Friday, February 01, 2013

Faith is the substance of hope?

The unknown writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote (11:1):
“Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the proof of things not having been seen.”
Nowhere does the Bible say that “faith is the substance of hope.” So, what are these “things hoped for?” And, what exactly are their relationship to faith?
To be accurate, it is not “faith” that is referred to in Hebrews 11:1, but faithfulness, fidelity, or fealty. In other words, “loyalty to God.”
(Heb 11:1) estin de pistis elpizomenon upostasis, pragmaton elegxos ou blepomenon.
Upostasis (or hupostasis) is Greek for “to stand underneath” and is often translated as “substance” or “essence” or “basis.” Here, however, the writer refers to a more proper use of the word. A hupostasis is a document that confers a right, much like a title deed. Its use, like that of a deed or automobile title today, was to prove ownership. Think about a title deed used to prove the ownership of property, which cannot be physically brought forward to show ownership (for instance in a court of law). The title deed (or hupostasis) is produced as evidence of ownership (and existence) of the immobile property (the unseen thing).
According to the writer; ‘loyalty [to God]’ is, a title deed to "hoped for things" and also loyalty is evidence (not proof) of "things unseen." But, what are these "hoped for things" and "things unseen?"

If we look at Acts 23:6

But knowing that the one part consisted of Sadducees, and the other of Pharisees, Paul cried out in the sanhedrin, Men, brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am being judged concerning hope even resurrection of the dead!
And Acts 24:14-15

But I confess this to you that according to the Way, which they say is a sect, so I worship the ancestral God believing all things according to that having been written in the Law and the Prophets, having hope toward God, which these themselves also admit, of a resurrection being about to be of the dead, both of just and unjust ones.

And Acts 26:6-8:

And now for the hope of the promise having been made by God to the fathers, I stand being judged; to which our twelve tribes hope to arrive, worshiping in earnestness night and day, concerning which hope I am accused by the Jews, king Agrippa. Why is it judged unbelievable by you if God awakens the dead?
Now, it is clear that the “things hoped for” refer to the awakening (or arousal) of the dead to a new life.
A better translation:

Now, loyalty [to God] is a title deed to the resurrection of the dead; evidence of an unseen thing.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

This generation will not pass away...?

In Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32. Yeshua (Jesus) is quoted as saying, "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place." But, what did he mean by this statement? In order to understand, it is important of look at the context of the statement, and also to look at the word meaning.

In context, this statement must be speaking of the future. According to Matthew 24:3 (Syriac versions), Yeshua is responding to his disciples' question regarding "your coming and the age of shalom."

Some believe that Yeshua was proposing a rapid emergence of the "Kingdom of God," and anticipated that those living would see such an end. Others say that Yeshua was giving a prophecy with a "double fulfillment"--Some of what He was predicting was going to occur in that generation, some later. Yet another tortured explanation holds that Yeshua did not mean "this" generation, but "a" generation, meaning that the end would take place quickly (rather than soon).

Of course these explanations are not needed if one understands the meaning of the words used. The extant Greek versions of the Bible use the word genea, which is translated (normally) as the English "generation," which is understood to refer to related people living around the same time and making up a single step in a line of descent. Also, many commentators have pointed out that other references using the word genea refer to a single step or "generation." This, however is clearly untrue. The word appears thirteen times in the TR text of the gospels, and each time, it can (and does) refer to the Jewish race. In fact, in Luke 11:30, the word is equated to a race by the statement, "For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation (genea).

More importantly, the word appearing in extant Syriac texts for genea is sarbeta, "continuing." The words is also defined as "family stock."

The Syriac for Matthew 24:34 says:

amyn amrna lkwn dla tabr Shrbta hda adma dhlyn kwlhyn nhwyn

A better translation:

Truly I say to you (all) not abolished is this race until all these things they come to be.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Not peace, but a sword?

Matthew 10:34 quotes Yeshua as saying:

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword."

The meaning of these words have been highly debated. Some say that this verse points to proof that Yeshua advocated violence. Others struggle to show that the word for "sword" actually means something other than the violent idea it conjures. Most Christians believe that the sword is a metaphor for ideological conflict, rather than physical violence and that Yeshua did not advocate violence. A fair reading of the verse in context, however, leads to the conclusion that the word for "sword" actually does mean violence, and also an understanding of Syriac word-meaning leads to the conclusion that Yeshua was not advocating violence, but rather warning his disciples of the violence that they would soon bring upon themselves.

