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David Otten: The origins of 'maranatha' -- and why it's special

By David Otten
Contributing writer
updated: 9/10/2019 5:35 PM

Greetings from Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.

Weeks ago I shared with you about a book I have been reading, "Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity" by Larry Hurtado.

I want to share one of the findings Hurtado uncovers -- the very simple Aramaic (a Semitic language) word, "Maranatha." It means "Our Lord come." So why is this special?

Certain scholars who oppose the Christian faith have expressed that the Christian's understanding of Jesus as Lord, the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity, and other teachings, came from Greeks and Romans who were attracted to the teachings of Jesus.

Those who followed Jesus in Jerusalem and Judea, such as Peter, James and John, never would have confessed Jesus as the Son of God, or Lord in a divine sense because Jews believe in only one God. Though they don't accept the Gospels as being accurate but believe they were influenced or written by others, they do accept as accurate various writings of St. Paul -- Corinthians, Romans and Galatians to name a few.

So if the idea of Jesus being Lord came from non-Jews who speak Greek, where did Paul get this Aramaic word Maranatha? Hurtado writes, "The expression certainly comes from circles of Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians." He goes on to tell us it was an expression used in their worship service and directed toward Jesus.

A second point is as Paul writes to the Corinthians he uses the word maranatha without translation. (1 Cor 16:22 KJV). These Gentile Christians seem to have knowledge of it. Hurtado believes the only one who could have introduced this word to them would have been Paul, when he visited earlier. So, where did Paul hear of this expression? We know that after Paul's conversion he went to Jerusalem and met with the Christian leadership there. He would have observed their worship and devotion. Here is the most likely place he would have heard the expression Maranatha.

The term seems also to be a means of connecting Christians of different linguistical groups even as with the word "Abba," or "Father."

Even though the word "mara" can mean "master," its use in worship and devotional circles carried much greater weight as this is a prayer to Jesus. Paul did not borrow this term from the Gentiles he met but shared it with them that they could have a stronger connection with their fellow Christians in Jerusalem.

One last point. There were Jewish Christians who did not like the Gentile Christians eating unclean animals and failing to be circumcised, but if Paul was in league with a new idea of Jesus being Lord, the Son of God, why would they be silent? And if they were vocal, why don't we hear Paul speaking to their objection as he does with circumcision?

Conclusion: Maranatha comes from the earliest of Jewish Christian circles who encountered their risen Lord and prayed, "Our Lord come."

• David Otten is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.