The Language Barrier and the “Pure Language”
EARLY on a Sunday morning in the summer of 1951 two Americans in Paris suddenly found themselves in urgent need of a taxicab. Finally one came along and they signaled the driver to stop. Their French being woefully inadequate and the driver understanding not a word of English, they pointed to their watches to indicate their haste and then pointed down a side street to indicate their destination. The driver was most reluctant, but their insistence overcame his objections and down the side street he drove until they indicated their destination. After paying the fare, after use of the same sign language, they left smiling, while the cab driver, shaking his head and muttering something in French, drove off.
If just two different languages can create such a handicap, what problems can 2,796 different languages raise? Yes, according to one linguist, there are 2,796 different languages spoken in the earth today, not counting minor dialects. There was a time when there was only one language, and that, as God’s Word indicates, was Hebrew. This was the only language spoken until the building of the tower of Babel, or for some 1800 years. Then, to thwart man’s scheme to keep all mankind bound together by means of a superstate in defiance of the purpose of the Creator, Jehovah God confused the tongues of man.
While this confusion of languages did not present much of a problem so long as Jehovah was dealing only with the nation of Israel; with the command of Christ Jesus to “make disciples of people of all the nations”, language differences did present a very definite problem. (Amos 3:2; Matt. 28:19, NW) How has Jehovah helped his servants to cope with it?
First of all, by inspiring his servants to write the Christian Scriptures in koiʹne Greek rather than in Hebrew, the language in which the pre-Christian Scriptures were written, or in Aramaic, the language spoken by the Jews at the time of Christ. In what way did the writing of the Christian Scriptures in Greek help toward overcoming the language barrier? In that koiʹne Greek, as distinguished from classical, Byzantine and modern Greek, was the international language for several centuries before and after the time of Christ. Thus the greatest number were reached in the shortest period of time. Incidentally, even though Rome had superseded Greece as the world power, koiʹne Greek was still the international language, for, as one historian expressed it, ‘while Rome’s military might had conquered Greece, Greek culture conquered the Romans.’
Additionally, at Pentecost Jehovah poured out upon his Christian servants his holy spirit, which gave them, among other miraculous powers, the gift of speaking foreign tongues. As we read: “Indeed, they were astonished and began to wonder and say: ‘See here, all these who are speaking are Galileans, are they not? And yet how is it we are listening each one of us to his own language in which we were born? . . . we hear them speaking in our tongues about the magnificent things of God.’”—Acts 2:7, 8, 11, NW.
However, that gift of tongues was to serve the Christian congregation only in its infancy, so as to give it, together with other gifts, a tangible basis for faith. Had not Christ Jesus established himself as God’s Son by miracles even as Moses had convinced his fellow Israelites by signs that he was sent of God? So, to supplement the miracle of Christ’s resurrection as a basis of faith the apostles were empowered to perform miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, and, for the practical purpose of spreading the good news, the gift of tongues.
However, we should no more expect tongues to continue with us to this day than any of the other gifts. In fact, Paul tells us that, “whether there are tongues, they will cease.” (1 Cor. 13:8, NW) Such gifts came upon believers only at the instance or in the presence of the twelve apostles. (Acts 8:17-23; 19:6) When the apostles died and those upon whom they had bestowed such gifts, the supernatural gifts passed away.
COPING WITH THE LANGUAGE BARRIER TODAY
Does that mean that the prophetic command to preach the good news of the Kingdom in all nations cannot be carried out today? (Matt. 24:14) Not at all. In the first place note that just as at the time of Jesus’ first presence God saw to it that his message would be first produced in the international language of the time, koiʹne Greek, so he has seen to it that in our time the preaching work should get its start in the international language of modern times, namely English.
As for reaching those speaking other tongues, God has put it into the minds of the ones whom he is using to direct the preaching work to translate his message into other languages, and so today we find the good news about Jehovah and his kingdom is being published in some 100 different tongues. Why, The Watchtower is regularly published in 38 languages! And since not only the printed page is needed but also someone to distribute it, as well as personal instruction, the same Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society has provided a school at South Lansing, New York, for the training of missionaries for foreign service.
