Maranatha

MARANATHA (mār'a-năth'a, Aramaic, mārānā’ ’āthāh, our Lord comes!). An expression of greeting and encouragement as well as of triumphant faith, such as is shown in 1Cor.16.22, RSV mg. That is to say, “Our Lord comes, regardless of man’s enmity!” Paul put this word over against anathema, the curse that befalls idolaters.


MARANATHA măr’ ə năth’ ə (μαραναθά). This term, manifestly transliterated from the Aram., occurs in 1 Corinthians 16:22 and in the Didachē X, 6. It is apparently made up of two parts: (a) Maran or Marana, meaning “our Lord”; and (b) tha or atha, a form of the verb “come.” It remains an open question whether this form is the imperative “come!” or the perfect “He has come.”

In favor of the imperative, one often quotes Revelation 22:20, where a similar formulation is found, in this case in Gr.: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

On the other hand, the perfect also would make good sense, esp. if a eucharistic background for this expression is assumed. In the Didachē “maranatha” appears in a context which definitely centers on the Lord’s table.

In whatever way the verb is understood, the statement would be fitting with reference to the Eucharist and could be paraphrased in one of the following ways:

1. “‘Our Lord has come’ in the incarnation and we ‘do this in remembrance of’ him” (1 Cor 11:24, 25).

2. “‘Our Lord has come’ to be present with us at His table and to search the hearts of the communicants.” This would relate well to the previous part of 1 Corinthians 16:22: “If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.”

3. “‘Our Lord, come!,’ for we yearn for the full manifestation of your power and judgment, and we partake of the elements ‘until he comes’” (1 Cor 11:26).

These various meanings are not necessarily mutually exclusive and “maranatha” might suggest a felicitous combination of them.

A Eucharistic context is made further plausible by the following consideration. An Aram. expression in a letter addressed to a Gr.-speaking group appears very strange indeed, unless it be a form consecrated in the worship of the earliest Christian community, the Church of Jerusalem, and with which all Christians, whatever their native language, would become familiar (something like “amen” or “alleluia”). The Lord’s Supper would easily fit that picture.

In spite of these arguments the identification of the context of “maranatha” with the Eucharist remains speculative and some able scholars offer alternative views, notably C. F. D. Moule, who envisions this expression as a part of a curse or of a solemn asseveration. (“A Reconsideration of the Context of Maranatha.” NTS VIII [1960], 307-310.)

If the tr. “Come!” is preferred, the term “maranatha” would be a very early evidence of a prayer addressed to Jesus as Lord. The Aram. form Maran bears witness in any case to the fact of a Palestinian recognition of Christ as Lord.

Bibliography

See the commentaries on 1 Corinthians and Bible dictionaries, particularly the following: Arndt (1957), 492; A. Wikgren, IDB III (1962), 262; O. Betz in B. Reicke and L. Rost, Biblisch-Historisches Handwörterbuch (1964), 1144; R. G. Kuhn, TDNT IV (1967), 466-472, has a lucid discussion with extensive additional bibliography up to 1937.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

mar-a-nath’-a, mar-an-a’-tha (from Aramaic words, marana’ ’athah, "Our Lord cometh, or will come"; according to some, "has come"; to others, "Come!" an invitation for his speedy reappearance (compare Re 22:20); maranatha, or maran atha): Used in connection with anathema, "accursed" (1Co 16:22), but has no necessary connection therewith. It was used by early Christians to add solemn emphasis to previous statement, injunction or adjuration, and seems to have become a sort of watchword; possibly forming part of an early liturgy.