Lectionary in The Christian Century: Genesis 45:1–15; Psalm 133

It echoed throughout my childhood: my mother’s exasperated voice, entreating my brother and me to stop our constant fighting before it cut years from her harried life. She was right on one of those assertions and wrong on another: my brother and I did indeed fight a lot, but he and I will gather peacefully in Hamburg, Germany, this year to celebrate her 80th birthday with her, so she was happily wrong about the life-shortening consequences of that bickering.

Having siblings can be a uniquely rich experience, but growing up with those same siblings can be hard. Very hard.

In many languages, including English and biblical Hebrew, the same word is used for biological siblings as for those who are deeply united in a cause, such as fellow Israelites serving the Lord or fellow Christian believers in the New Testament. The biblical text contains ample testimony to both the pitfalls and the thrills of forging that outward union into an inward unity.

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” The first line of Psalm 133—likely sung as people from across Israel made their way to Jerusalem for the High Holy Days—can evoke either jubilation about a unity and togetherness that is firmly in place or a pleading reminder that much needs to be done to achieve that unity.

Either way, the rewards the psalmist mentions are tremendous.

It’s like the soothing, healing, fragrant oil from above that runs down the hair, through the beard, and onto the robe of Aaron, where it pools on his chest plate containing the 12 stones that represent Israel’s tribes. (In both Spanish and Catalan Sign Language, Aaron’s name is signed by pointing to where the stones on his chest plate would be.) It’s also like the metaphoric covering of the whole land with life-giving, refreshing moisture, all the way from Mount Hermon in the far north to Jerusalem in the south.

Complete unity. Oneness, given from above.

See the rest of the lectionary with data from the Translation Insights & Perspectives tool right here.

For another perspective on the same text see Forgive and Forget?

Lectionary in The Christian Century: Matthew 16:13-20

I recently celebrated my 59th birthday during an especially debilitating flare-up of multiple sclerosis, my unwelcome companion of three decades. Though I can still take my daily beach walks with my dingo, I now use a cane to propel myself through the sand. And I find myself musing on questions that haven’t plagued me since my late adolescence: Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What do I have to offer the world with my unique set of limitations? Where do I fit in to this world?

It’s an age-old human question, honed to obsession in the 21st century: Who am I? But though it permeates our culture now, we don’t have a monopoly on the question. For proof of the importance of identity, look no further than the genealogy that launches the Gospel of Matthew, where the writer lays out a historical resume to prove Jesus’ identity. Then, as now, questions of identity and belonging are essential.

When Jesus asks his disciples the divinely existential question of who the people and then the disciples think he is, his essential question is also all about identity—Jesus’ identity, Peter’s identity, and ultimately our identity as Christians.

The disciples report that people (anthrōpoi) see Jesus (huios tou anthrōpou or “Son of man/humanity” in Jesus’ question) in the context of figures from the past, but Peter recognizes Jesus as someone who melds the past and the future into the present time: the long-awaited Messiah who was and is to come has indeed arrived. One who, Peter clarifies, is also “the Son of the living God.”

We don’t know if the writer of Matthew was familiar with the letter to the Hebrews and its thundering proclamation that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31), but he most certainly was intimately familiar with the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase “the living God” often carries the sense that this deity is to be feared by those who are not on his side. As Moses asks the people, “For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the fire, as we have, and lived?” (Deut. 5:26).

See the rest of this lectionary right here.

For another perspective on the same text see Losing puns in translation (Matthew 16:13-20).

Reading Plan on YouVersion: Holy Week Through the Eyes of the Languages of the World

“This devotion that is intended to accompany you from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday presents Jesus as he approaches his death and is glorified in his resurrection in a way you might not have encountered him: Through the words of languages from around the world. Find out how other cultural norms and concepts find their expression in Bible translation and how that can have a deep impact on your own appreciation and understanding of God’s love for you.”

Subscribe to the 7-day reading plan on YouVersion right here.

Article in Christianity Today: How Do You Translate ‘Filled with the Holy Spirit’?

Pentecost reveals a God who understands that language is more than communication.

