• Angela

Hallelujah! It's the Same in Any Language.

We sing it. We shout it. But it's not English. Do you know what hallelujah means?

Recently, I attended a virtual worship service in a language I didn't know. I smiled politely and copied the motions of others, but didn't understand what was actually being said.


Sadly, this is the reality for many Christians around the world who don't have the Bible or even a pastor or church that uses their language.


Then came the music.


As a chorus of voices rose together in praise, my ears picked up one familiar word: Hallelujah. Is this word really part of this language I otherwise could not understand? Not quite!


Borrowed from Scripture

Hallelujah is an ancient Hebrew word which appears in the Old Testament Scriptures as: הַלְלוּיָה

It's an imperative (command) verb form made up of the verb stem: HLL, combined with a plural ending /u/ that translates roughly as "you all," and the object Yah, a shortened form of the Hebrew name of God.

Altogether, Hallelujah translates as, "Praise the Lord!" This is an exhortation that would have been used in corporate worship - think of the psalms of King David as he led the Israelites in praising God.


Hallelujah was transliterated into Greek around the time of the Septuagint Bible (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures c. 3rd-2nd century BCE). From the Greek letters, it was translated into English as Hallelujah. (Fun fact: The alternate spelling alleluia is the same word transliterated into Latin! Both spellings still survive in English hymnbooks today.)


Echoes from History

So hallelujah is not from "their" language or English, but both languages (and many others) borrowed this word straight from Hebrew Scripture and now sing together in praise of the God we all worship.


It's unknown how many languages today use some form of hallelujah in worship, but here are a few examples:

  • Alhamdulillah ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ ‎(Arabic)

  • Hālìlùyà 哈利路亚 (Chinese)

  • Alléluia (French)

  • Aleluya (Quechua)

  • Haleluya (Indonesian)

How amazing that the same word used to call Israelites to the Temple so many centuries ago now echoes from every corner of the earth!


Praise the Lord with me (Hallelujah!) in whatever language your heart speaks, and pray for those who don't yet know that the same God speaks their language too.

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