The New Testament was written in Greek. You've probably read some speculation that one or two New Testament books may have been written first in Aramaic, but it is clear that the preponderance of New Testament books were written originally in Greek and that all of them existed almost exclusively in the Greek language relatively quickly in the history of Christianity. Although it was, at that time, the ROMAN Empire, the apostles did not, as far as I can tell, make any effort to write in Latin. Although Asia Minor was polyglot and the gospel was spreading into Africa and across all of the diversity of the Mediterranean Basin, the apostles were entirely content to evangelize and disciple in Greek.
Greek was the "heart-language" of Thessalonica and Corinth, but apart from them, I'm not sure that it could be considered the "heart-language" of any of the recipients of the other New Testament epistles or books.
I'm presuming that we've all heard sermons and lectures extolling this attribute of the Greco-Roman world—the availability of Greek as a common language throughout the empire—as one attribute of the "fulness of time" that God exploited in revealing the gospel at just the time that He did. And yet, people who affirm that idea and preach that kind of sermon, we will turn right around and say with regard to this day and time that the gospel has not been proclaimed somewhere and the Great Commission has not been obeyed somewhere until we have proclaimed it in the "heart-language" of that people-group. Is it OK for me to wonder aloud whether that insistence is biblical?
Let me make some things clear:
First, I'm not saying that I'm AGAINST the translation of the Bible and the propagation of the gospel into every language known to man. I'm IN FAVOR of that. I'm contributing to make it happen. I'm a fan and a supporter. I'm in favor of a lot of things that are advantageous to the Great Commission. The question is whether translation into "heart-language" is ESSENTIAL to the Great Commission—that until you've done that, you cannot have fulfilled the Great Commission among a people-group.
Second, I'm not denying that there are people in the world who speak and understand no language whatsoever in which the gospel is available. There are people like that. For them, we must provide gospel resources in their languages or we have not obeyed the Great Commission until we do so.
So, what I'm asking is none of those questions, but this: Suppose there is a tribe of people in Central America somewhere, living in a country for which the official language is Spanish. They also have a tribal language that is, compared to Spanish, obscure. The preponderance of people in that tribe speak BOTH their tribal language AND Spanish. One might accurately describe the tribal language as their "heart-language," but they are entirely functional in Spanish, conducting their lives and business in it with regularity. About such a people-group, I ask:
- If Spanish Bibles are available for this people-group, is it accurate to say that they have no Christian literature available to reach them?
- If a Spanish-speaking evangelical congregation is in their vicinity, is it accurate to say that they have no Christian churches?
- If Christians have carried the gospel to these people in Spanish, has the Great Commission been carried out and has the gospel been proclaimed to them?
- How are they different from, for example, the Galatians, whom the apostles were content to evangelize and disciple in Greek?
- How are they different from, for example, a tribe of Sioux in North Dakota who might have received English Bibles, may have professed faith in Christ in English, and might attend English-speaking churches?
I'm not shooting at ANYBODY with this post. It's just that, our church having embarked upon this Embrace initiative, I as a pastor am in a position to need to have thought more carefully and to greater depth about my own understandings of Biblical missiology. I'm trying to work that out, and I'd appreciate constructive dialogue.