Hebrew Catch Phrases(Idioms)

May 19, 2012 in Hebrew Understanding

It is indeed unfortunate that all of all the New testament writings, the words and sayings of Jesus himself are the most difficult to understand. Most Christians are unconsciously devoting the majority of their time in Bible study to the Epistles-almost completely ignoring the historical and Hebraic synoptic Gospels(Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Without really understanding why, they tend to “just read over” the Synoptic Gospels. Phrases such as “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven“(Matthew 5:3) sound so beautiful and poetic, but for the English speaker, do they convey any real depth of meaning?

Why are the words of Jesus that we find in the Synoptic Gospels so difficult to understand? The answer is that the original gospel that formed the basis for the Synoptic Gospels was first communicated, not in Greek, but in the Hebrew language. This means that we are reading English translations of a text which is itself a translation. Since the Synoptic Gospels are derived from an original Hebrew text, we are constantly “bumping into” Hebrew expressions or idioms which are often meaningless in Greek or in translations from the Greek.

The more Hebraic the saying or teaching of Jesus, the more difficult it is for us to understand. But it is just these Hebraic teachings that are often the strongest or most important. The difficulty arises because many of the sayings of Jesus are actually Hebrew idioms. An idiom is “an expression in the usage of a language, that is peculiar to itself either in grammatical construction or in having a meaning which cannot be derived as a whole from the conjoined meanings of its elements.” Some examples of English idioms would be: “Kill time,” or “Break a leg,” or “Eat your heart out.” Many of the idioms that Jesus used in his teachings can be understood only when properly interpreted in a Hebrew context.

I began my Bible reading as a teenager. My greatest difficulty was trying to understand the words of Jesus. I would note sayings of Jesus, such as

“For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31)

Picture a teenager trying to make sense out of such good King James English as,

I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled.? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished ! (Luke 12:49-50)

I would question my pastor or teachers or visiting seminary professors as to the meaning of such passages and would invariably receive the common response: “Just keep reading,son, the Bible will interpret itself.” The truth is one can keep reading the Bible forever, and the Bible will not tell them the meaning of these difficult passages. They can be understood only when translated back into Hebrew! These men of God I questioned could not help me; however, they cannot be blamed for the lack of an answer. No one had ever suggested to them that the most important tool for understanding the Bible_both Old and New testaments-is Hebrew,  and that Hebrew is the key to understanding the words of Yeshua(Jesus).

My reason for starting this website was to show that the original biography of Yeshua(Jesus) was communicated in the Hebrew language and that most of both, the Old and New Testaments can only be understood from a Hebraic perspective. For a more in depth study on the difficult phrases above;  see the post titled Green Tree for an explanation of Luke 23:31, and the post titled Baptism for an explanation of Luke 12:49-50

2 responses to Hebrew Catch Phrases(Idioms)

  1. “Thinking with your gut” or “trusting faith” are examples of idioms meaning “I’m too stupid to construct rational arguments” Or “I’m lying.”

    • Jared thanks for tkniag the time to respond. What I was trying to get at in terms of the experience of the average christian and the relationship of converts to elders, is that the average 1st century new convert never met anybody who actually knew Jesus.Sure, Paul certainly thought out his theology to a fairly large degree. The people he directly mentored were probably fairly well-trained. However, if you grew up in a suburb of Cairo and became a Christian in the year 60, would you have ever met any of those people? What percentage of Christians ever met an apostle, or heard a letter from one of them read to them in their lifetime?I think that when we read the Bible there is a natural tendency to think that the people who wrote it and read it were typical Christians. However, I suspect that this may not have been the case. Additionally, the Bible really gives the clearest picture of those who were discipled by Paul or his close followers. I’m not trying to imply that the NT isn’t representative of Christianity or anything like that. I just think that many of the things we most value in modern Christianity may not have been as highly valued in the first century. I’m sure the NT would have been highly valued if it existed for most believers, but many Christians managed to get by without having access to much of it.As far as modern services go I tend to agree with you that it is hard to break with tradition. I’ve tried to think of how church could work differently, although I think one difficulty I run into is that my picture of an ideal church service might be enjoyed by about 0.001% of the christian population. Sometimes I envision a choose your own service kind of setting where you have a few rooms with various types of worship going on for the full duration of the service, various rooms with various kinds of fellowship activities, various rooms with various kinds of teaching activities (from lecture/sermon-style presentations to small interactive classrooms), etc. Then people could essentially build their own service by walking into and out of various rooms. For this to work you’d probably need a really large church that could support all these redundant activities. You would also need lots of small/medium rooms and less of the big/large room that you find in a typical church. However, you would still want to have church-wide gatherings at times. You would also want to try to promote fellowship across the body as much as possible. I’m not sure how well it would actually work. If nothing else I could see endless battles between spouses about which parts of the service to attend.

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