Rev. Kortering addressed the issue of vernacular language in prayer and Bible translation in his response to Rev. Stewart’s letter in the February 1, 2004, Standard Bearer. Rev. Kortering suggested that, in the context of its evangelical mission, the PRC should accept the use of vernacular language by “seeking souls.” I agree, but maintain the use of vernacular language should not be limited only to “seeking souls.”
It is time for the Protestant Reformed Churches to embrace fully the implications of its Reformed heritage as they pertain to the issue of vernacular language in Bible translation and prayer. Luther and Calvin understood the great importance of speaking and writing in the ordinary language of the people. The Reformation rejected Rome’s “high” and “reverent” Latin as the exclusive liturgical language, replacing it with the language used by the common people in day-to-day life. Common people once again heard and understood Scripture when the Reformers translated the Bible into the vernacular. Unquestionably, our Reformed heritage favors the use of vernacular language in prayer and Bible translation.
However, Rev. Kortering suggests that our use of old-fashioned language protects us from irreverence. To the contrary, it is just as possible to be irreverent using Elizabethan English. Read some of Shakespeare’s more bawdy scenes for examples. Irreverence is not a necessary by-product of modern language, but an attitude of the heart that can be expressed in any language, old or new. Arguments about reverence camouflage the real issue, which is the principle of vernacular language established during the Reformation. The sad irony is that our dogmatic use of old-fashioned English is more Romish than Reformed. By glorifying old-fashioned English as more “reverent” or “spiritual,” we create a “religion-speak” that is alien to our everyday lives and the lives of all twenty-first century English-speaking people. As the years pass, the arcane language of our Bible translation and prayers will only become more disconnected from ordinary experience and operate as an ever growing barrier to Scripture comprehension, prayer-life development, and evangelistic efforts. Again the irony: this dualism and its ill effects are exactly what the Reformers sought to abolish by translating the Bible into the vernacular and replacing Rome’s Latin with everyday language.
As Protestant Reformed believers, we should embrace vernacular English as our own—in our prayers and Bible translation—rather than reserve it only for the uninitiated. To do otherwise is to ignore our Reformed heritage.