I want you to consider a strange question. If Jesus came down from heaven and spoke to you today, what would he sound like?
- A hillbilly?
- British royalty?
- Someone from the deep South?
Would his speech have a particular affect?
Why do you think that?
The Bible records many times when God spoke to people, including the many instances of Jesus speaking that are recorded in the Gospels. On a few occasions, the Bible records the reaction of those who were listening. None of those reactions indicate that Jesus spoke with an accent or an affect. On the other hand, we have several comments about the content of Jesus words.
Everyone was amazed at his teaching. He taught with authority, and not like the teachers of the Law of Moses. – Mark 1:22 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark1:22&version=CEV
The people didn’t comment that Jesus’s words were complicated, deep, mysterious, mystical, or religious. (Perhaps the “teachers of the law” spoke like that.) Rather, Jesus’s words carried authority. So, we are left to conclude that Jesus spoke in a very normal way but said extraordinary things. In fact, the idea that God speaks in some special, religious way is the very rare exception in the Bible. It also clashes with Christmas which celebrates God becoming an ordinary baby. The incarnation is a really big indicator that when God interacts with us, he usually does it in ordinary ways. C. S. Lewis wrote:
… the Incarnation itself ought to shock us. The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preaching in a [common], prosaic and unliterary language.
I remember a group of village elders and their chief telling us how “genuine” and “real” are the words in the translation into their language. That’s a good translation because it puts the focus on the things said.
I think that if Jesus came and spoke to me, I would be captivated by what he said but not even notice how he said it because that would be so completely ordinary. That’s Christmas – a most extraordinary message in the most ordinary form. That’s also what we strive for in translation – God’s extraordinary message in ordinary, everyday words.