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Hebrew or Greek?


When Messiah Yeshua arose from the dead and His disciples began to spread the Good News of the Kingdom, they lived in a very diverse world. Their religious life and frame of reference was Biblical and part of the nascent Judaism of the day, and they never seem to have thought of themselves as other than people living a life of devotion to the Almighty. Now that they knew Yeshua’s true Identity, their devotion and service to the Father also meant devotion and service to His Son.

Theirs was a world where they also interacted with Romans and Greek culture had had a deep influence for over two centuries. When they began to preach the Good News, they did so on the first Shavuot* to the crowds in Jerusalem, who were both Jews and Gentile proselytes (Acts 2:11) they did so to people from all over the world. When the Brit Hadasha was written they wrote according to their personalities, educations and backgrounds. This means we can understand the Scriptures so much better when we understand more about who the writers the Spirit inspired were, and the way they thought.

The Brit Hadasha was written in Greek and until recently most often interpreted by Europeans, whose cultures have been greatly influenced by their Roman and Greek heritage. This means that there have been almost 2,000 years of interpretation of the Bible that reads it in light of its “Greek” mindset, all too often this has been at the expense of understanding the Hebrew and Jewish mindset of the writers.

What is important is also to remember that there can sometimes be a false dichotomy between “Greek” and “Hebrew” thought, and that we can throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yochanan*** 1:1 is an example, as the “Word” spoken of has layers of meaning that draw not only upon Hebrew but also Greek thought.

So.

Should we read the Scripture with a ‘Greek’ mindset or a ‘Hebrew’ one? Sometimes the answer is both. Earlier we noted Yohanan* 1:1 and its layers of meaning that draw on both Hebrew and Greek thought. We should also look at what we might think is the most Jewish of all Jewish quotations in the Gospels. It is Yeshua quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, quoted twice daily in Jewish prayer. In Deuteronomy, Israel is told to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’.

What is interesting is that Mark cites Yeshua saying this (Mark 12:30, 37). When Yeshua quotes it He adds the word dianoia (which basically means ‘heart’ or ‘mind’). It can’t be that Mark didn’t know the Shema and got it wrong. Apart from the fact that we hold the Scriptures to be inerrant, he correctly quotes it three verses later in 12:33.
The common explanation is that Yeshua was stressing the intellectual aspect of the Shema. Knowing that those He spoke to knew the exact words, He paraphrased for the sake of emphasis, in a form of midrash (interpretation).

It must be remembered that when the Shema is recited it is accompanied by the recitation of the following verses. In those verses Israel is told to teach the commandments to one’s children, to talk of them throughout the day, to bind them on one’s hand and forehead and gates. These verses stress the internalising and understanding of the Shema and all that it entails – using one’s mind.

We can see why, then, Yeshua emphasised understanding, but the scribe’s response is interesting. Picking up on Yeshua’s emphasis he says ‘heart, understanding and strength’, replacing Yeshua’s “dianoia” with his own word for ‘understanding’, one that emphasises intelligence and sharp thinking. That is both a value of rabbinic thinking, which highly values acuteness of mind to study Torah, and of the influential Greek culture, which also highly valued the intellect.

In fact, there is something deeper going on under the surface, as after the exchange with the scribe ‘no one dared to ask him any more questions’. For us one lesson to learn is that part of loving God with all of our ‘heart, mind and soul’ is to love Him with all of our intellect.

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