Friday, 27 December 2013


     Aram, son of Shem (Genesis 10:22-23), founded the nation of Aram, which was later known as Syria. The language that developed among these people was Aramaic (Heb. אֲרָמִ֔ית or ‘Araamiyt; rendered “Syrian” in the KJV), a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, having a similar alphabet but spoken differently (cf. 2 Kings 18:26; Isaiah 36:11). Abraham’s immediate descendants spoke Hebrew, whereas Aramaic was used by Laban, the grandson of Abraham’s brother (Genesis 31:47). A form of Aramaic came to be the common language of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Persians (cf. Ezra 4:7; 2 Kings 18:17, 26), viz. East Semitic in contrast to the Northwest Semitic that developed among the Jews.
     Prior to their exile, the soon-to-be Jewish captives were to learn the following statement in the Aramaic tongue in order to communicate it to their Babylonian captors: “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens” (Jeremiah 10:11).1 The more capable Judean prisoners were taught to speak Aramaic (Chaldean) immediately (Daniel 1:4), and during and after the 70-years' Babylonian exile the Jews adopted the Aramaic tongue as their own. While the majority of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, large portions of Ezra (4:8–6:18; 7:12-26) and Daniel (2:4b–7:28) appear to have been written in Aramaic.2
     By the time of Christ, although Hebrew continued to be used among the rabbis in Jerusalem, Aramaic had replaced pure Hebrew as the everyday vernacular of the Palestinian Jews (cf. Acts 1:19). Jesus could read and understand Hebrew (Luke 4:16-21), but he apparently spoke Aramaic (cf. Mark 5:41; 7:34; 15:34; Acts 26:14). When Hebraisti (“the Hebrew language”) is mentioned in the New Testament, it most likely refers to Aramaic as the spoken language of the Hebrew people at this time (John 5:2; 19:13, 17, 20; Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14; Revelation 9:11; 16:16).
     Though written in koinē Greek, the respective Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John employ Aramaic expressions.3 Mark and John go on to translate the words into Greek, which indicates both evangelists were communicating to non-Aramaic-speaking audiences. Matthew, on the other hand, mostly leaves these words untranslated, which suggests his readers were (or at least included) Aramaic-speaking Jews.4 Luke, however, omits most of the Aramaic terms altogether,5 and his third-person reference to Aramaic as “their own language” (Acts 1:19) implies that neither he nor his readership were Aramaic speakers.
     The apostle Paul was bilingual,6 fluent in both Aramaic (the heart language of his ethic kinsmen) and Greek (the lingua franca of the Roman Empire) (Acts 21:37, 40; 22:2; cf. 26:14). In Paul’s extant writings, Aramaic expressions are occasionally employed (Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 4:6), and he almost always refers to Peter by the Aramaic name Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:11; 9:5; 15:5; Galatians 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14) – textual variation notwithstanding.7
     Syriac, an Aramaic dialect, was the language of the inhabitants of eastern Syria and northern Mesopotamia. Not only were there Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and Mesopotamians present on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9), the Lord’s church was well established in Syria before the mid-first century (Acts 9:19; 11:19-26; 13:1-3). According to tradition, the apostles Thomas and Thaddeus took the gospel beyond the eastern borders of the Roman empire,8 and under King Abgar IX (ca. 190-206) Christianity became the official religion of the Parthian kingdom. By 225 churches were established throughout the Tigris-Euphrates valley, from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf.
     Syriac-Aramaic was the first language into which the Greek New Testament was translated, and Tatian, an Assyrian convert who studied under Justin Martyr in Rome, produced a harmony of the four Gospels known as the Diatessaron in the Syriac language (ca. 150-170). In fact, Syriac became the common language among Christians in eastern Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, and eventually India, Mongolia, and China. The Nestorian Monument, erected in 781, commemorates the arrival of Christianity into the capital of China in 635 and contains both Syriac and Chinese inscriptions. Two Christian cemeteries in Kyrgystan, dating from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries, have inscriptions on tombstones in both Syriac and Turkish.
     While God is omnilingual, a variety of languages have been used through the ages to communicate and accomplish the divine will among God’s human creation. Most students of the Bible are aware of the significance of Hebrew and koinē Greek, but Aramaic has also played a crucial role. It functioned as a suitable conduit of God’s revelation and the original teachings of Christ, as well as an effective evangelistic tool among pre-Christian Jews, Jewish Christians, and later Eastern Christians. “There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance. Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me” (1 Corinthians 14:10-11).
     As we continue the monumental task of taking the gospel into all the world, may we exercise diligence in contextualizing the message and clearly communicating it so that God's will can most effectively be accomplished in the lives of all who receive it (Isaiah 55:11).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 Aramaic is also the primary language of the Jewish Talmud. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that Jewish Aramaic was unique and related to the Hebrew script.
     3 Matthew 5:22; 6:24; 16:17; 27:33, 46; Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:34; 14:36; 15:22, 34; John 1:42; 20:16.
     5 For example, the place of Jesus’ execution is referred to by its Aramaic name Golgotha in Matthew, Mark and John, whereas Luke simply uses the Greek designation Chranion (“Skull”). Note that it was the Latin calvaria that influenced the KJV’s rendering “Calvary.” Besides Acts 1:19, Luke's only other employment of an Aramaic (Syriac) term is "mam[m]on" in his record of Jesus' speech in Luke 16:9, 11, 13.
     6 Technically, with his miraculous gift of tongue-speaking (1 Corinthians 14:18), Paul would have been multilingual as circumstances necessitated. See Speaking in Tongues.
     7 In the Corinthian correspondence, the Aramaic "Cephas" is used exclusively. In Galatians Paul alternates between the Aramaic and Greek names, but texts vary among the manuscripts in 1:18 and 2:7-14 ("Cephas" 1x/"Peter" 5x in NKJV vs. "Cephas" 4x/"Peter" 2x in NASB).
     8 See Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 1.13.4-22; 3.1.1. The early third-century Acts of Thomas, telling of the missionary journey of Thomas to India, was written in Syriac and first circulated in Edessa before it was translated and more widely distributed.

