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What does Maranatha mean?

Maranatha

Maranatha is an Aramaic word that appears in the Bible only once—in 1 Corinthians 16:22. But if you turn to this verse in your English Bible, you may not see it there. That’s because most versions (NIV, RSV, NKJV) translate the word into English, although some (KJV, NASB) simply use the word, maranatha, with no translation.

The fact that this Aramaic word shows up in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth is a bit of a puzzle. Aramaic is a Semitic language related to Hebrew. It was the common language of the Jews in the first century A.D. Aramaic was the native language of Jesus and His disciples. But the Corinthians spoke Greek—not Aramaic. Paul wrote his letter to them in Greek. But at the end of that letter to the Greek-speaking Christians in Corinth, he wrote:

“If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha!” (1 Corinthians 16:22, NASB).

Why is Maranatha used?

Why insert a single Aramaic word in a letter written in Greek to Greek-speaking Christians? Paul must have assumed that those reading his letter would know what maranatha meant. But why didn’t he just say what he wanted to say in Greek? Why use the Aramaic—maranatha?

The answer is: Because maranatha had become a sort of watchword—a “secret” password—among early first-century Christians even though most of them spoke Greek. At a time when Christians were often persecuted both by Jews and Romans, an Aramaic password was a kind of code they could use to identify other Christians—one that Greeks and Romans wouldn’t necessarily understand the meaning of.

And when we learn what maranatha means, we will be able to see why it was such an ideal motto or password for these early Christians.

What does Maranatha mean?

We have said that maranatha is an Aramaic word. Actually, it is a single word formed out of two Aramaic words—and its meaning differs slightly depending on how you think maranatha should be divided into its two parts.

What Did Paul Want His Readers to Understand When He Used the Word, Maranatha?

Paul closes his letter to the Corinthian Christians with these final words and farewell:

  1. Marana-tha - “Our Lord, come!”

    Most English Bible versions translate maranatha as if it should be divided: marana-tha, meaning: “Our Lord, come!” This is a plea, a prayer, for Jesus to fulfill His promise to come again and take His faithful people to their home in heaven (John 14:1-3). It expresses the early Christians’ heartfelt longing to see their Lord coming in the clouds of heaven to put an end to sin forever. This desire is expressed emotionally in the last book of the Bible:

    “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’. . . . He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:17, 20, NKJV).

  2. Maran-atha - “Our Lord has come!”

    A few English Bible versions translate maranatha as if it should be divided: maran-atha, meaning: “Our Lord has come!” They see it as part of a formal creed of the early Christian church, affirming the historical fact that the Lord Jesus Christ had come to earth as the Savior of humanity. In a letter to the Christians at Philippi, Paul emphasized the sacrifice Jesus made when He came to earth as a man to live and die for us (Philippians 2:5-8).

    The linguistic evidence is inconclusive whether maranatha should be understood to mean “Our Lord, come!” or “Our Lord, has come!” The word can be understood both ways, and both are equally true and equally important.

What did Paul want his readers to understand when he used the word, Maranatha?

Paul closes his letter to the Corinthian Christians with these final words and farewell:

“If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen” (1 Corinthians 16:22-24, NASB).

In closing, Paul brings his readers’ thoughts back to the true test of their Christianity—do they really love the Lord Jesus? The love he is talking about is more than just an affectionate regard—an emotion. It means a personal devotion to Jesus that changes their life. As Jesus put it, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV).

Paul warns that anyone who does not love the Lord Jesus with this kind of life-changing love is “accursed.” The word he uses here is the Greek word, anathema, meaning “condemned,” “damned.” Then, as we have seen, he follows this thought with the word, “Maranatha!” So the Greek word, anathema, and the Aramaic word, maranatha, appear one right after the other in Paul’s letter. The King James Version of 1 Corinthians 16:22 doesn’t translate either of these two words into English. Instead, it puts them together in a misleading sort of way:

“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:22, KJV).

This sounds like Paul is pronouncing a specific curse—“Anathema Maranatha”—on those who do not love the Lord Jesus! Actually, the King James Version should have included a period to show where the sentence ends: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema. Maranatha.”

If the KJV had included the period where it belongs, it would have expressed Paul’s meaning more clearly and accurately even though the KJV doesn’t translate either word into English.

Why is Maranatha important to me today?

All this is more than just an interesting word study. Like the early Christians who used maranatha as a special word to express their longing for Jesus to return, the “blessed hope” of His Second Coming (Titus 2:13) still burns brightly in our hearts.

We, too, say: Maranatha!—“Our Lord, come!” And, also like them, we rely for salvation solely on the fact that Jesus came to live with us on Earth and die for us on the cross. Maranatha!—"Our Lord has come!”

Paul reminds us that as we wait for our Lord to come, our love for Him is shown by the way that we live. Genuine love for Jesus is not just a warm feeling we get while singing hymns in church. Loving Jesus means living for Jesus. Maranatha!

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