Maranatha is an Aramaic expression used by St. Paul in 1 Cor 16.22 in its transliterated form μαραναθα. It must have originated in the early Aramaic–speaking Church of Palestine. The didache (10.6) indicates that it was apparently a liturgical acclamation like the Hebrew expressions hosanna and amen. Perhaps it was also used frequently by the charismatics who had the gift of tongues.
Since the Apostle did not translate or explain maranatha for his Greek–speaking readers, he must have presumed that they understood its significance. Now, however, its exact meaning and usage is uncertain. All agree that it is composed of two Aramaic elements: m ār ān (a ), "Our Lord" [from m ār, "lord," and –ān (a ), the suffix meaning "our"], plus ('ă) t ā', which, if read as t ā', would be the imperative "come!" but which, if read as 'ăt ā', would mean "has come."
If understood as an invocation, maranatha would be a prayer for the Parousia. Because of the liturgical context in which it occurs both in 1 Corinthians and in the Didache, this interpretation seems the more probable one and is confirmed by the closing words of the Revelation, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rv 22.20). Maranatha would then express both the Church's belief in the risen Jesus as the Lord (Phil 2.11) and its hope in His glorious coming at the last day, already anticipated and guaranteed by His presence in the Eucharist.
However, since maranatha occurs in 1 Cor 16.22 immediately after anathema ("If any man does not love the Lord, let him be anathema. Maranatha. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you."), some scholars prefer to regard the expression as part of the preceding curse formula, confirming the anathema by an appeal to the Lord who either has come or will come in judgment. This interpretation is already met with in the 4th century [ambrosiaster, Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne (Paris 1878–90) 17:276] and it seems to have led to the use of maranatha in formulas of excommunication or cursing. Thus, a 4th– or 5th–century inscription from Salamis threatens with ΑΝΑΘΕMΑ MΑRΑΝΑΘΑ anyone who dares to place another body in a certain tomb (A. Boeckh, Corp. Inscr. Gr. 4: 9303), and an excommunication formula of the Fourth Council of Toledo (A.D. 633) is anathema maranatha, which is explained as perditio in adventu Domini (perdition in the coming of the Lord). Nevertheless, this interpretation seems less probable than the one that understands the expression as a prayer for the Parousia.
Bibliography: c. f. d. moule, "A Reconsideration of the Context of Maranatha," New Testament Studies 6 (1959–60) 307–310. s. schulz, "Maranatha und Kyrios Jesus," Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Älteren Kirche 53 no. 3–4 (1962) 125–144. j. a. emerton, "Maranatha and Ephphatha," Journal of Theological Studies 18 (1967) 427–431. m. black, "The Maranatha Invocation and Jude 14,15 (1 Enoch 1:9)," in Christ and Spirit in the New Testament: In Honour of Charles Francis Digby Moule, s.s. smalley, ed. (Cambridge, Eng.1973) 189–196.