One of these greens is not like the other…. Can you pick out which one?
If you were a member of the Himba tribe in Nambia, you probably could have picked out the square in the middle of the top-right quadrant as being unique. However, here’s a member of the same tribe struggling to pick out a blue square in the midst of green squares:
Weird, right? The Himba language has several words for green, but doesn’t have a specific word for blue. Because of this, the Himba people don’t recognize blue as easily as English speakers do. Here is a chart that breaks down Himba color vocabulary:
Given the choice between ten burou-greens and one dumbu-green, an English speaker might have a real struggle to pick out the difference. Given the choice between ten burou-greens and one burou-blue, a Himba speaker might have trouble. The Russian language has two words for blue and researchers have even tested how this impacts Russian-speakers’ ability to distinguish colors.
Ancient Greek did not have an adjective for the color, blue. Hebrew, Syriac, and Akkadian had blue, but not Greek. In fact, there is an organization out there whose goal is to produce and distribute tekhelet (biblical Hebrew blue). Tehkelet is made from the Murex trunculus snail, though there some controversy that it may only be proper to extract and process it from the Sepia officinalis (common cuttlefish).
So, how did they translate tekhelet in the Septuagint? They used the Greek word, huakinthos. Huakinthos appears once in the New Testament:
And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth [huakinthos]; the twelfth, an amethyst. (Rev 21:19-20 KJV)
A similar word, huakinthinos, which is just the adjectival form of huakinthos occurs once in the New Testament as well.
And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth [huakinthinos], and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. (Rev 9:17)
So, what does this blue beauty of a gemstone called the jacinth look like?
Not very blue, right? Strange how that orange-red stone could be used to describe blue. But, interestingly enough, Homer described the blue sea as being a deep wine red:
“And jealous now of me, you gods, because I befriend a man, one I saved as he straddled the keel alone, when Zeus had blasted and shattered his swift ship with a bright lightning bolt, out on the wine-dark sea.” —Homer, The Odyssey, Book V
But, then again, Homer was blind. Maybe all of his friends thought it would be funny to tell him that the sea was red instead of blue. I know I would.
When we talk about the Gospel, we often come to the table with a completely different vocabulary than the people we’re talking with. “For God so loved the world…” is a loaded statement from the beginning. Jesus spoke these words to a Jewish teacher named Nicodemus after He compared Himself to a story from Moses’ ministry. Nicodemus knew who this God that Jesus spoke of was, he knew who the world was, and he understood the context to understand how this God loved the world as Jesus explained in the words that followed. If we say, “For God so loved the world…” to someone who doesn’t have a basic understanding of the things that this Nicodemus knew, then we may be trying to describe blue to someone who only sees green.
I’d encourage everyone to get a good background understanding of the Gospel. Perhaps read up on some issues in apologetics (the defense of Christianity). Evolution and Jesus myth theories are good topics to be familiar with. If you’re somewhere that non-Christian worldviews thrive, read up on them. It’s also helpful to know a basic synthetic overview of Scriptures, so that you can explain the Gospel starting with Moses and the prophets like Jesus did (Lk 24:7). Another helpful tool to have under your belt is the ability to draw a diagram that illustrates the Gospel.
Put yourself in the shoes of those you want to reach. How would you feel if someone was trying to describe a new color to you, but couldn’t provide examples of what this color looks like? The better we understand our own faith, the better we’ll be able to explain it to others.