Language in prayer, in church, and in literature --
early Christians' use of everyday language,
in contrast with archaic, literary language of the Vulgate or the KJV
Early Christian writers without exception wrote the language of their time, the Greek Koine... The New Testament has very little relationship to the artificial representation of the language of Attic [Greek] prose in the literature and rhetoric of the Roman imperial period... [With the exception of the Epistle to the Hebrews,] the other books of the New Testament... as well as other early Christian writings, are dominated by the vernacular language." (Introduction to the New Testament, Volume One: History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982, page 107).
The translation of Holy Scripture into a vernacular language generally has been based upon the form of the language that was spoken at the time of the translation. Hence, the sacred language and the vernacular language initially correspond to one another, and the translations of the bible thus represented a linguistically creative enrichment of the living popular tongue. Use of the Scriptures in worship services, however, generally led to the development of a "sacred" church language that no longer was able to keep up with linguistic development. It rather has remained fixated upon the ancient substratum of the language from the period of the translation of the Scriptures (eg., Old Church Slavonic in the liturgy of some Eastern Orthodox churches, or the King James Version of the Bible in early 17th-century English). Translation of the Scriptures into popular languages thus is a never-ending task... (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1978, Vol. 4, page 464)
Latin did not become the language of the Roman rite until the 6th century; the language of imperial Rome was Greek. As a sacred language Latin really has no parallel. Jews have always made a genuine effort to learn some Hebrew, and other sacred languages are archaic forms of the vernacular; the English of the Authorized Version [King James Version] of the Bible became the language of prayer in many Protestant churches. The effect of Latin was to make the liturgy the preserve of the clergy, and the laity became purely passive. This was countered by the efforts to use sound and spectacle in the performance of the liturgy. The Canon of the mass, the central eucharistic formula, for centuries was recited by the celebrant inaudibly; this was a kind of verbal "sanctuary" that the laity were not even supposed to hear. The abandonment of Latin as a result of the second Vatican Council excited deep antagonism; one sees in the Latin liturgy an image, cherished by many, of the timeless and changless Roman Catholic Church. Yet, the restoration of the vernacular should restore to the liturgy two functions that it had in the early centuries: to instruct converts and to confirm members in their faith. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1978, Vol. 15, page 996)
Attention must be given not only to the content but also to the outward form of the Lord's Prayer in its original version: it is not a prayer in Hebrew but in the Aramaic vernacular -- not totally out of the question in contempory Judaism, but unusal. This means again that Jesus removes prayer from the liturgical sphere of sacral language and places it right in the midst of everyday life... The terminological evidence means not only that any cultic understanding of Christian worship is out of the question, but also that there is no longer any distinction in principle between assembly for worship and the service of Christians in the world... For the Christian community worship does not take place in a separate realm but in the midst of the existing world; it therefore includes service by the faithful in everyday life. Christian worship is no longer cultic in nature. (The Worship of the Early Church, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973, pages 22, 38, and 106)
In contrast with the the Shema and the Tephilla, the Lord's Prayer is an Aramaic prayer... Moreover, the invocation of God as 'Abba', coined by Jesus, is also Aramaic, as is finally the cry from the cross (Mark 15:34). Thus Jesus not only prayed in his native tongue in his private prayers, he also gave his disciples a formal prayer couched in the vernaclar when he taught them the Lord's Prayer. In so doing, he removes prayer from the liturgical sphere of sacred language and places it right in the midst of everyday life. ("Daily Prayer in the Life of Jesus and the Primitive Church" in The Prayers of Jesus, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978, page 76)
The Lord's Prayer ([Matthew] 6:7-13)... The Lord's Prayer is found in a rather different form in Luke 11:2-4. It is astounding how little legalism the early Christians showed in transmitting the words of Jesus. Even so central a text as this is reshaped with relative freedom, adapted to local usage, and elaborated. The community had no sacred texts in the sense of ones that had to be repeated without the slightest change. The Lord's Prayer is therefore not the letter of the law; it is an aid to prayer, a guide to be followed without being bound to this or that precise wording. (The Good News According to Matthew, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975, page 147)
See also "The King James Version and the Textus Receptus: Their history, accuracy, and relevance today" at http://www.bibletexts.com/kjv-tr.htm.
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer