the author has this to say in relation to this Cakchiquel woman's question. I loved this! And hope you will as well!

Note: The Tefillah are a form of Jewish prayers beginning with "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD" and then a series of 18 standing prayers all of which are done in Hebrew.

Now this from author Kenneth Bailey:

The Tefillah are in Hebrew. The modern consensus among scholars is that the Lord's Prayer begins with the Aramaic word abba and therefore we can assume that Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the Aramaic of the daily communication rather than the classical Hebrew of written texts. The Aramaic-speaking Jew in the first century was accustomed to recite his prayers in Hebrew, not Aramaic. Similarly, Muslim worshipers always recite their traditional prayers in the classical Arabic of seventh-century Arabia. Both Judaism and Islam have a sacred language. Christianity does not. This fact is of enormous significance.

The use of Aramaic in worship was a major upheaval in the assumptions of Jesus' day. It meant that for Jesus no sacred language was "the language of God." . . .

Jesus lived in a world where the public reading of the Bible was only in Hebrew, and prayers had to be offered in that language. When Jesus took the giant step of endorsing Aramaic as an acceptable language for prayer and worship, he opened the door for the New Testament to be written in Greek (not Hebrew) and then translated into other languages.

It follows that if there is no sacred language, there is no sacred culture. All of this is a natural outgrowth of the incarnation. If the Word is translated from the divine to the human and becomes flesh, then the door is opened for that Word to again be translated into other cultures and languages. ... The long term result is a global church of more than two billion people, almost all of whom have the Bible available in their own language. Believers are thereby able to break into God's presence using the language of the heart. We are so accustomed to this heritage that we scarcely notice its beginning, which was Jesus' choice of Aramaic as the language of the Lord's Prayer. Jesus affirmed the translatability of the message when he began this prayer with the great word abba. (pg. 95)

Is this great news or what?!

I don't have to learn classical Hebrew or Arabic or any other "sacred language" in order to communicate with God. My Creator knows me -- and He understands my language!


Stacy aka Fahiima said...

Its so good to know that God hears our heartfelt cry no matter what language it is in. Languages are one of my favorite part of God's creation. I'm glad that we can see God's beauty in the variety of the peoples that he created.

Amber said...

I honestly don't think I have anything to say except: I agree! :)

God is not limited by language or geography. He understands all of it, better than we do ourselves. While I can understand the human desire to separate the language we use to speak to our Creator to some degree or another from our everyday words, it doesn't really matter. He hears us whether we speak in English, French, Aramaic, Hebrew, German, or nothing at all.

Wrestling With Religion said...

Was it uncommon to pray even personal supplications in one's own language? Surely you can't do that - what Muslims call dua - in any language you're not fluent in... and would all the Galileans have been fluent in classical Hebrew?

I'm not knocking it, I agree with the sentiment, but I'm questioning whether it was really ground-breaking that Jesus demonstrated supplication in his own language. It might have been, but I sort of imagine all people everywhere would supplicate in their own language, except for formal ritual prayers.

I think it can be a nice thing to pray in a specific language that a significant person in the religion used. But I don't like the idea of being *made* to do it that way or made to feel that God only wants a certain language.

I went to a workshop last year called "The Aramaic Jesus and the Sufis" and we were taught bits of Aramaic that Jesus might have used. Made me feel closer to him. Of course Aramaic is not a "special" language just because Jesus used it, but I liked the idea of learning words he might have used.

The word for God in Aramaic we were told was "Alaha". Quite like Hebrew "Elohim" and Arabic "Allah". Interesting I thought!

Susanne said...

Stacy, I thought of you when I wrote this post. I know how you are a language "freak." :-D

Amber, amen!

Sarah, you're probably right in that "dua" was made in your native tongue, but when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, likely they expected their rabbi/teacher to give 'em a lovely classical Hebrew prayer. Afterall these were Jewish men. :) But maybe not. I'm speculating.

Yeah, if people *want* to pray in a non-native tongue, that's great. But to require it - as if God cannot stand to hear any other tongue - is silly.

Last year in Maaloula, a young lady spoke the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic. It brought tears to my eyes as I thought that these were likely the very words Jesus used when teaching it to his disciples. Thanks for sharing your experience about that as well. :)

Wrestling With Religion said...

Maybe it wasn't what they expected to hear. Who knows!

I totally get what you mean about the Aramaic Lord's prayer! It's just really special. It's a shame in a way that none of his words were preserved in Aramaic.