These missionaries have gone into many lands and opened up new fields for the restoration of true worship. They have had to learn new languages, in addition to whatever foreign language they studied at Gilead school. By studying such languages daily and immediately making use of what they have learned in their missionary work, in a comparatively short time they have mastered such languages as Arabic, Siamese and Indian dialects. This is done not by means of a “gift” of the spirit as in the first century A.D., but by the ‘fruitage of the spirit which is love’.—Gal. 5:22, NW.
Nor is the language barrier met and overcome only in foreign fields. Right at home, in the United States, for instance, many servants of Jehovah have learned a foreign language, such as Spanish, so as to be able to preach to men of good will speaking that particular language in their assignment or local missionary field. On the other hand, many who had neglected to learn the language of the country to which they had immigrated have learned the language of the people where they now reside, so as to be able to preach to their neighbors. Thereby they likewise manifest their love for Jehovah God and for their fellow man.—Matt. 22:37-39.
LEARNING THE “PURE LANGUAGE”
While love thus enables Jehovah’s witnesses to successfully cope with the obstacles the confusion of tongues presents, their ability to speak a “secondary language”, actually their primary language, unites them far more effectively and completely than a language such as English unites all English-speaking peoples. And what is that language? It is the pure lip, tongue or language that Jehovah promised he would turn to his people in this, our day.—Zeph. 3:9, AS.
This pure lip or language is the message or truth of the pure worship of Jehovah God, “with spirit and truth,” and causes Jehovah’s witnesses to serve with “one shoulder”. (John 4:24, NW) It is a message free from the traditions and false teachings of men, free from pagan errors, free from all creature worship. It results in a worship based upon an accurate knowledge and understanding of God’s Word as revealed by the ever-increasing light.—Prov. 4:18; Eph. 4:13, NW.
Yes, knowledge and understanding of the supreme issue of the vindication of Jehovah’s name, the importance of witnessing to it, of keeping separate from the world, of the Kingdom’s being mankind’s only hope—to mention just a few of the outstanding characteristics of this pure language—identify those able to speak it.—Ps. 83:18; Isa. 43:10-12; Dan. 2:44; Matt. 6:9, 10; Jas. 1:27, NW.
Additionally this pure language has its own vocabulary, so much so that one United States judge once observed that Jehovah’s witnesses had their own vernacular. The most important term in this theocratic language is the name Jehovah, occurring 6,823 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and in such literal translations as the American Standard Version and Young’s translation. Other outstanding terms and expressions in this pure language are theocracy, kingdom, vindication, the Word, dedication, faithfulness, witnessing, Bible study, etc.
And as the light increases this pure language keeps expanding. With the release of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, current among Jehovah’s witnesses have become such expressions as undeserved kindness, accurate knowledge, rock-mass, inhabited earth, the Lord’s evening meal, sacred service, sacred secret, declare(d) righteous, etc.* And as the columns of The Watchtower throw ever more light on God’s Word, Jehovah’s witnesses find their vocabulary being enriched, the pure language growing. Thus we note that for his unfaithfulness the covering cherub who became Satan was “divorced” from God’s organization; compared with Jehovah’s absolute freedom, ours is a “relative” freedom; “vertical rapture” refers to supernatural revelation of heavenly things existing at the time; whereas “horizontal rapture” tells of things far along on the stream of time.—2 Cor. 12:1-4.
For the first some 1800 years of mankind’s existence there was but the one language, Hebrew. With the building of the tower of Babel came the confusion of tongues. At Jesus’ first presence the barrier of many languages was overcome by the miraculous spiritual gift of tongues. In our day it is being overcome by the spirit’s fruitage of love. And with the restoration of pure worship and due to the increased light has come a pure language resulting in still greater unity of service.