No Translation Needed

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Communication seems to be more complicated than it has ever been despite the vast array of ways available to most of us to accomplish it. Mankind started out with language and face-to-face communication that expanded to written words that developed into reading the language being spoken and we have been adding to that ever since. But there are those of us who are older who recall the days when communication was still largely face-to-face, print media, landline telephones, radios, and movies without surround sound.

The past 50 years have brought an explosion of high-tech devices that allow for instant communication so it might seem that we should be clearer and better informed, but misunderstanding abounds despite all these options. Emojis each have a meaning and there are shorthand text memes that convey things that leave many uncertain of what has been communicated. Add to that the new words and the changes in meanings of so many words we thought we knew the definition of as well as the greater variety of languages we might hear spoken more routinely and you have the possibility of needing translation far more often than you would have expected at one point in time.

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I recall so well when I was pregnant with our first child and my husband was on military duty thousands of miles away. Our communication was limited to “snail mail” and then one day he sent me a little reel-to-reel tape recorder that we could use to send tapes to and from one another. (Hard for many of you to imagine since even cassette tape recorders are now ancient history.) Then when our son was born my husband used a network of ham radio operators (amateur radio operators) that leaped from one country and continent to another and across the ocean till a ham radio operator in the United States received the message and picked up a landline telephone and called me on a landline in the hospital. Sounds amazing, right? It was quite a surprise! But even then, I needed to learn the correct protocol using words like “over” and “out” to be sure all of this was passed along the network.

The baby boy my husband had called to hear about now picks up his cell phone to FaceTime or Zoom call me without a need for a network of radio operators or a specific protocol for the conversation. How times have changed!

But it is likely that many of us have discovered that a lot can get lost or missed in these new ways of communicating whether it is texting, video chat, email, or something else. We can miss the other aspects of communication such as body language or tone of voice that help us know more about what the person is saying beyond only their words.

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We seem to be perpetually looking down at screens and can lose the depth of communication we can still experience face-to-face with cellphones and other devices set aside. Maybe that is what draws more people to meet at their favorite coffee shops today to have that “in-person” connection we have lost in the maze of all the devices we have at our disposal and regularly use. It’s only then we are more often able to ask a follow-up question to clarify what the other person has said and be sure we understood what they said and meant. We can even ask for clarity on how they define a word that might be less clear in current lingo.

More and more persons are also becoming fluent in multiple languages and the days of the high school classes in Latin have faded from most scenes. Maybe it really is now a “dead” language despite so many of its root words still influencing scientific terms and words.

But there are actually two words that require no translation and mean the same thing in every language in the world. And that was a great discovery for me recently. Eugene Peterson writes about these two words in his most recent book, This Hallelujah Banquet.

“The first word is hallelujah.

Hallelujah is a Hebrew word meaning literally, “praise God.” But it has crossed the language barriers and ethnic boundaries and kept its own sound through it all: hallelujah.

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

“If you want to swear, you have to learn a new word in every language: Hebrew, Greek, Sanskrit, Egyptian, French, Spanish, German, Icelandic, and Russian. If you want to say, “Praise God,” one word will do all over the world: hallelujah.”

Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet

Little wonder this word appears in Peterson’s book in the chapter entitled “The Supper of the Lamb: A Benediction.” It’s the word heard at that last grand banquet where persons from every tribe and nation will be assembled around Christ.

“Hallelujah was injected into the vocabulary of the peoples of the world by persons who were threatened daily with torture and death. The songs of Revelation were sung by Christians who lived under the sadism of the Roman police state. The church that sang the hallelujah songs in Revelation was almost exclusively made up of the poor and the exploited, the imprisoned and the martyred.”

“Language, if it is going to be useful, has to reflect the reality of life. God is the reality of life. Hallelujah is a good word to describe our knowledge and response to that reality.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

But I said there were two words that needed no translation…

“The second word is amen. It is an untranslated Hebrew word. And it means “yes.” Like hallelujah, it has infiltrated the vocabularies of the peoples of the world. None of you know what the word for “no” is in Hebrew, but you know what “yes” is. You have been saying it all your life, in church, and out of it. Amen-yes-is God’s favorite word.”

Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet

What causes Peterson to say that amen is God’s favorite word?

“What I am saying is that the basic overwhelming, eternally fixed word of God to you is yes. Yes, I love you. Yes, I accept you. Yes, I want you. And that our best word back to God is yes, Amen.”

Eugene Peterson in The Hallelujah Banquet

8 thoughts on “No Translation Needed

  1. Wow, that was really interesting and inspiring to read, Pam! I have written a few articles on the nature of communication and how we can all do it more effectively if we include kindness, patience, love, and respect into all of our communications. Especially when face to face communication has dwindled with the advent of technology. What beautiful words…Amen and Hallelujah…and how wonderful that they break through all the language and cultural barriers that have been formed. Thanks for sharing and linking with me.


    1. Thank you, Shelbee! The discovery of those two words crossing every language was a new discovery and fascinated me and caused me to look more closely at the theme written in this post. Have a great day! Hoping others bless you as you so often offer encouragement to others.

  2. Pam, I love this post! I am so grateful there are words our God has given us that do not need any translation. People everywhere will recognize and know the meaning. I am currently rereading “Tell It Slant” and am thinking I need to get this book soon!

    1. Me too, Joanne! I think you would find value in it. Eugene Peterson is very insightful in his books.

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