Whatley: The word of God

Published 6:32 pm Monday, December 4, 2017

Words! They are constantly evolving, so it’s impossible to say exactly how many words there are in our English language (one of seven thousand languages in the world). Webster’s third edition dictionary contains 470,000 entries, but many of those are derivatives of a root word. In any case, I don’t know anyone who uses all of them.

Muller’s “The Science of Language” says that Shakespeare produced all his writings using 15,000 words and the Old Testament says all it wants to say using 5,642 words. The average person has a working vocabulary of about 3,000 to 4,000 words, but would rarely use all of them in everyday conversation.

Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, in Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, say that by early pre-school, children from working-class families know 1,116 words, while children from welfare families know 525 words. They go on to say, that is a deficit not easily corrected because vocabulary education is sadly impoverished. If that doesn’t get your attention, compare it to spelling bee winners who claim to know up to 30,000 words!

As the old joke goes, some people have more words than the average person, and they feel compelled to use them all  and often. I read, years ago, that Reader’s Digest used a sixth grade vocabulary because that’s what most of us use in everyday conversation. Maybe it’s not the number of words you know, but how you use them?

“In the beginning the word already existed; the word was with God, and the word was God. From the very beginning the word was with God. Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. The word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” (John 1:1-18)

I have two good friends, Phil and Cathy Davidson, who are missionaries in Africa with Wycliffe Bible Translators. It all started in 1917 when William Cameron Townsend moved to Guatemala to sell Spanish Bibles, but discovered that many people couldn’t read them. They spoke Cakchiquel, so Cam started a linguistics school training people to translate the Bible into other languages. Then in 1942, he started Wycliffe Bible Translators and there are now only 1,600 language without a Bible. So Wycliffe has set a goal to at least start a Bible translation in every one of those 1,600 languages by 2025.

Maybe in our lifetime, every person in the world can read the story of Jesus, “the Word who was God” and “through (whom) God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him,” in the words of his or her own language.

Pastor’s viewpoint is written by Charles ‘Buddy’ Whatley, a retired United Methodist pastor and, with Mary Ella, a missionary to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona.