Article on the importance of language in sacred scriptures


I found this article quite fascinating. In it the author looks at the importance of the original languages in which the 3 major monotheistic faiths were written; Hebrew/Aramaic, Greek and Arabic. Of interest to me is the assertion that the Greek way of thinking was to experience other cultures only in terms of Greek thought and not in any way attempting to learn the other’s language (which could have a great deal of relevance to discussions on this board over descriptions of Hell). Hebrew on the other hand is described as having exactitude in terms of words chosen for the OT the essence of which seem lost when translated out of that language. Christianity with its belief that Jesus was the Word incarnate is not so locked into a text that should be worshipped in the same way as Torah or the Quran (the latter of which should not be translated at all out of the Arabic according to the article).

**Monolingualism, Scriptural Translation and the Problem of Western Civilization ** … 48916.html


Wow Jeff!

You are so right; this article really is fascinating and has SOOO many implications for how we humans perceive and then relay our Spiritual perceptions! (Sorry I only now have gotten around to reading it!)

There are so many important things about this that fascinate me that it’s hard to narrow it down. But here are a few ideas and challenges for me…

– It seems the life and language of Jesus were in the context of Aramaic; but for social/pragmatic/and many other reasons, these words and concepts were transferred into the Greek. And IN the transfer, much was missed, much was altered from original intent, and it is OUR loss not to be able to grasp the original.

– It has long fascinated me that the in Islam, the belief is that the message and it’s purity can ONLY be transmitted in it’s original and “perfect” language – which is of course Arabic. And of course that raises my hackles because that means I am eliminated from consideration by that religion. (As if I’m going to become fluent in Arabic??)

– In a similar vein, I read a book recently which was given to me by my Muslim friend and colleague called A DEADLY MISUNDERSTANDING by former congressman Mark Siljander. And while both “sides” (Christian and Muslim) have their deadly misunderstandings, the Christian one stems from this very language issue that this article speaks of! He maintains (apparently he is one of these language genius’ who can pick up languages easily) that the entire intent of the word which has come down to us as “convert” (think Peter at Pentacost preaching ‘repent and be converted’) is actually more like “surrender yourself in faith to God”. He maintains it was NEVER the intent of Jesus to start a religious movement; rather to simply draw all to the ONE true God!
Which interestingly is just what the devout Muslim claims as well!

And all this because of the actual intents and meanings and original cultural contexts being subverted by language being inadequately accounted for in our attempts to seek what really happened and was meant and was said. etc etc.

VERY interesting Jeff – and I’ll be on the lookout for more on this angle in the days/months/years ahead!



Hi Bob,

I’m glad you found it useful. I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about the role of the Christian in the conversion of others. I have just been reading some OT passages (the references to which I can’t quite bring to mind at the moment) which said essentially that it is God who turns the person so that they can repent. Orthodoxy would probably put that the other way around - you have to repent before you can turn to God.

The great commission seems to boil down to saying ‘be reconciled to God because he’d not angry with you’.


I tried learning Arabic for a few months when I was studying Islam, and my friend Samuel Green has learnt it, partially so Muslims can’t use the “you’re just not reading it in the original language” argument.

I agree language and translations is a complex area, however, to be honest, your comments about the similarities between Islam and Christianity make me a little uneasy. I can’t put my finger on it right this second (yawns :blush: late night last night after going to hear Patrick Sookhdeo speak on Christian persecution, which sadly is mainly from Muslims :frowning: ). Anyway, it’s partly the fact that they often use the same words to describe their one true God, but digging a little deeper, He turns out to be quite different :confused:

Also from my limited research into the accuracy and transmission of the Texts, it’s true there are difficulties for both religions, but I found it more so for Islam.


There’s no evidence for Jewish worship of the Torah (ancient or modern), furthermore it would make no sense, given the transcendent monotheism of Judaism to worship an earthly object.


Hi Luke,

I agree that for the Torah worshipped is the wrong word (revered maybe?). I think you would need to read the article to get the author’s real intent rather than my inept paraphrasing.


The author asserts this:
“What is not often discussed is how scripture functions in each of the three faith traditions.”
I don’t buy that. It has been discussed to no end!


Another early quote raising a skeptical feeling: “it is highly unlikely that Jesus and his community of followers spoke Greek with any fluency.”



Thanks Alex. I offered the article out of interest only as I have no facility for ancient languages myself and wondered what others made of the arguments presented.