People “out of All the Languages” Hear the Good News
“Ten men out of all the languages of the nations will [say]: ‘We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people.’”—ZECHARIAH 8:23.
1. How did Jehovah provide the best timing and setting for the multilingual and international launch of Christianity?
THE timing and the setting could not have been better. It was the day of Pentecost 33 C.E. Weeks earlier, Jews and proselytes from at least 15 regions of the far-flung Roman Empire and beyond had packed Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. On that day, thousands of them heard—not in confusion, as those at ancient Babel did, but with understanding—ordinary people filled with holy spirit proclaim the good news in numerous languages spoken in the empire. (Acts 2:1-12) That occasion marked the birth of the Christian congregation and the start of a multilingual, international educational work that has continued down to this day.
2. How did the disciples of Jesus ‘astonish’ their diverse audience at Pentecost 33 C.E.?
2 Jesus’ disciples could probably speak common Greek, the popular language of the day. They also used Hebrew, the language spoken at the temple. However, on that Pentecost day, they “astonished” their diverse audience by speaking in the native languages of those people. What was the result? The hearts of the listeners were touched by the vital truths that they heard in their mother tongue. By the end of the day, the small group of disciples had grown to be a vast company of more than 3,000!—Acts 2:37-42.
3, 4. How did the preaching work expand as the disciples moved out from Jerusalem, Judaea, and Galilee?
3 Soon after that momentous event, a wave of persecution broke out in Jerusalem, and “those who had been scattered went through the land declaring the good news of the word.” (Acts 8:1-4) For example, we read in Acts chapter 8 about Philip, apparently a Greek-speaking evangelizer. Philip preached to the Samaritans. He also preached to an Ethiopian official who responded to the message about Christ.—Acts 6:1-5; 8:5-13, 26-40; 21:8, 9.
4 As the Christians moved and searched for places to rebuild their lives outside the confines of Jerusalem, Judaea, and Galilee, they encountered new ethnic and language barriers. Some of them might have witnessed only to Jews. But the disciple Luke reports: “There were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene that came to Antioch and began talking to the Greek-speaking people, declaring the good news of the Lord Jesus.”—Acts 11:19-21.
An Impartial God—A Message for All
5. How is Jehovah’s impartiality seen in connection with the good news?
5 Such developments are in keeping with God’s ways; favoritism is alien to him. After the apostle Peter was helped by Jehovah to adjust his view of people of the nations, he appreciatively noted: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35; Psalm 145:9) When the apostle Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians, declared that God’s “will is that all sorts of men should be saved,” he reaffirmed that God is free from bias. (1 Timothy 2:4) The Creator’s impartiality is seen in that the Kingdom hope is open to people of any gender, race, nationality, or language.
6, 7. What Bible prophecies foretold the international, multilingual spread of the good news?
6 This international expansion was foretold centuries earlier. According to Daniel’s prophecy, “there were given [to Jesus] rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” (Daniel 7:14) The fact that this magazine is published in 151 languages and distributed worldwide, enabling you to read about Jehovah’s Kingdom, reflects the fulfillment of that Bible prophecy.
7 The Bible foretold a time when people of diverse languages would hear its life-giving message. Describing how true worship would attract many, Zechariah prophesied: “It will be in those days that ten men out of all the languages of the nations will take hold, yes, they will actually take hold of the skirt of a man who is a Jew [spirit-anointed Christian, part of “the Israel of God”], saying: ‘We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people.’” (Zechariah 8:23; Galatians 6:16) And relating what he saw in a vision, the apostle John said: “Look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) We have seen such prophecies coming true!
Reaching People of All Sorts
8. What modern-day reality has called for adjustments in our witnessing work?
8 Today, people have become increasingly mobile. Globalization has opened a new era of migration. Droves of people from war zones and economically depressed areas have moved to more stable places, seeking a materially secure way of life. In many lands, an influx of immigrants and refugees has resulted in the formation of foreign-speaking enclaves. For instance, in Finland more than 120 languages are spoken; in Australia the number is over 200. In just one city in the United States—San Diego—over 100 languages can be heard!
9. What view should we take of the presence in our territory of people who speak different languages?
9 Do we as Christian ministers view the presence of such people who speak different languages as an impediment to our ministry? Not at all! Rather, we see this as a welcome expansion of our ministerial territory—‘fields white for harvesting.’ (John 4:35) We endeavor to care for people who are conscious of their spiritual need, regardless of their nationality or language. (Matthew 5:3) As a result, each year a growing number of people of ‘every tongue’ are becoming disciples of Christ. (Revelation 14:6) For example, as of August 2004, the preaching work in Germany was being carried out in about 40 languages. At the same time, the good news was preached in Australia in close to 30 languages, up from 18 just ten years ago. In Greece, Jehovah’s Witnesses were reaching people in almost 20 different languages. Worldwide, about 80 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses speak a language other than English, the prevalent international language.
