It was in the middle of a fascinating chapter on language in E. Richard Randolph and Brandon J. O’Brien’s book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. The chapter proposed that though the language of the Bible has been translated from Hebrew and Greek into English, the cultural influences remained.
The words themselves are directly affected by these cultural influences. In the Western world, Randolph and O’Brien contend, there is a word for those things that we deem to be important – and even more words for the things we deem most important. So, for example, Greeks have four words for love where the English has one.
Here’s what Randolph and O’Brien say in regards to a similar word, makarios:
Greeks had a word for the feeling one has when one is happy: makarios. It is a feeling of contentment, when one knows one’s place in the world and is satisfied with that place. If your life has been fortunate, you should feel makarios. We use idioms in English to try to approximate this experience. We’ll say, “My life has really come together,” or “I’m in a happy place,” or “Life has been good to me.” We are not really discussing the details of our life; we are trying to describe a feeling we have. Happy sounds trite, so we avoid it. Actually, we are makarios.
In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if you are a peacemaker, then you are makarios. Since English doesn’t have a word for this feeling, translators have struggled to find one. What do you call it when you feel happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate? Well, translators have concluded, you are blessed. 
In an instant, those two paragraphs planted the word makarios deeply into my thinking – and left me slightly vexed that the language I love to read and to write was so wholly inadequate to describe the beautiful concept expressed in the Greek.
“Blessed” may be the best option we have in English to express the makarios concept, but its meaning has been watered down in recent decades. It’s the word we use to sign off on an email, or a hashtag on social media. It’s a pat answer we give when someone asks how we are doing. The word has seven meanings listed under its entry at dictionary.com.
Randolph and O’Brien suggest the problem runs deeper than the words on a page. They posit that it’s possible Americans don’t know how to be “happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate” because they don’t have a word for it.
That’s the question we’ll explore together on this blog, especially in the coming weeks – and I am convinced the answer begins in ancient Israel during the time of the Exodus.
To be continued …
This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.
 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012), Kindle Locations 763-767.