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The Bible, the World's Curriculum - By Pastor Thomas Engel


I’m asked about how many languages that I know since I’m a pastor.

I guess people think that it takes a lot of schooling to become a pastor, and they are right-I’ve got the student loans to prove it. And most people know that Scripture’s original languages are Hebrew and Greek. The first part of my answer to be clear about my “knowing” of languages is that I realize first hand the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Throughout my years in high school, college, and seminary, I’ve studied Spanish, German, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

So, when people ask me if I know other languages, I’m careful with my answer. I say, “Yes, I’ve studied other languages.”

I say the word “studied,” so people do not think I’m able to converse at any level in another language.

If you are looking for a tour guide on your trip to Europe, and if it’s turns out to be someone like me, I’m sure that you will be lost all day long-for I don’t even know enough to ask directions to that iconic cafe where Hemingway was said to frequent that is right around the corner from where we are standing.

As I said, I realize what it means first hand, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

I have to say that I still try to brush up on my Spanish from time to time, and to prepare for my sermons, I do look at the Hebrew and Greek, but I am far from a scholar like Indiana Jones who can translate the ancient languages.

Although as I wish I had more time to keep up on at least my Spanish and had more occasion to use it, I’m a big advocate for studying another language.

For one reason, you can go to another country, get to the hotel, find the restaurant, and order off the menu all on your own-you’re such a real world traveler-you could actually have adventures like Indiana Jones.

I do hope to go to Spain some day and run with the bulls as I am a Hemingway fan-please don’t tell my mom that I hope to run with bulls some day.

The other reason that I tell students is that by studying another language, you really can get into your own language. When learning another language, you get in deep what nouns and verbs are and the power that the right word in the right place can do in communicating ideas and feelings.

Going back to when we were three-years-old and getting curious about the things around us, we were asking, “Why this? Why that?” To our credit, we were never satisfied with the adult answer of “Well, just because.” We kept pressing for answers because we are geared to be critical thinkers and communicators.

A study found that when a child is born into a family that speaks two languages, that child will pick-up those two languages with no effort-no flash cards are necessary for a toddler growing up in a place where more than one language is spoken.

Since it’s so easy for a child to learn more than one language, it seems that we can conclude that we are meant to be at least bilingual.

If you don’t come to this conclusion as I do, I can take you over to our school. We have a few students who are growing up in families that speak two languages and are fluent in both-they are kids with no formal training-they didn’t shell out big money for a language course like we have to because we didn’t take that window of opportunity when our minds were like sponges when it came to learning another language.

Again, we are born to talk in more than one language, and hopefully, we keep learning to think before we talk in whatever language, for our words always have an effect to the positive or the negative.

Maybe by now you are asking what’s my point with all this talk about language.

First, I want to show how, although we are born into a family of a certain culture, we are more than that culture.

And to say, most of us like myself are mixed up a little, for I am mostly German, but I have some Swedish and Irish in me, too.

Maybe you have already gone to ancestry.com or have taken a DNA test to see exactly what your family history is.

It’s important to know who we are, but I am making the point that we are to be more than who we are at our birth.

We are meant to be cross-cultural. We are to be of a certain culture, but we are then to go out and explore, investigate, learn, and experience other cultures.

The story of the Tower of Babel explains a lot about how populations of the world are to be of different cultures.

A short summary of the story-in the early days of this world, people were of one language and culture. Basically, as one people, they were up to no good. They decided to make a name for themselves by building a tower to heaven.

This project had no real purpose other than to satisfy ego, and God saw this vain attempt to reach heaven, so God confused their languages.

People were then scattered to places, and they did different things. As they had different languages, they also had developed their own music, art, food, and ways to dress. Or to say, people developed their own cultures wherever they settled around the globe.

This is all Social Studies 101 that we all learned in school.

We can assume since God was the one who made people to scatter to different parts of the world that God likes diversity. And since God likes diversity, we, too, should celebrate our unique cultures and also enjoy other cultures.

I always like to talk about food, and if I was to ask you what you ate this week, I’m sure you ate from all different cultures like from pizza to orange chicken with fried rice, which is my favorite.

Today, we talk about a global economy, but the world was always a place of trade. For example, we know of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. One of the reasons for writing to the Ephesians was that Ephesus was the most important trade city with its ports. It was an excellent place to bring the Gospel, so it could go out to other parts of the world.

This is all Biblical Cultures 101, a course that I had to take in seminary.

If you have not guessed already why I’m talking about language and culture is that Pentecost is coming up in the church year.

In our First Reading for today, we hear Peter talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection, which fits well with today, the Sixth Sunday of Easter. But, then, we hear him go on to talk about the Holy Spirit and baptism, which is getting us ready for Pentecost.

We talk a lot about how the church year tells the story of our salvation in Christ. Year after year, we hear from the prophets of old about the coming of Jesus, then how he was born of a virgin, his ministry, his death and resurrection, his ascension, and his coming again on the Last Day.

As we go through the church year, we remember the particular events of Jesus’ life, but we also see how these parts go into each other to make the whole story of our salvation, and we also see how Jesus’ story is our story of how we live out our lives by faith.

A good part of our life of faith is to share the story of salvation. We are to tell other people about our salvation, so they may have what we have in Christ.

And this is where we come to the importance of language and culture. As much as we have our own language and culture, the church of today is to always to be reaching out to all parts of the world just as Paul did in his missionary journeys.

In the world, there are over 7,000 languages, and the Bible has been translated into over 3,000 languages. So, we see that the church has work to do to get the Bible into more languages.