10. What is the individual publisher’s role in making disciples of people of “all the nations”?
10 Indeed, Jesus’ command to “make disciples of people of all the nations” is being carried out! (Matthew 28:19) Eagerly embracing that commission, Jehovah’s Witnesses are active in 235 lands, distributing literature in more than 400 languages. While Jehovah’s organization provides the material needed to reach the people, the individual Kingdom publisher must take the initiative to convey the Bible’s message to “people of all sorts” in the language they can best understand. (John 1:7) This united effort enables millions of people of various language groups to benefit from the good news. (Romans 10:14, 15) Yes, each one of us plays a vital role!
Rising to the Challenge
11, 12. (a) What challenges must be met, and how does the holy spirit help? (b) Why is preaching to people in their mother tongue often helpful?
11 Today, many Kingdom publishers would like to learn another language, but they cannot depend on or expect miraculous gifts of God’s spirit. (1 Corinthians 13:8) Learning a new language is a major undertaking. Even those who already speak a second language may have to adjust their thinking and approach in order to make the Bible’s message appealing to people who speak that language but have different backgrounds and cultures. Then, too, new immigrants are often shy and timid; to understand their way of thinking takes hard work.
12 Nonetheless, the holy spirit is still operative among Jehovah’s servants in their efforts to help people who speak other languages. (Luke 11:13) Rather than imparting miraculous linguistic abilities, the spirit can heighten our desire to communicate with people who do not speak our language. (Psalm 143:10) Preaching or teaching the Bible’s message to people in a language they are not familiar with may reach their mind. However, in order to touch the heart of our listeners, it is often better to use their mother tongue—the language that speaks to their deepest aspirations, motives, and hopes.—Luke 24:32.
13, 14. (a) What motivates some to take up the ministry in another language? (b) How is the spirit of self-sacrifice seen?
13 Many Kingdom publishers have taken up the ministry in a foreign-language field when they observe the fine response to Bible truth. Others feel invigorated when their service becomes more challenging and interesting. “Many of those who come from Eastern Europe are thirsting for the truth,” states a branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in southern Europe. How satisfying it is to help such receptive individuals!—Isaiah 55:1, 2.
14 To have a meaningful share in this work, however, we need determination and self-sacrifice. (Psalm 110:3) For instance, a number of Japanese Witness families have given up comfortable homes in large cities and have moved to remote areas to help groups of Chinese immigrants understand the Bible. On the west coast of the United States, publishers regularly drive from one to two hours to conduct Bible studies with people in the Filipino field. In Norway, a couple studies with a family from Afghanistan. The Witness couple uses the English and Norwegian editions of the brochure What Does God Require of Us?* The family read the paragraphs in Persian, a language closely related to their native Dari. They converse in English and Norwegian. Such a spirit of self-sacrifice and adaptability is richly rewarded when foreigners respond to the good news.*
15. How can all of us share in the multilingual preaching effort?
15 Can you have a share in this multilingual activity? Why not start by noting which foreign languages are commonly spoken in your territory? Then you might carry some tracts or brochures in those languages. The booklet Good News for People of All Nations, released in 2004, has already been instrumental in spreading the Kingdom hope by its simple, positive message in numerous languages.—See the article “Good News for People of All Nations,” on page 32.
“Loving the Alien Resident”
16. How can responsible brothers manifest selfless interest in helping foreign-speaking people?
16 Whether we learn another language or not, we can all help with the spiritual education of foreigners in our area. Jehovah instructed his people to “love the alien resident.” (Deuteronomy 10:18, 19) For example, in one large city in North America, five congregations meet in the same Kingdom Hall. As in many halls, there is a yearly rotation of meeting times that would have moved the Chinese meetings there to a later hour on Sunday. However, this would mean that many of the immigrants who work at restaurant-related jobs would not be able to attend. The elders in the other congregations graciously made adjustments so that the Chinese meetings could be held earlier on Sunday.
17. How should we feel when some decide to move to help another language group?
17 Loving overseers commend qualified and skilled brothers and sisters who want to move to assist other language groups. Such experienced Bible teachers may be missed locally, but the overseers feel as did the elders in Lystra and Iconium. Those elders did not hold Timothy back from traveling with Paul, even though Timothy was an asset to their own congregations. (Acts 16:1-4) In addition, those who take the lead in the preaching work are not deterred by the different mentality, customs, or manners of foreigners. Instead, they embrace the diversity and seek ways to cultivate good relations for the sake of the good news.—1 Corinthians 9:22, 23.
18. What large door of activity is open to all?
18 As prophesied, the good news is being preached in “all the languages of the nations.” Wonderful potential for increase still exists in foreign-language fields. Thousands of resourceful publishers have entered this “large door that leads to activity.” (1 Corinthians 16:9) Yet, more is needed in order to cultivate such territories, as the next article will show.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For further examples, see “Small Sacrifices Brought Us Great Blessings,” in The Watchtower, April 1, 2004, pages 24-8.
Can You Explain?
• How can we imitate Jehovah in showing impartiality to all people?
• How should we view people in our territory who do not speak our language?
• Why is it helpful to preach to people in their mother tongue?
• How can we show concern for the foreigners among us?
[Map/Picture on page 23]
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[Bodies of water]
At Pentecost 33 C.E., people from 15 regions of the Roman Empire and beyond heard the good news in their native languages
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Many foreigners respond well to Bible truth
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A Kingdom Hall sign in five languages