Advent 2021 #4: Biblical Language

It’s the time of year when we celebrate was has been and the accomplishments we have achieved. This year, it genuinely is an achievement to just reach the end of it reasonably unscathed. It hasn’t been a pleasant one.

Year 12s in NSW are now celebrating, with the Higher School Certificate exams (finally) finishing on Thursday this week. That’s almost a month later than the day of my last exam, 20 years ago. It really has felt like a long slog.

Now that my students have finally finished, they’re dropping into my staff room to say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ which is quite welcome at this time of year. Sure, I’ve got lots of work to do, but frankly, I’d prefer to be chatting with them: which I did for over a third of my work day yesterday.

One of them even brought me a gift:

George Orwell’s Animal Farm in both Chinese and English. (NB: my ironing board cover makes for a great background…)

I am quite the Orwell fan, but I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t be able to read any of it at all, despite my student saying he thought the Chinese wasn’t too difficult (for him, maybe 😉).

Some years ago I bought Les Miserables in English, and thought that I would read it in French after I’d read it in English. It took me so many years to get through the book – due to doing too many other things – that I decided trying to read it in French was beyond me. Perhaps the same is true for Orwell in Chinese for me.

You may be wondering what great works of fiction in various languages have to do with Christmas.

我明白 Je comprend.

I understand. It’s a bit of a stretch in some ways; in others, not.

Before God explains who he is to us, the whole Christmas history – the whole Bible in fact – is rather like another language. Meaningless. Confusing. Seemingly irrelevant. Just scribble on a page. It can be like looking at a page of mystery and wondering what the important bits are, and whether you should care or not.

It was like this when I was flicking through Animal Farm in Chinese yesterday afternoon. It was just a bunch of characters. Some of these I know, but glancing at a few pages, it didn’t mean very much. A character here or there made sense but I couldn’t quite put it together.

Only when God through his Holy Spirit reveals himself to us, does anything ‘on the page’ of Christmas start to make sense. It’s like a sudden rush of meaning. A breath of fresh air.

If you’re like me, it’s when you flick to Chapter 8:


I knew that one. And I knew that the top of the page was telling me that it was chapter 8.

I flicked to the English version to check I was right… and then discovered they were numbering the chapters with Roman Numerals… just another hoop for my brain to jump through. Kinda funny though.

Once I knew I actually was at Chapter Eight, I checked:

A few days later



It’s only a phrase, but it’s a start. It may be the same for you thinking about The Bible and Christmas. It might be something that you don’t really understand or only know in parts.

It might be hard work to get it to fit all together, but I don’t expect to be able to read Animal Farm in Chinese or Les Miserables in French without a bit of effort. Why would it be any different with The Bible?

No excuses to not get yourself a copy of The Bible and take a look, then. Meanwhile, I’d better get and find myself a copy of Les Miserables in French.

It’ll be a challenge, but no excuses, eh?

Yours in translation,


Photo by Luna Lovegood on

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