One day, I was driving down the street and saw a panel truck with “Maranatha Plumbing” painted on the side. “Maranatha” is an Aramaic phrase (the Jewish people in Jesus’ days spoke Aramaic, the language of the Babylonian Captivity). It probably means “Our Lord, Come!” which would be appropriate for a plumber racing to fix a bathroom emergency; however, I think the man was trying to indicate he was a Christian plumber and so answered to a higher standard.

Even the early Greek-speaking Christians used many Aramaic words such as “amen” and “Abba” (Father). Jesus himself spoke Aramaic (see Matthew 27:46 and Mark 5:41). The phrase “Maranatha” or more appropriately, “marana tha” or “maran atha” was used by the first Christians (See 1 Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20).

Because Maranatha is simply transliterated from Aramaic into Greek, it isn’t easy to know exactly how to translate it into English. It could be māran(ā’)’ aṯā’, “our Lord has come,” or māran(ā’) (’ ĕ)ṯā’, “our Lord, come!” What difference does it make?

The Didache is an early Christian church manual. It gave instructions about baptism, worship, and church practices. We have many books like that available today that provide suggested talks for weddings, funerals, and speaking at the Lord’s Table. The Didache suggests:

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for the Lord has also spoken concerning this: “Do not give what is holy to dogs.”

And after you have had enough, give thanks as follows:

(2) We give you thanks, Holy Father,

     for your holy name, which you

           have caused to dwell in our hearts,

     and for the knowledge and faith and immortality 

           which you have made known to us

           through Jesus your servant;

     to you be the glory forever.

(3) You, almighty Master, created all things for your name’s sake,

     and gave food and drink to men to enjoy,

           that they might give you thanks;

     but to us, you have graciously given

           spiritual food and drink,

     and eternal life through your servant.

(4) Above all, we give thanks because you are mighty;

     to you be the glory forever.

(5) Remember your church, Lord,

     to deliver it from all evil

     and to make it perfect in your love;

     and gather it, the one that has been sanctified,

     from the four winds into your kingdom,

     which you have prepared for it;

     for yours is the power and the glory forever.

(6) May grace come, and may this world pass away.

     Hosanna to the God of David.

     If anyone is holy, let him come;

 if anyone is not, let him repent.
Maranatha! Amen.[1]

Notice how the suggested prayer ends with two Aramaic words: “Maranatha!” And “Amen.” In this case, it makes good sense to translate Maranatha as “the Lord has come!” and that’s why we can enjoy the communion.

On the other hand, Paul’s conclusion to First Corinthians and the exclamation in Revelation probably mean, “Come! Lord.”

Both translations are blessings: “The Lord has come!” (Hallelujah!) and “Come back soon!”

  [1] Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., pp. 261–263). Baker Books.

Straight Talk

 In all your ways acknowledge him, 
          and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:6).

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

You can tell a lot about a preacher by the Bible he carries. Modern upbeat ministers carry iPads. City preachers often carry thin New Testaments that they can roll up in their hands and use to pound the pulpit, but I once heard a preacher explain why country ministers carried such large Bibles. “When you get to the farm, if you step out of your car with one of those thin Bibles, you’ll probably lose a leg to the ranch dog that will greet you. Country preachers know to carry a Bible large enough to knock Rover silly.” (I just throw dog treats to the other side of the road and run for the porch.)

It’s true, some people use the Word of God like a club and beat up those who disagree with their interpretations. On the other hand, the Hebrew writer explained, “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Dr. Lightfoot explained in class that the word translated “sword” (machaira, μάχαιρα) can also refer to a surgeon’s scalpel “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (ESV). I like thinking of the Bible as a tool for healing!

In his last letter, the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to be a careful worker “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This is the only place in the New Testament this relatively rare word translated “rightly handling,” orthotomeo (ὀρθοτομέω), is found. We have a number of English words based on the prefix ortho-which means “straight” (orthodontics, orthopedic, and orthodoxy are just some examples). Combined with -tomeo which means “to cut,” ortotomeo means “to cut straight.”

This word is found twice in the Greek translation of Proverbs in the Old Testament in the context of road construction where trees are cut down and the path leveled:

   In all your ways acknowledge him, 
          and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:6).


     The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight (Proverbs 11:5).

So how does this apply to us? The Greek Lexicon explains:

Then [ortotomeo] would probably mean guide the word of truth along a straight path (like a road that goes straight to its goal), without being turned aside by wordy debates or impious talk 2 Timothy 2:15.[1]

Next time you prepare to teach a Bible class, put on your hardhat, and grab your chainsaw! Careful teachers make it easy for their students to understand the correct interpretation.