Prestige Religious Language and Social Identity of Earliest Christianity

Studies of the social identity of the earliest Christians are related to the sociolinguistic concept of Prestige Religious Language of the Jerusalem Church, namely the official language that the apostles used for their sermons and teachings in official settings. Biblical scholars have assumed that Aramaic was the religious language of the Jerusalem church, resulting in the dominant population being Aramaic-speaking Christians in the Jerusalem church. This scholarly group insists that there were different social identities between the Hebrew Christians of the Jerusalem church and the Hellenistic Christians of the diaspora churches. However, some recent scholars point out that the assumption of the role of Aramaic as Prestige Religious Language of the Jerusalem church is based on the functional monolingualism in the Jewish community. Although the sociolinguistic concept of Prestige Religious Language of the Jerusalem Church has often been mentioned, it has not been investigated by sociolinguistic approaches thoroughly.
By employing Allan Bell’s sociolinguistic theories, this study will examine Acts 1:6—6:6 in order to determine the Indexical Cycle of the Jerusalem Church, namely the processes that created and changed the linguistic ideology for Prestige Religious Language. The first section will use Bell’s theories of multilingualism (sociology of language) in order to investigate the multilingual environments of the historical figures’ residences. This section will focus on the role of Greek and Aramaic in the Greco-Roman world and the Parthian Empire. In light of Bell’s Style model (ethnographic-interactional sociolinguistics), the second section will identify the historical figures’ code choices. This section will reconstruct the Indexical Cycle of the Jerusalem church.
This study will argue that Greek was first used as the Prestige Religious Language in Peter’s Pentecostal sermon, and the language status of Greek was officially established by the appointment of the seven deacons. Peter had to speak Greek in the Pentecostal sermon because the major target of his sermon was diaspora pilgrims who spoke different languages as their first language and Greek at least as their second language. Whereas Judeans were bilingual speakers of Aramaic and Greek, diaspora pilgrims lost their knowledge of Aramaic as they lived in Greek-speaking regions for several generations. Peter’s Pentecostal sermon drastically changed the linguistic demography of the Jerusalem church, forming the linguistic ideology for the use of Greek in the official settings of the Jerusalem church.
Moreover, the appointment of Greek-speaking people as the seven deacons was the apostles’ language policy for establishing the linguistic ideology for using Greek as the Prestige Religious Language for official social practices. Right after Peter’s Pentecost sermon, whereas Greek was employed as the Prestige Religious Language for sermons and teachings, Aramaic was used for collecting information regarding the distribution of possessions. This use of Aramaic resulted in a social problem between Hellenistic Christians and Hebrew Christians because the majority of Hellenistic Christians did not know Aramaic. In order to solve this social problem, the apostles appointed the seven deacons in order to change the official language from Aramaic to Greek for the official social practices of the Jerusalem church.

2 thoughts on “Prestige Religious Language and Social Identity of Earliest Christianity”

  1. Another long abstract, and burried thesis
    I think I may stop commenting on long abstracts… Maybe I missed a word limit somewhere. Either way, I am not sure what I think of the direction of the paper, but I would not mind hearing him out.

  2. Sociolinguistics/Multilingualism in the Early Church
    This paper might invite many interesting questions. The abstract is long, and the methodology and the claims being made about language policy and language ideology might take us a little far afield from our focus on Luke-Acts.


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