Several weeks ago, I visited the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. As I walked through an exhibition hall full of historical Bibles and replicas, I heard recordings of Scriptures being played through the speakers. To my surprise, they were in many different languages—I heard psalms in Hebrew and Latin, and the Lord’s prayer in German. Familiar passages were presented in unfamiliar tongues, causing me to listen and receive the words in new, refreshing ways. The languages seemed to acknowledge all the diverse pilgrims who would gather in this space to reflect on the immensity of God and the Bible.
The Community of Faith
I’ve been fascinated with languages my whole life. It’s one of the reasons I love working in Bible translation. There is a sense in which God is so big, no one language can fully capture him. You almost need all 7,000 languages in the world to fully proclaim God’s greatness and love. As Charles Wesley wrote in 1726, “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace!”
Language is all about community, and I can trace my whole life’s journey through the languages of communities in which I have participated—while growing up in a Korean speaking household, studying French in college, touring Greece and Israel, traveling with my sister in Turkey, and having conversations with friends in Russian, Finnish, and Swahili.
Scripture’s many translations remind us that as Christ’s body we are made up of a far reaching, diverse faith community. We are all participating in the same community of faith from different regions and through different expressions—including language.
Different Translations Conveying the Same Message
Take a look at Psalm 136:1 in multiple languages—maybe you will even recognize a few:
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (English)
הַֽלְלוּיָ֨הּ ׀ הֹוד֣וּ לַיהוָ֣ה כִּי־טֹ֑וב כִּ֖י לְעֹולָ֣ם חַסְדֹּֽו (Hebrew)
εξομολογείσθε τω κυρίω ότι χρηστός ότι εις τον αιώνα το έλεος αυτού (Greek)
여호와께 감사하라 그는 선하시며 그 인자하심이 영원함이로다 (Korean)
Славьте Господа, ибо Он благ, ибо вовек милость Его (Russian)
Kiittäkäät Herraa! sillä hän on hyvä, ja hänen laupiutensa pysyy ijankaikkisesti.(Finnish)
RABbe şükredin, çünkü O iyidir, Sevgisi sonsuzdur. (Turkish)
Mshukuruni BWANA kwa kuwa ni mwema, kwa maana fadhili zake ni za milele. (Swahili)
Danket dem HERRN; denn er ist freundlich, und seine Güte währet ewiglich. (German)
Louez l’Eternel, car il est bon, car sa miséricorde dure à toujours! (French)
Alabad al SEÑOR, porque es bueno; porque para siempre es su misericordia. (Spanish)
The Steadfast Words of Scripture
I love this verse—in all its forms. It consists of an imperative, a command to the people of God. Imagine this command being read in your city, as well as Greece, Korea, and Africa. Give thanks to the Lord. This command applies to all God’s people.
The command is followed by two declarations. The first, “God is good,” has no conditions. God is good all the time. All the time God is good. The second, “God’s steadfast love endures,” has a condition, but that condition is limitless. God’s steadfast love endures forever, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
The Hebrew word for love in this verse is chesed, which denotes God’s unchanging faithfulness, lovingkindness, covenant loyalty, mercy, and love. How do we know that God is good and that God’s steadfast love endures forever? We see God’s goodness and steadfast love ultimately in the face of Jesus Christ, who died for us while we were still sinners, the righteous for the unrighteous. What else can we do but fall down and worship him, and give thanks to him?
As Scripture is read in numerous languages, stemming from just as many contexts, and accompanied by countless life experiences, these declarations hold true. The words of the Bible are true, and sure, and solid. They help us interpret our lives, in all of its varying circumstances. They knit us together as one collective body. Today, this day, let us all give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his love endures forever.
As you read Scripture this week, imagine that you are reading alongside people all across the globe. Let the Bible’s words bring you into greater unity with Christ’s collective body—whether near or far.
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