Related Posts: Aramaic Patronymic Bar-Greek NT Translated into EnglishHebrew

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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Musical Praise in Christian Worship

Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13

After reading every verse in the New Testament pertaining to musical praise in Christian worship, how would you honestly answer these questions?

Which of the above fulfills the scriptural purpose of teaching, admonishing, understanding, and praising?


Under the new covenant of Jesus Christ, I am absolutely certain that God desires the following type(s) of musical praise in Christian worship:


“Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

--Kevin L. Moore

Related postsMusic & the Bible: A History; Choral SingingQuestions about Music in Worship Part 1Part 2Part 3Proxy Worship

Related articles: Wes McAdams' When Our Congregational Singing Becomes Wrong

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Friday, 13 December 2013

Musicals, American Football, and Folks Leaving the Church

     My wife loves musicals. Me …. not so much. Over the years we have attended a few together, and I have even made feeble attempts to enjoy them. But I must confess, they just aren’t my cup of tea. It has nothing to do with the performers, the music, the sets, or the quality of the shows. It has everything to do with my less-than-sophisticated preferences and my less-than-enthusiastic attitude. I would much rather be at a football game.
     A few years ago my bride begged me to accompany her to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the hopes that I would appreciate it as much as she did. Being the supportive husband that I am, I begrudgingly complied, and throughout the entire program I couldn’t help thinking, “They’ve ruined a perfectly good Bible story!”
     If I could have spoken to the director, I had a long list of suggested improvements. Instead of an orchestra, a marching band would have been so much better. Rather than the extravagant costumes, I would have preferred shoulder pads and helmets. It would have been more appealing to me if the choreography and singing were replaced with blocking and tackling. In fact, I am almost certain that with my proposed changes more football fans would be attracted to the performances. Conversely, dismissing these ideas would pretty much guarantee that more and more prospective audience members would continue to visit other theaters and stadiums until they found what they were looking for.
     Directors have a choice: (a) stubbornly cling to the composers’ original version, thereby deterring those who prefer something different; or (b) implement the sensible advice of football fans, thus increasing ticket sales and filling the seats. Granted, the original script would have to be amended, but wouldn’t Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber want the theaters full?
An Individualistic Focus
     If my main concern is me, I expect others to cater to what I like and what I want. What can I get out of it? What kind of experience can I have? It is more blessed to receive than to give. Sure, I’ll turn my attention to God if it doesn’t inconvenience me and as long as I am free to express myself in ways that make me feel good. And I might even be involved in service projects if it increases my sense of belonging and self-worth. So what’s in it for me?
     If churches can identify what appeals to Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, etc., and then design worship experiences to suit each one, the pews would be packed! After all, we can’t show people the way of salvation unless they come to church, right? But what happens when the simple message of the gospel doesn’t appeal to them either? I guess more changes will have to be made.
A Relational Focus
