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Lost in Translation

The Saga of Pepe Rodriguez

Things can get lost in translation! That is not only true when we change languages, but also when we change settings. This is so true when we look at the Bible from its roots in the ancient Mediterranean cultures. For over 20 years, Bible scholars have been looking at the Scripture from a fresh cultural perspective and seeing familiar passages spring forth with new life. So, let's look at 2 simple words, "Abba" and "Salt."

What's in a Word?

Anytime we look at one word we face the problem of: any word in does not convey meaning. Sound to high brow? Consider how the single word "fire" has different meanings in each sentence:

"A raging fire burned down the church."

"My favorite song is 'Baby Light My Fire!' "

"My brother-in-law got fired last week."

"My dad fired up the lawnmower."

These different meanings of "fire" come from our culture. Without knowledge of the mainstream U.S. culture, a foreigner who had to translate the above sentences would gain little help from Webster's dictionary. This holds true when we come to Words in the Bible that have a context that we miss by simply looking it up in a Hebrew/Greek dictionary.

Let's look up our two words and see how they change as we look at the culture surrounding them!

Abba - (Mark 14:36)

No, we're not talking about a musical group from the 70's or a Broadway musical about their music! But this Hebrew/Aramaic word is familiar to many Christians and it means . Supposedly, the word developed from infant babbling (like the words "Dadda" and "Mama"). This term is used only once by Jesus and is used to address His heavenly Father. But Abba was not a childish expression (like "Daddy"), but a responsible address to a father. The painful context from which Jesus used this word is directly related to the practice of child-rearing in Jesus' culture. Physical punishment was routine and common. In the Mediterranean culture Jesus grew up in, a mark of mature manhood was the ability to endure without flinching all physical punishment handed out.

Jesus prayed for His Father to remove the threat to His life, yet endure without flinching (only once does Jesus cry out during the 3 hours on the cross and that was to give His life to His Father) !

Q. Are you willing to cry out to Abba?

Q. What will Abba expect your response to be if He doesn't remove the suffering?

Q. How do the people in your life see you live out your faith in suffering?

Salt - (Matthew 5:13)

After introducing the Sermon on the Mount with he Beatitudes, Jesus says to His disciples: "You are the salt of the earth..." Americans with our concerns about high blood pressure, think of salt as flavoring. To Jesus' first century audience, slat brought up the mental picture of a !

In the language Jesus taught in (Aramaic), the word for "earth" and "oven" (arsa) are similar. The word describes an earthen or clay oven similar to those used in or by American Indians. To Jesus' culture, perhaps they understood Him to say: "You are [like] salt in the earth [oven]. What does that matter? Well, you have to understand how these ovens were fueled in Jesus' culture.

The fuel used in this oven wasn't (not much of this in Israel) or charcoal, but or other animal dung! One of the household duties of the youngest children was to collect this dung, make it into , salt it down, and dry it in the sun. At the base of each oven was a block of salt that the dung was rolled in before drying. The salt's function was to serve a catalyst to make the dung burn hotter. The block of salt by the oven would eventually lose its ability to "fire" the fuel, but because their culture considered nothing useless, it was cast onto the muddy path to serve as solid footing. Salt never loses its flavor, but it does lose its fire-making ability. Look at how that fits this passage"

"You are the salt [catalyst] of the earth [oven]. But if the salt [catalyst] has lost its saltiness [fire-making ability], how shall its saltiness [catalytic ability] be restored? It is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot by men."

Q. How does Salt and Light (Matthew 5:14-16) now match up?

Q. What is this passage saying about how you are to live your life in your culture?

Q. What makes Christians lose their "saltiness?"

Q. According to this passage, does loss of saltiness cause loss of salvation?

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