Sacred Languages

Sacred Languages! Every religion has one! For Muslims it’s Arabic. For Hindus it’s Sanskrit. For central Asian Buddhists it’s Tibetan. For Catholics it’s Latin. For Jews it’s Hebrew. For some Christians it’s old English!

What does a sacred language do?

  1. A sacred language creates a superior priestly caste who can read and understand it. Their knowledge gives them power and influence. It keeps the common people in the right place - ignorance! They must come to their leaders for their spiritual needs. They cannot be born or married or die or live their lives without the priest’s help. All through history, and even today, priests and leaders of every religion have become rich with the help of a sacred language.

  2. A sacred language separates the common man from God! It gives him the message that God does not speak his language. If he wants to know God properly he must learn another language. Scriptures read or prayers spoken or prophecies uttered in his ordinary everyday language are not really holy. He must learn a holy language if he wants personal communication with God. All this contradicts the incarnation of Jesus. He was made flesh, our flesh. He was wholly human and he spoke our language.

Many Muslims don’t understand Arabic. Some even read the Quran without understanding a single word of it! Most Roman Catholics know no Latin. Most Hindus know no Sanskrit. Many Jews know no Hebrew. Many central Asian Buddhists don’t understand the old Tibetan language. Many new or young believers who are native English speakers find the language of old Bibles difficult to understand.

Paul was the most educated of the New Testament writers. He could have written his letters in Hebrew, Classical Greek or Latin. Instead he chose contemporary Greek (known as Κοινη (Koine) - the common language), which ordinary people spoke and understood. He did not say, “I can only write in Hebrew, because that’s the language of all God’s previous revelations.” Nor did he choose to write in Classical Greek, even though it might have sounded more educated and prestigious. He didn’t want to sound holy. Nor did he want to display his knowledge. He wanted to communicate his revelation of God and Jesus Christ in the clearest possible way. For him that meant using Koine, the everyday language of the people to whom he was writing.

Paul studied the scriptures in Hebrew and benefited greatly from them. He also spoke to God in tongues - languages inspired by the Holy Spirit. But he wrote to the Corinthians, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in the assembly I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1Cor 14:19).

Jesus spoke to the people in parables, but still in simple and plain language. The problem was not difficult or unknown words. His words were easy enough. A child would know and understand all the words in the story of the Good Samaritan. Rather his hearers were blind to the spiritual truth and reality that lay behind the words.

The fact the Bible was first written in Hebrew does not make Hebrew a holy language. The fact that the King James Version of the Bible was written in old English does not make old English holy. And, my friends in different parts of the world, the fact that many Christians speak English does not mean that English words are holy! Don’t fill up your messages with foreign words. Don’t put Jesus out of the reach of your brothers and sisters who don’t understand English! Don’t make them feel inferior because they have less education. Do what God does. Speak to people in their own language.

Thank God for the gift of speaking in tongues. But remember its primary purpose is not public use, but private edification. Thank God for the benefits of knowing Greek and Hebrew or English, but let’s keep them also in their right place. They are not for making us sound more educated and superior or padding our messages when we have no revelation from God or inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Let’s use whatever knowledge or gifts God has given us not to promote ourselves, but for the benefit and blessing of others.