Nehemiah 8:12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
It has been pointed out by a number of scholars that the function of the Levites mentioned in this story was probably translating/interpreting from Hebrew to Aramaic. (The NIV refers to that in a footnote to verse 8.) The people had been living for more than a generation in Babylon, where everyone around them spoke Aramaic, so that was their normal language. Hearing the Bible in Hebrew would be like Americans today hearing Chaucer in the original; there would be things they could understand, but much they could not. Since these people were committed enough to God to move all the way back to Jerusalem, no wonder they were glad to be able to understand His Word! I’m reminded of videos I’ve seen of people groups finally getting the New Testament, even, in their own language, rather than having to use a different language even if they understood that other language. Groups such as Wycliff do a great service! That said, Americans have no excuse. There are more English translations of the Bible than I can keep track of, yet sin and rebellion are absolutely rampant. The Gospel needs to be presented in understandable language, but ultimately, reception and obedience are up to the individual. As James so famously pointed out, hearing it but not acting on it is just deceiving yourself. (James 1:22)
This whole issue gets complicated in Japan because of the nature of the Japanese language. The famous Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier said that Japanese was a language invented by the devil to hinder the spread of the Gospel! I personally have met several Japanese Christians who were fluent in English who said that the Bible was much easier for them to understand in that language than in their native one. That said, there are some Biblical concepts that seem clearer to me in Japanese than in English. However, in general the Bible in Japanese tends to be opaque. That certainly presents a challenge for evangelism! My father was a linguist, with a fluency and depth of knowledge of Japanese that brought awe, even in academic circles. His Masters degree was in Hebrew and his PhD was in Greek, and at the time of his death he was working on a fresh New Testament translation. A close Japanese family friend did the base translation from Greek. My father checked it for accuracy, and then sent it to another Japanese to be checked for smoothness and understandability, and then my father checked it again to make sure the meaning hadn’t been changed. The irony of that is that they deliberately chose a non-Christian to do the smoothness check, because they wanted to avoid “churchese,” but even after working through half the New Testament, to my knowledge he never became a Christian. Language barriers are important and need to be overcome, but spiritual barriers are even more important. Strictly speaking I don’t have a language barrier, but I certainly encounter spiritual barriers. Even ministering to Christians I often feel like I’m beating my head against a wall, because they can’t seem to grasp concepts that seem completely obvious to me. Knowing my own inability, I am thrust back on trusting God, and that’s not a bad thing. I am not to give up, but keep walking in faithful obedience, letting the Holy Spirit use me to get through to as many people as will receive what God offers so freely. It’s His Gospel and His Church, and I need to rest, relax, and rejoice to be part of what He is doing.
Father, You know what is going on and who needs what. I pray that I would be faithful as Your agent, not judging or rejecting but letting Your love flow through me, so that strongholds may be destroyed and people set free to walk in the liberty of Your Spirit, for their infinite blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!