Matthew 10 tells of Yeshua sending his disciples out to minister to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He commanded his disciples to "heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give." This does not sound like the advocacy of violence.

In verse 13, Yeshua informs his disciples that they should not expect to be warmly received. He instructs them to depart from homes and cities that will not receive them. Yeshua then warned his disciples that they would encounter violent resistance on their ministry. In verse 16 he is quoted as saying, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves..."

So, the context of Matthew 10 is certainly one of shalom and not violence. What about word meaning? The Peshitta translates verse 34 as:


The key word is DARMA (or DA'RMA) - "to place." But, the common Syriac use of this word included a causative sense "to cause to come," or "to bring about," or "to arouse." It is this sense that Yeshua intended it. Additionally, he forms an interesting wordplay between the words DA'RMA (to bring about), which has an idiomatic meaning of "slaughter" and XRBA (sword), which also means slaughter. He was warning his disciples that their actions would soon bring a slaughter (XRBA) upon themselves.

A better translation:

"Do not suppose I come to arouse tranquility in the land, I have not come to arouse tranquility, but rather, a slaughter."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Sign of Jonah?

In Matthew 12:39, Yeshua is recorded as saying to the gathered Pharisees, "...An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but there shall be given no sign to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah."

Many have understood this verse to be an unequivocal claim to "messiahship" made by Yeshua. That Yeshua was saying that Jonah was a “sign” to his generation even as the he, Yeshua would be to his. However, understood in context, the verse is a simple reference to an old testament event with definite meaning. Its meaning is complicated by the following verse (40), "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly: so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

First of all, verse 40 begins in a way ( "ὥσπερ γὰρ", "just as") that implies that it is a clarifying (or parenthetical) comment of the gospel writer, and not Yeshua's; . Also, it refers to an event that was yet to happen at the time Yeshua was speaking. These two facts lend support to the notion that it is not original to Yeshua. It also indicates that the Gospel writer (or more likely translator) misunderstood the reference to Jonah as well.

Yeshua's reference to the "sign of Jonah" would have been well-understood by those listening. In order to comprehend it, we must look at the story of Jonah:

Jonah was a prophet who was ordered by God to go to the city of Nineveh to prophesy against it "for their great wickedness is come up before me" Jonah instead flees from "the presence of the Lord" by going to Jaffa and sailing to Tarshish. He is then tossed overboard and famously swallowed by a fish. This diversion has hindered the interpretation of Jonah's story for centuries.

Jonah fled from God, not because he feared the Ninevites, but because he disagreed with God's plan for them. Nineveh was a wicked city on a caravan road at the banks of the Tigres river. Jonah knew that the Ninivites had invited God's wrath and were deserving of nothing short of destruction. Jonah also knew that the only chance that the Ninevites had of survival was if God sent them a warning and that they subsequently heeded that warning. Jonah had predicted the outcome; namely that he would prophecy to the Ninevites, and that they would repent and be saved. This was the last thing that Jonah wanted, and, although it was God's will, Jonah tried to flee to avoid its implementation.

Eventually, Jonah went to Nineveh and gave Yahweh's message to the people there. Jonah then "went out and sat down at a place east of the city, and there he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city." Predictably, the city repented and it was spared. This angered Jonah and He said to God, " this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.... Now, O Yahweh, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live." This is when the "sign of Jonah" or more appropriately, "Jonah's sign" appeared.

Jonah 5:6-7 tells us that: "Yahweh God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. But, at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered." God explained to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," Jonah replied.

But Yehweh said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But, Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"

So, "Jonah's sign," is the vine, which in Hebrew idiom represents Israel. God is chastising Jonah for being concerned only for the fate of the vine (Israel) and not the fate of the great city (representing all of the nations), which is much more extensive.

