From the Pastor’s Desk – “Language, as you know, is powerful.”

Language, as you know, is powerful.

I was twice reminded of this truth during the week.

In my personal reading life, I typically stick to theology and to fiction. However, this week I veered off course a bit to read some history. I read how, in 1492, Antonio de Nebrija approached Queen Isabel of Spain and handed her what he called the key to their dreams for a Spanish Empire. It was a weapon which had no equal, but it was not made of steel or gunpowder. Instead, it was made of paper: the very first book of grammar. As the story goes, when he handed it to her, Queen Isabel famously declared that she knew the Spanish language quite well and had no need for such a book. To which Antonio replied, “But Your Highness, language is the greatest tool of empire.”

He wasn’t wrong. One only has to look at the 21 Spanish language countries that still exist, over 500 years later, to know he was right. One only has to look to the language laws of Germany in the 1930s and 40s and of South Africa from the mid 40s to 90s…or even to our present day news channels or published headlines.

Language, as you know, is powerful.

This got me thinking about something my seminary professors would say about our holy scriptures again and again and again: Every translation is an interpretation. And they weren’t wrong either. There are words in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, that simply do not have counterparts and equivalents in other languages, so we do the best we can when translating them. The selected translation impacts how a word, sentence, or story is interpreted and understood in its new language.

This need not cause us great worry, however, as there are dialogues and scholars and conferences where the most qualified and informed on such matters gather to discern what is the best and most faithful translation, based on the scribed records, context, meaning, mechanics of language, etc. Plus, there’s a logic to why the PC(USA) requires their ordained clergy to take at least two semesters of Hebrew and two semesters of Greek… that when we’re preaching or teaching a text that does not translate smoothly, less might get lost in translation.

Okay – if I lost you at Antonio de Nebrija, this is where you should pick up reading again:

The second time I was reminded language is powerful: a kind word offered from an acquaintance. That’s all. An unexpected word of encouragement, received at the tipping point of a day which really could have gone one way or the other. It was a simple word, yet it adjusted my perspective for the remainder of the day. I went from uncertainty and unsteadiness to, “Yes, I can do this. One step at a time.”

Someone asked me recently why I still write out my sermons word for word, instead of preaching more extemporaneously. This is my answer to their question: Language is powerful. Language matters. And while I fully trust the movement of the Holy Spirit when preaching (as is evident by the fact that sometimes words are spoken that aren’t written on the page before me), I also believe that language is powerful. What we say from the pulpit, in the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, in the presence of our children and grandchildren, and what we say on social media is powerful. It matters. Let it matter for the good of the world. Let it matter for the sake of the gospel. Let it matter for those who look to you as a Christ-follower, and find themselves wondering what this God and Jesus thing is really all about.

See you in church!

Be gentle with one another,
Pastor Molly