Various Thoughts on Language

Language is incredibly important.
It’s how we relate to one another.
It’s how we organize our thoughts. Scientists argue that one of the reasons we cannot remember events from our infancy is that they are not “tagged” with language in our brains. It’s like the memories are in a file, but we can’t find and open the file because it wasn’t labeled.

When we hear the Bible, we hear it in language. A book I’m reading, A Visual History of the English Bible, has some interesting thoughts. The medieval period is when we see the emergence of some strange Christian “doctrines”: indulgences, Purgatory, etc. This is also the same period that the Bible was most removed from the people. The Latin Vulgate was regarded as sacred, and only priests were allowed to read the Scriptures. Many priests didn’t even know any Latin. Thus, what else could medieval Christians do but create theology that answered all of their questions, without the authority of the Bible to challenge these “sensical” answers?
It is also interesting to note that the Protestant Revolution, based on sola scriptura, emerged shortly after the development of the printing press and the first vernacular translations of the Bible.

The heart of this post was scribbled out during my church’s Hebrew class. I have recently discovered that there is a non-negligible group of people who believe that Hebrew is the Holy language spoken before the fall and that will be spoken in the new creation.
I completely disagree.
One, there’s no Biblical backing for it.
Two, how is an All Mighty God tied to a specific (and, well, dead) human language? Though God wrote the ten commandments with His own finger in Hebrew, I believe He would have written them in Russian or Dutch or Brazilian if those were the languages His chosen people spoke. He does not hide His commandments from us.
Yes, Jesus spoke Hebrew. He also spoke Aramaic and Koine Greek.
I do not believe God is tied to one of our languages. Not Hebrew. Not my beloved Greek. Not the King James Version. He is transcendent. He is the λογος incarnate.
When He spoke the universe into being, He didn’t use breath and tongue and teeth to form words. He used meaning, Language itself with a capital “L”. All our languages, Hebrew, Greek, English, German, Spanish, Latin, are but feeble imitations of the true Language.

I like C.S. Lewis’s vision of Old Solar or the Great Tongue: the language spoken by all creation before the fall. No quote can quite capture the idea of the language, but it is a beautiful description throughout the whole Ransom Trilogy.

For Ransom, whose study had been for many years in the realm of words, it was heavenly pleasure. He found himself sitting within the very heart of language, in the white-hot furnace of essential speech.


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