Looking back to Matthew, the writer, at verse 18, had quoted Isaiah saying, "In his name the gentiles will put their hope." This is an astounding statement. When Yeshua later healed a man (probably a Roman given the context), some of the Pharisees accused him of being Beelzebub (a gentile pagan god). Others were not sure, and Matthew tells us that some of them asked to see a miraculous sign. Recall that they had just witnessed him healing a man. So, what did they want to see? Presumably, they were asking Yeshua to show a sign, which was undeniably from Yahweh. In other words prove that he was a Jewish prophet of the Jewish God, Yahweh and not Beelzebub or some other God of the Gentiles (nations). Yeshua responded, "none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah."

In other words, Yeshua was saying, (paraphrase), "Why are you concerned about Jews only?" Like the vine of Jonah, the Pharisees did nothing to create Israel or to "make it grow." Like Niniveh, the numbers of Gentiles are great. Should Yeshua not be concerned about them?

Astoundingly, Yeshua was declaring himself as the hope of all mankind, not just the Jews. Just as Yahweh demonstrated to Jonah at Niniveh that he was the hope of all mankind.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Gospel Enigma?

Over at, they wonder about the "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." As they see it, it is this so-called "baptism of repentance" that ensures a remission from sin, rather than the death of the messiah Yeshua on the cross. I agree with their viewpoint, but it is no enigma. Let's look.

First of all, the Hebrew word for repentance is teshuvah. As I have pointed out (, the "baptism of repentance" is better understood as an "immersion in teshuvah."

The concept of immersion (greek baptizo) could be used to mean the traditional immersion in water, but it was also an idiom which meant a complete and utter dedication to a course of action, or duty. In Matthew 20:22 Yeshua used the term in this way.
"... Yeshua said, You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup which I am about to drink, and to be baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized?..."
Likewise at Luke 12:50, Yeshua used the term in this way again.
"But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I besieged till it be accomplished!"
In other words, a complete and utter surrender to the performance of duty (in this case equity) in all interpersonal relations. For what reason? For the "remission (or release) of sin."

It is important, however, to understand that this act of baptism, contrary to modern Christian belief, was not intended to release the one baptized from sin, but the one for whom the act of equity was performed. In other words, Yeshua believed that a community focused on performing teshuvah (acts of equity) would experience a release from the ravages of sin and a return to a state of shalom.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Peter the "Rock?"

Matthew 16:18 says:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of hell will not overcome it.

A number of Christian denominations and scholars hold that Simon Peter was the most prominent of the apostles, favored by Jesus of Nazareth with the first place of honor and authority. This doctrine is known as the Primacy of Simon Peter or the Petrine Primacy. This highly debated point is often reduced to a discussion of the meaning and translation of the above verse.

Roman Catholic views differ from those of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Reformed Churches, which differ from each other. Many hold that the term epi taute to petra "upon this rock" refers to Peter. The Greek shifts bluntly from the masculine petros (rock) to the femenine toute to petra (this rock) too freely. There is really no need for the Greek writer to shift gender here. Greek has a perfectly good masculine phrase for "this rock" - touto petros. The gender shift must reflect another meaning. But, it would be superficial to base doctrine on a gender shift in the Greek alone.

In Matthew, 7:24, Yeshua is recorded as saying: "So, everyone who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will compare him to a wise man who built his house on the rock" "Rock" here is rendered petran - feminine accusative (a direct object). Of course, in this verse, Yeshua is not referring to building a real house upon a real rock, but rather the building of a lineage (see "Wisdom is Justified?") upon the sound foundation of the Rabbi's instructions. This was a common idea in early rabbinic times. It was the responsibility of the Rabbi to interpret Torah and the traditions to establish a relevant set of guidelines for (then) contemporary use. The goal of the Rabbi was to build a following or assembly of loyal adherents who would "hear and do" his words, thus building a lineage which would live on beyond himself and reproduce itself. But, the key to building a lineage was for the disciples to repeat the rabbi's teachings.

Yeshua is referring to this concept when mentions the "rock" with respect to Peter at Matthew 16:8:
"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against her. "

In Rabbinic times, it was common for sages (chokmah) to train their followers to follow in their footsteps and Yeshua does so for his disciples too (first Simon, then all of his followers) when he says (at Matthew 16:19): "And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. And whatever you bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven. And whatever you may loose on the earth shall be, having been loosed in Heaven." In other words, the "rock" that Yeshua was building upon was the secret, and unconventional wisdom that he taught.

