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Ebonics and Scripture


There has been a lot of controversy recently about the proposal that ebonics (essentially black slang) be taught as a second language in some California schools. Someone e-mailed me the ebonics version of the Lord's Prayer:



Our father, who art in heaven

Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done

On earth as it is in heaven

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us

And lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil

For thine is the kingdom forever



Big Daddy's Rap

Yo, Big Daddy upstairs,

You be chillin

So be yo hood

You be sayin' it, I be doin' it

In this ere hood and yo's

Gimme some eats

And cut me some slack, Blood

So's I be doin' it to dem dat diss me

Don' be pushin' me into no jive

And keep dem crips away

'Cause you always be da man,

Straight up

I like the ebonics version of the Lord's Prayer. The Gospel has always been translated into the language of the people whoever the people are. This is true on the deepest level even without a translation or paraphrase of the language. Peter Gomes, Preacher to Harvard University, has written in The Good Book:

...there is something always elusive about the Bible. This fixed text has a life of its own, which the reader cannot by some simple process of reading capture as his or her own. The dynamic quality of scripture has to do with the fact that while the text itself does not change, we who read that text do change; it is not that we adapt ourselves to the world of the Bible and play at re-creating it as in a pageant or tableau "long ago and far away." Rather, it is that the text actually adapts itself to our capacity to hear it. Thus we hear not as first-century Christians, nor even as eighteenth-century Christians, but as men and women alive here and now. We hear the same texts that our ancestors heard but we hear them not necessarily as they heard them, but as only we can. Thus the reading and the hearing of scripture are for Christians in each generation a Pentecostal experience.

It was at Pentecost that all people regardless of their language, cultural background, or diversity of personal experience heard God's word to them. It is still Pentecost.

C. David Hess 1997



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