Shinsuke Ohtomo, a pastor at Jesus Lifehouse International Church in Tokyo and “friend we have yet to meet”, has taken on the challenge of translating the Bible in way that is unique to the Japanese language. Because Japanese uses several different words for relating to others based on things like age, social status or tone, it is a very rich yet complex language when expressing relationships between people. Original translations of the Bible to Japanese used one very formal type of expression for the way Jesus related to others. However, we know that depending on the situation, Jesus used very different styles of communication: harshly to the hypocritical religious leaders, persuasively to the masses, and compassionately to those seeking him in faith, just to name a few.
Though often overlooked, linguistics plays an important role in how we relate to gospel. A great novel like Les Miserables would not play out nearly as well if it were written by an author of technical manuals rather than Victor Hugo. In Japanese, with its vast richness of vocabulary for expressing relationships between people, linguistics become even more important. This is another example of how contextualization helps reveal the fullness of the gospel in the heart language of the people it is being addressed to.