     Alternatively, what if my focus is God? How would that affect the way I view the Bible, the church, the Christian life, and the rest of the world? Our creator has composed a script, which directs his people how to conduct themselves on the stage of life (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. 1 Cor. 4:9). He provides clear instructions for salvation, service, relationships, morality, outreach, and worship. Church leaders have a choice: (a) closely follow the divine plan with the fundamental aim of pleasing the Lord, or (b) yield to disgruntled members who are looking for something more.
What the Experts are Saying
     There is no shortage of expressed opinions about why folks are leaving the church and the best ways to fix the problem. But why not listen to the real experts?
     Jesus the Christ: “… for I always do the things that are pleasing to him (John 8:29); “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).1
     Paul the apostle: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10); “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
     Paul and Timothy: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9) “… we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
     Paul, Silvanus and Timothy: “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts …. Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thess. 2:4; 4:1).
     The inspired writer of Hebrews: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Heb. 13:16).
     John the apostle: “… we keep his commandments and do what pleases him (1 John 3:22).
What’s Love Got to Do with It?
     No other commandment is greater than these: “‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’, [and] ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30-31). When these foundational rules are implemented, no part of God’s will is compromised, neglected, or ignored. Love is not a heightened emotional experience generated by external gadgets and gimmicks. Love is a command to be obeyed.2 Love is a conscious decision to genuinely pursue the interests of others beyond oneself.3
     We do a grave disservice when our aim is to cater to and facilitate the self-gratification of any person or generational subgroup. Surely it is right to mentor and teach our kids and young adults and older adults and neighbors to truly love God, to learn his will, to obey him, and to earnestly strive to please him. No amount of lighting effects, video screens, disco balls, rock bands, or other artificial novelties can ever replace (or constructively supplement) what has already been supplied from the heavenly throne. The changes we need to be concerned about are more effective ways of planting the word of God into receptive hearts, engendering love for God and his human creation, then experiencing the transformative power of God at work.4
     It doesn’t matter if the Lord’s church assembles in comfortable auditoriums, schoolrooms, living rooms, cardboard shacks, or dark and gloomy catacombs. By striving to please God above all else, our lives are impacted infinitely more than anything we might try to produce otherwise. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about the shallow quirks of any particular age group. It’s about biblical love, directed far beyond self, and demonstrated in word and in action with all the heart, soul, mind and strength.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version; emphasis added. See also Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 7:32; Philippians 4:18; Colossians 3:20; Hebrews 11:5-6; 13:20-21.
     2 John 13:34; 14:15; 15:10, 12, 17; Romans 12:9; 13:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 John 2:7-11; 3:18, 23; 4:7-12; 2 John 5-6.
     3 1 Corinthians 13:5; cf. 10:24; John 3:16; 15:13; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Philippians 2:4; James 3:14-16; 1 John 3:16.
     4 “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Related Articles: Wes McAdams' Experience Driven Church, An Open Letterand Stop Turning Worship into a Talent Show; Andy Brewer's The Real Reason Churches are Shrinking; Krista Cannon's A Response; Stan Mitchell's Church Growth; Sean McDowell's Why Do Kid's Leave the Church?; Avery Foley's Liberal Theology Doesn't Save; David Tant's Full service church?; Jonathan Aigner's What's Next for Contemporary Worship?

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