ENGLISH has borrowed many words and phrases from Christianity. Think of expressions such as: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise,” Proverbs 11:30; “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom,” Proverbs 11:2; and “The fear of the Lord, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding,” Job 28:28. People may not understand them until we associate them with the Bible. This is because if we restrict ourselves to their literal meanings, they will mean something different from what they are intended to mean.
Christianity has developed its own subculture over time. This subculture has its own music, customs and a ‘sacred’ vocabulary. Today people talk of being ‘saved’, ‘grace’, ‘sin’ and ‘repent’, for instance. These are words that filtered into English through Christian experiences. From the introduction of Christianity in the 6th and 7th century more words related to Christianity made their way gradually into the English language.
Some of the words that became part of the English vocabulary as a result of Christianity include: ‘bishop’, ‘angel’, ‘anthem’, ‘candle’, ‘collect, ‘deacon’, ‘demon’, ‘disciple’, ‘hymn’, ‘nun’, ‘offer’, ‘organ’, ‘palm’, ‘pope’, ‘priest’, ‘prophet’, ‘psalm’, ‘rule’, ‘Sabbath’, ‘temple’, ‘redemption’ and ‘saviour’.
Christians also talk of ‘gospel’, ‘offering’, and ‘the wisdom of Solomon’, ‘The day of the Sabbath people worship’ and ‘The Bible has 150 psalms’.
The translation of the Bible, the most widely read book of all time, has meant that many biblical references have become an integral part of English. The King James Version of the Bible is one of the early efforts to codify the language. This is also the language used by great writers of English literature such as William Shakespeare, William Blake and T.S. Eliot. To understand their works better, one needs to have some understanding of Christianity.
Sometimes the language of the Bible offers some challenges to the inexperienced reader. The use of ‘th’ instead of ‘s’ at the end of verbs in the Bible may cause problems. Consider this sentence: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17). “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him,” (Proverbs 30:5).
It was with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 6th and 7th centuries that significant numbers of Latin words began entering the lexicon. Latin was the lingua franca or common language of the Christian world.
Ordinary churchgoers did not have direct access to the Latin Bible, but key words like disciple became familiar. Other religious words like ‘abbot’, ‘altar’, ‘apostle’ and ‘candle’ gradually came into common use.
So, every time you read the Bible, be critical and analyse the meanings of the words in the passages. Also ask your pastor or priest about the words whose meanings pose a challenge to you. It is true that you can improve your English language proficiency by reading passages in the Bible. It’s a worthwhile exercise, since you will be killing two birds with one stone; increasing your word power and worshipping at the same time.
Let me end this article by giving you the 8 beatitudes of Jesus. The main aim is to illustrate that you can use Bible passages to improve your proficiency in the Queen’s language.
THE EIGHT BEATITUDES OF JESUS
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
• Frieda Nanyeni is a Master of Arts in English student in the Department of Language and Literature Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Namibia (Unam).