Pentecost. Pentecôte. Pentecostés: How to Translate Its Message


Today is Pentecost, the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit, through the disciples, to the church in the whole world. Those who listened to the disciples said this:


And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

καὶ πῶς ἡμεῖς ἀκούομεν ἕκαστος τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ ἡμῶν ἐν ᾗ ἐγεννήθημεν,

¿Cómo es que cada uno de nosotros los oímos hablar en nuestra lengua en la que hemos nacido?

Et comment les entendons-nous, chacun dans son propre langage, celui du pays dans lequel nous sommes nes?

Как же мы слышим каждый собственное наречие, в котором родились.

Huru kommer det då till, att var och en av oss hör sitt eget modersmål talas?

Imekuwaje, basi, kwamba kila mmoja wetu anawasikia wakisema kwa lugha yake mwenyewe?

Wie hören wir denn ein jeglicher seine Sprache, darin wir geboren sind?

Come adunque li udiam noi parlare ciascuno nel nostro proprio natio linguaggio?

Un kā mēs ikviens dzirdējām savu valodu, kurā mēs dzimuši?

Tai kaipgi mes kiekvienas juos girdime savo gimtąja kalba?!

Hvorledes går det da til at vi alle hører vårt eget mål, som vi er født i,

This could have been a problem. All of us have heard of intended meanings being “lost in translation,” sometimes to harmful effects.

One of the more memorably bad experiences of this that I ever had was when I, a formerly high-average hitter in baseball who was badly struggling with my first exposure to curveballs, managed to reach first base once despite being jammed by a pitch and thinking I had hit a very weak, short pop-out.


Surprised to be safely on base, I asked the first-base coach, “Was that a hit? Where did it go?”

As it happened, the ball had dropped in a weird space between various infielders, just out of the reach of each, and spun wildly upon landing so that nobody could pick it up in time and throw me out. But I had hustled down the line so fast that I literally never saw the ball, and I was trying to figure out how that poor swing had somehow, apparently, produced a hit.

I was truly trying to learn something that might improve my hitting for the future.

Alas, when the base coach laughingly told the head coach about my question, the exchange was misunderstood. We lost the game badly, and in our post-game meeting, the head coach started yelling bloody murder at us about not having our minds in the right place. And then, jabbing his finger in my direction, he yelled that we even had one player so selfishly focused on his pathetic, (expletive deleted) batting average that he was more worried about whether he (I) could count my swing as an official “hit” than about what he should do next now that he was on base.

Or something like that. I was the handy scapegoat du jour. And I also was the victim of having something lost in translation that actually was an innocent, even thoughtful, verbal exchange. It’s humorous to look back on now, but at the time, the mistranslation really hurt.


That’s why Pentecost is so remarkable. Nothing was lost, or harmed, in translation. What the Pentecost story tells is of messages heard crystal-clear, and entirely accurately, when translated into just about every language known to the first century A.D. Mediterranean world.

This was a translation that enlightened, rather than confused. It saved, rather than frustrated.

And what, exactly, was the message? As Peter told those congregated there, it was two-fold: first, that God’s Spirit was now wonderfully let loose into the world; and second, that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

In Corinthians, Paul explained what we are to do with the Spirit: We are to accept its gifts and use them for the greater good, whatever those gifts are. (Some are gifted with wisdom, some with healing, some with faith, and so on.) In other words, the Spirit is a gift, but it also is a commission of responsibility upon us. We receive God’s love, and the news of the salvation he offers – and we are to “pay it forward,” to pass it on, to let the Spirit use us as vessels in and through which the love is presented and provided to others.

No other message in the history of the world has been so accurately, beneficially and wonderfully translated. The Pentecost was a clean “hit,” indeed a home run, and its message will keep circling the bases until as many believers as possible come home to God.


Our job is to accept the wonderful commission to do this loving duty. To quote today’s Gospel:

εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν· καθὼς ἀπέσταλκέν με ὁ Πατήρ, κἀγὼ πέμπω ὑμᾶς.

Jesús entonces les dijo otra vez: Paz a vosotros; como el Padre me ha enviado, así también yo os envío.

Jesus donc leur dit encore: Paix vous soit! Comme le Pere m’a envoye, moi aussi je vous envoie.

“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist with a degree in theology. His faith-themed satirical novel, Mad Jones: Heretic, is due for publication this summer by Liberty Island Media.


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