The Great Commission

Matthew 28:18 -20 says:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.(KJV)

The first interesting thing about this saying is the reference to "all power." The Greek word used here is exousia, which Thayer translates (primarily) as "liberty," or "power of choice." But, the word literally means "to be out." The word translates (according to the Peshitta) the Aramaic word Sholtana (authority). But, in the trilingual world of first-century Galillee, the word actually translates the Hebrew word koach, which means "to chastise," or "to prove."

Idiomatically however, the word was a shortcut to the thought "koach ha'toladah" "strength of the bearing." In other words--the vigor (of either mother or child) to endure childbirth. The primitive Hebrew and Greek cultures believed that the labor pains experienced by women while giving birth were the struggles of the child to exit the womb--literally fighting its way out. They further believed that only those children with the strength to get out, and those mothers with the strength to bear would survive. But, to the Hebrew sages, the word had much more significance. Koach represented the capacity (a grant of God) to procreate ad infinitum--to produce a "house" or lineage of adherents.

2Ki 19:3 says:
And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength (koach) to give birth.
Also, Hebrews 11:11 says:
Also by faith Sarah herself received strength (koach) for conceiving seed even beyond the time of age, and gave birth; since she deemed the One having promised to be faithful.
It is evident from these verses that the word (koach) translated as "strength" actually means "vigor." The writer of the Gospel according to John intended the same thought at 1:12:

Joh 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave strength to become children of God, to the ones being faithful to His name.

It is in this context that Yeshua is referring. He believed that his father had given him infinite vigor or vitality to bear (or sire) "children of God." This being so, in Matthew 28, he was telling his disciples how to do so.

Now, the second sentence of this reading--the so-called "great commission"-- is strangely written, even for Greek. It's unusual use of participles ("going," baptizing, teaching) has made precise meaning difficult to grasp. The Greek participle poreuthentes is used by Matthew most commonly to describe action to be taken up after (or as) "going" somewhere. For example, in Matthew 2:8 Yeshua instructs his followers to search after they arrive at the place where he had sent them--namely Bethlehem:

And sending them to Bethlehem, he said, Having gone, exactly inquire about the child. And when you find him, bring me word again so that coming (elthon), I may also worship him

But, a better Greek match would be Matthew 9:13, in which Yeshua instructs a gathered crowd to poreuthentes de mathete, which is often translated as "go learn." In this context Yeshua is not commanding them to physically "go" anywhere; He is commanding them to learn the meaning of the quote from Hosea 6:6. Effectively, he is saying, "go your way and learn this," or "take yourself and learn this..." The best translation of this idiom might be to leave the term "go" off entirely.

In other words, while the word should not be translated as the emphatic imperitive "go," it does attach itself idiomatically to the following verb (mathete in 9:13; matheteusate in 28:19). Thus, a proper translation would be "go teach." This use of "go" is similar to, and probably should be taken as equal to the English idioms, "go on," or "go ahead." In other words, "proceed to teach."

But, it is important to remember that the original thought expressed here was brought to the Greek by way of the Aramaic oral tradition. This is perhaps the reason that it seems oddly-written. The word for "go" in Aramaic is zlw ("go you") and it was used figuratively to mean "do this." In the Peshitta, the Aramaic understanding of the term mathete, in Matthew 9:13 is YLPW, "learn you", while the word used in Matthew 28:19 for matheteusate is TLMDW. "indoctrinate them" (literally "you will goad them.").

But, who are the disciples to indoctrinate? The Greek term used here is panta ta ethne (literally, "all the peoples"), and this term (which appears 16 times in the New Testament, is almost exclusively used quite literally to mean "everyone," and means all people (i.e., regardless of their tribe). This phrase has single-handedly driven, for centuries, a call to the faithful to engage in foreign missions. But, it really was intended to mean all people without discrimination.

A better translation:

And Yeshua came and spoke to them, saying, "Infinite vigor, was given to me. Therefore go do this--indoctrinate everyone, (baptizing them in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the spirit of holiness, teaching them to keep all I have commanded.) And, look, I'll be with you every day, even until the completion of the age."