Language needs to be understood in the cultural context of its origins in order to fully understand it. Can you imagine what would happen if someone translated literally our English idioms like “Go out and knock ’em dead” or “your goose is cooked”? My goose is cooked? Well, thank you very much, but I ordered a hamburger.
When we are dealing with ancient languages, the problems become more complex. The New Testament was written in koine (common) Greek because that was the language used throughout the Roman Empire. But if Jesus was going to speak to the common people of Judea and Galilee, he would have spoken in Aramaic instead. Like most very ancient and primitive languages, the vocabulary was small, but each word carried multiple levels of meaning. In translating Jesus’ Aramaic words, the authors had to make some editorial decisions. They would have had to choose the Greek words that spoke to the people at that time. Today, we may know more about the common Greek of Jesus’ time than those who first tried translating Scripture into modern languages did. But of the original spoken language of Aramaic, we still know little. It is not your standard requirement at the seminaries today. So we have to keep in mind the multiple levels of meaning that were possible and figure out which one or ones apply.
This last Sunday was labeled “Christ the King” Sunday by many churches. But what did that word “king” mean when it was used 2,000 years ago in other languages? One of the few scholars of Aramaic explains that “The ancients saw in the earth and all around them a divine quality that everywhere takes responsibility and says “I can”. Later those who expressed this quality clearly were recognized as natural leaders – what we call queens and kings.” The word used in the Lord’s Prayer for “kingdom” therefore refers to “a quality of rulership…It is what says “I can” within us and is willing, despite all odds, to take a step in a new direction.”
So if we can set aside what has happened around the world since Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven and writers talked about the reign of Christ, we can take a fresh look at what was meant originally and how it applies today. This talk about kings and queens has both individual and societal implications for those who follow Jesus.
The “I can” is willing to take a step in a new direction. What is that direction? Or as it is often asked, “How can I know the will of God in my life? How do I know it is not simply my own selfish desires?”
My answer to that involves my faith’s vision and my trinitarian relationships. My faith’s vision is my view of what the world could be, what Christians believe God’s desire for the world is. The will of God for me will need to let me live into a part of that vision. My trinitarian relationships involve my relations to the natural world and to society, as well the integration of my own thoughts, needs and desires.