Category Archives: God’s Mission

Are we gospelly?

Sometimes we may think we have thought of something for the first time and it turns out that someone else got in there before us. In Bible translation work nowadays we are committed to using local languages to express Biblical concepts, but in modern English a lot of our key Biblical terms are very Latinate: jusitification, sanctification, redemption, resurrection. It almost looks as though, when Christianity was taking hold in Britain that English wasn’t seen to be sufficient to express these ideas. Or was it?

I’ve been having a look at Christian vocabulary in Old English and that really doesn’t seem to be the case at all. (Old English was spoken for over six centuries and the precursor of Modern English, with some Latin, French and other languages thrown in along the way.) Old English, a bit like modern German, could easily make new words by combining old ones; and it seems that Christians of the time often used words that were already in the language to express Christian ideas in ways that would be clearly understood. Then somewhere along the line people lost their nerve, decided that English really wasn’t the proper way to talk about these things and we have been left with Latin ever since.

Have a look at the table below.

Latin Modern English Old English Modernised Old English
resurrectio resurrection ærist rising
justificare justify rihtwísian righting (we still have the word ‘righteous’ from the same root)
redimere redeem/redemption liesan/alisedness   abycgan loose/release, buy
sanctificare sanctify gehalgian to make holy (holy and hallow are both from Old English)
incarnatio incarnation  inflæscnes infleshness (or perhaps inbody-ing)
trinitas trinity þriness (thriness) threeness
gratia grace giefnes/gifnes giveness (the Old English word is closely related to ‘forgiveness’ and ‘gift’)

Now some Old English words have stuck. We still talk about church (cirice), but something to do with the church is ‘ecclesiastical’ and not ‘churchly’ (in Old English they had ciriclec). We have ‘heaven’ (heofon), ‘sin’ (synn), ‘holy’ (halig), ‘forgiveness’ (forgifnes) and ‘worship’ (weorþscipe – a noun denoting something with worthiness or excellence), and ‘God’ (God).

And, of course, we still have ‘Gospel’. The Old English for that was ‘Godspell’, made of god (‘good’) and spell (‘news, account or story’). But nowadays we have an ‘evangelist’ rather than a ‘gospeller’ (godspellere). The ‘gospeller’ might go around ‘gospelling’ (godspellian).

So many of our Christian terms are fairly meaningless for the unchurched in modern Britain. Most people don’t think of ‘undeserved favour’ when they hear the word ‘grace’, for example. Perhaps it’s time to take a leaf out the Anglo-Saxons’ book and consider how we can express the good news in really down-to-earth language, in English as well as in many languages throughout the world where the speakers don’t yet have Scriptures or key Biblical terms. That’s one way for us to be ‘gospelly’ (godspellic).

What progress in 8½ years in Nigeria?

It’s good to look back on what we hoped to do when we first went to Nigeria in 2011 and assess our progress. My hope had been that I’d go with my English, knowledge of Bible and theology and Biblical languages, and meet translators who spoke some English, as well as their language and rather than me learning to speak their languages (badly), I’d just help them in whatever ways they struggled to understand the Bible, point them in the right direction and check their work before publication.

That still is my goal in many ways, and it’s what many of the translators expect but we’ve come to recognise 2 major flaws in that approach: 

Continue reading What progress in 8½ years in Nigeria?

12 years 4 months + 19 days since we were commissioned

It’s 12 years, 4 months and 19 days since we were commissioned in the Buchanan Street building just before we headed to Kenya. Much has changed since then hasn’t it? We went to Nairobi to begin 2 very useful years of study and training in Bible translation. We were overjoyed when Rebekah joined us after a year, putting paid to Julie’s study plans. Rebekah was 9 months old when we came back to Glasgow. Elizabeth’s arrival slightly delayed our departure for Nigeria but finally with a 2 year old and 6 month old in tow, we headed out in February 2011, arriving as unpredictable elections loomed. We always remember those who came to see us off at the airport (along with all our baggage). We felt very loved. We looked forward to the ministry that we had ahead of us but it was hard to leave friends and family behind. Especially church family.

Julie’s first visit to Nigeria in December 2007
The sermon from our 1st July 2007 Commissioning service. Full reading etc here.

Every so often we listen to that commissioning service from 1st of July 2007 and we’re inspired by our pastor Willie’s message that day. We had been looking at what a true missionary church is, and looking at 2 Timothy 4, Willie said a true missionary church actually prepares and sends missionaries. It would have been very easy for the church in Antioch and in Ephesus and elsewhere to turn in on themselves, leaving outreach to far-flung places to a later time, perhaps when everything was more stable. But no, Acts makes it clear that Jesus wanted his followers to go into every nook and cranny of the world, no longer just waiting in Jerusalem for people from all nations to come by, but going out. And when the first apostles seemed to neglect that, then God forced them out with a bit of persecution and then the prompting of the Holy Spirit to propel Paul and Barnabas on several surprising trips.

Continue reading 12 years 4 months + 19 days since we were commissioned