Just days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit arrives, and with him, the apostles’ ability to speak in other languages. Diasporic visitors from as far away as today’s Iraq, Libya, and Italy suddenly can hear the gospel in their mother tongues. Hearing about Jesus in this intimate way surprises and amazes the listeners in Jerusalem and viscerally reinforces the personal nature of Jesus’ mission. (The fact that these visitors likely understood Jerusalem’s prevailing languages of Greek or Aramaic further underscores this.)

Yet the church was slow to adopt this message of Pentecost when it came to translating Scripture. Yes, they translated the Bible, but predominantly into Latin, Koine Greek, Ge’ez, Coptic, or Church Slavonic—languages that, over time, became the domain of just a few.

This first changed during the Reformation, and then again with the advent of Bible societies in the 19th century and with translation organizations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators in the 20th century. Today, more than 3,500 languages have at least a portion of the Bible translated into their language (a huge jump from about 2,000 languages just 20 years ago!).

The explosion of modern Bible translations amplifies the ongoing story of Pentecost, a grace that becomes most apparent when we’re able to unearth the riches of these translations and share their treasures beyond their original target audiences.

A couple of those gems can be found in Acts 2:4, the verse that reports on the lifting of that language barrier: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they began to speak in other languages which the Holy Spirit made them able to speak” (NLV).

You can read the rest of the article right here.

Article in Christianity Today: 10 Biblical Terms I Wish Christians Had in English

You’ve probably read the articles about foreign-language words that don’t have an immediate counterpart in English. As a German, I immediately think of schadenfreude, that apparently untranslatable term for, well, schadenfreude—the guilty joy you feel in someone else’s misfortune. Kudos to you virtuous native English speakers for not having your own word for that smug feeling.

Other foreign words are also woven seamlessly into daily life, like the Swedish ombudsman, the Finnish sauna, or the Italian pizza. There are many others, of course, especially in a language like English that derived its uncommonly large dictionary from the treasure chests of many languages.

Then there are the words that haven’t made it into the English dictionary yet, though they’ve achieved notoriety as beautiful but untranslatable terms. (As a translator, I’ll add that “untranslatable” isn’t exactly true. It’s just that we don’t have a word-to-word equivalent.) This includes terms like Danish hygge, which alludes to a sense of cozy comfort in the company of others, or the Finnish sisu, the concept of hidden inner strength in times of adversity. These words enrich how we view the world and offer insights about their cultures of origin. (Again, I apologize for schadenfreude!)

What if we could similarly peel back linguistic barriers to see how other languages and cultures view God through the language they use? For almost five years I’ve been collecting and curating data about how languages around the world translate the Bible in different and often insightful ways. Here are a few examples of words I wish we had in English to understand and communicate with God more deeply.

For the rest of the article, see here.

Article in Christianity Today: Blessed by ‘The Blessing’ in the World’s Indigenous Languages

“The more than 100 popular videos of ‘The Blessing’ sung by churches as benedictions to their cities, countries, and the world have become a multilingual phenomenon. As one YouTube comment mentions, it’s like a foretaste of the great polylingual choir described in Revelation 7.

“Seven years ago in an article for Christianity Today, I looked forward to language’s ‘crowning achievement’ in the ‘amazing sight and sound’ that Christians around the world anticipate in heaven. But now I wonder whether I actually left out an even more crucial component than sight and sound: meaning.

“When you listen on YouTube to the Malay, Burmese, German, or French renditions of ‘The Blessing,’ you may rightly assume that they are substituting the words of Numbers 6:24-26 from a Bible translation in their language for the original English text. But how does the meaning transfer from one language to another?

“We know from experience that Bible translations within one language can differ widely from each other, and it’s clear that this gap becomes more extreme in translations from one language into another. The words of different languages have different histories (etymologies), and the fields of meaning that words have do not cover exactly identical grounds between languages.

“Why is this relevant?”

Find the rest of this article right here.

Reading Plan on YouVersion: Every Language: Listening To The Multilingual God

“God’s communication with humanity was intended from the beginning for “every nation, tribe, and language.” While all languages are equally competent in expressing the message of the Bible, each language has unique capacities to communicate certain biblical messages in exceptionally enriching ways that other languages cannot. This Bible Plan explores seven of those hidden treasures that will expand how you think about God and his good news.”

Subscribe to the 7-day reading plan on YouVersion right here.