The Languages and the Torah
The Languages of 1st century Israel
The four predominant languages spoken in Israel during the time of Yeshua were:
- Latin, the language of the ruling power.
- Greek, the language of the Hellenistic rule from the time of Alexander.
- Aramaic, a branch of the Semitic family of languages, especially the language of Syria, used as a common language amongst cultures of the Near East from the 6th Century BC.
- Hebrew, the Biblical language of the Old Testament.
Dwight Prior points out that “a widely held, and virtually unchallenged assumption, among New Testament scholars since the 19th Century is that Aramaic (a language the Jewish exiles brought back from Babylon) was the common spoken language of ordinary Jewish people in the Second Temple times – not Hebrew” (D. A. Pryor, Behold the Man, Centre for Judaic Christian studies, 2005.P50).
Evidence that Hebrew was the language spoken by Jews during the Gospel period:
- The study of the Dead Sea Scrolls has confirmed that Hebrew was commonly spoken at the time of the Second Temple.
- Coins have been found from the period with Hebrew inscriptions.
- The Jewish Historian Josephus refers to people speaking Hebrew at this time.
- Simon Bar Kokhba (“son of the star”) was a messianic figure who lead a revolt against the Romans in AD 132. In the 1960s, several letters written by Bar Kokhba were discovered, the letters were written in Aramaic and Hebrew. This reveals that Hebrew was still spoken in Israel a century after Yeshua.
- Ancient Jewish religious literature, such as the Mishnah (Oral Law), Torah commentaries, and Jewish parables, are all in Hebrew.
“During that period (of Yeshua’s lifetime) Hebrew was both the daily language and language of study. Today, after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Bar Kokhba letters, and in the light of more powerful studies of the language of the Jewish sages, it is accepted that most people were fluent in Hebrew. The question of the spoken language is especially important for understanding the teachings of Jesus. There are sayings of Jesus that can be rendered both into Hebrew and into Aramaic, but there were some that can only be rendered into Hebrew. And, there are none that can be rendered only into Aramaic. One can demonstrate, therefore, the Hebrew origins of the Gospels by translating them back into Hebrew” (Jewish Sources in Early Christianity [Adama; Jerusalem]).
The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) are very similar, recording many of the same accounts of Yeshua, in most cases in the same order and with the same wording. So Biblical scholars have long debated which Gospel was written first, and used as a source for the other two. Many believed that the source Gospel was Mark as about 93% of the material in Mark is found in either Matthew or Luke. The question to answer then, is, did Mark take material from both Matthew and Luke, or did Matthew and Luke take material from Mark?
In the 1940s Dr. Robert Lindsey (1) translated the gospels into Hebrew. The Greek of Matthew and Luke lent itself beautifully to Hebrew translation. In other words, they were originally written in Hebrew, and then later translated to Greek. The original text source is thought then to be Matthew. Tax collectors were in the habit of keeping extensive notations of the livelihood productivity and taxes paid by citizens. Matthew (a tax collector) was therefore most likely to have kept notes on the three and a half years of the ministry of Jesus.
- (1) The work of Dr. Robert Lindsey is recorded in D. A. Pryor’s book Behold the Man, Centre for Judaic Christian studies, 2005. (P50).
A Gentile Yeshua
The widely held, and virtually unchallenged assumption, amongst New Testament scholars since the 1800s, has been that Aramaic was the common spoken language of ordinary Jews in the Second Temple times. Why did so many scholars accept that Second Temple Jews spoke Aramaic?
The answer is replacement theology. The continual indoctrination of the Church into believing in a Gentile Jesus, separated from His Hebraic roots, encouraged the belief that God was finished with the Jews. Much has been done in the name of Christian anti-Semitism to divorce Yeshua from Judaism. Ensuring that people believed that He did not speak the language of the despised Jew was one of the methods.
When I was living in Israel I felt that the Lord was urging me to take a course in the study of Hebrew; the course was expensive, but after three lessons you had the option to discontinue the course if you wished, and to be refunded your money. So, after three lessons I was asked by my tutor if I wanted to continue with the course; I then asked her what reason she could give me for continuing the study. She looked at me as if my IQ score had dropped below 60 and said, “It is the language of God!” – I completed the course.
An Example of Scriptural Error
Some translations have a bias towards replacement theology, where Yeshua is separated from His Jewish roots by having Him speak Aramaic:
“Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek (NIV)” (John 19:19-20).
The languages used for the inscription were:
- Latin – the official language of Rome.
- Greek – the universal language of the Roman Empire.
- Hebrew – the sacred language of the Jews.
The Torah consists of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – called the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. Its writings give guidance, direction, instruction and teaching.
Psalms 1, 19 and 119 exalt and extol the wonders of God’s Torah, “Oh how I love your Torah! It is my meditation both day and night (Psalm 119:97).”
In the Septuagint, the word Torah is translated as law. The English word “law” has a negative ring to it, and this legal connotation has been emphasised in Christian circles. The “Mosaic law” is seen as a heavy burden, something from which to be set free. A belief which is encouraged by the doctrine of replacement theology. Not surprisingly, Jesus is then seen as the liberator from “the curse of the law.”
Yeshua’s relationship with the Torah
The Gospel of John tells us that Yeshua is the Torah – “in the beginning was the word.” In Jewish tradition, the Torah was considered pre-existent and God’s agent in creation.
John tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us (1:14),” – said another way, Yeshua became Torah incarnate.
“For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
The Torah was always viewed by Israel as a gift of God’s grace, given to a redeemed people, to provide them with the guidance, direction and instruction as to how to live holy lives, as an elect covenant people.
Yeshua did not change the law, He fulfilled the law – Matthew 5:18: “”For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not a jot (smallest letter, yod), not a tittle (decorative stroke, kortz), will pass from the law until all is accomplished”. Where Yeshua had conflict with the Pharisees on issues of the law, it was because of their errors in interpreting the Torah, and making it a burden.
The Torah consists of 613 commandments that include “positive commandments”, to perform an act, and “negative commandments”, to abstain from certain acts. The negative commandments number 365, which coincides with the number of days in the solar year, and the positive commandments number 248, a number ascribed to the number of bones and main organs in the human body.
The problem with the Jewish law arose after the Babylon captivity, when a commentary on the Mosaic Law was introduced called the Mishnah. These laws were additional, man-made rules that “built a fence” around the Mosaic Law, so that people wouldn’t even come close to breaking God’s commandments. It was over these laws that Yeshua clashed with the Pharisees, who were always keen to show their outward “righteousness” by ensuring strict observance of these laws.
An example of the strict Mishnah laws are the many kosher laws, for example: The requirement of separating meat and dairy because of the scripture, “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk (Deut. 14:21).”
Take Yeshua’s yoke upon you
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).
The yoke of the Pharisees was burdensome, and too heavy to carry – Yeshua’s yoke is light.
So, what is Yeshua’s yoke?
“Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
So Yeshua’s two commandments are:
- Deuteronomy 6:5 – “You shall love the Lord your God…”
- Leviticus 19:18 – “you shall love your neighbour…”
Yeshua reveals the fact that all the commandments are fulfilled in these two. By loving God, you fulfil the first five commandments, and by loving your neighbour you fulfil the last five commandments. The two commandments Yeshua gave are in fact one, the second fulfils the first. Your neighbour is created in the image of God!
Learn from Me
The Hebrew word for knowledge da’at, connotes an intimate relationship, not merely head knowledge or information. The more one gets to know a person, through his word and communication, the deeper one’s relationship becomes. Yeshua is the Living Word, the Torah Incarnate; therefore, the more we study His teachings and hide them in our hearts, the more we will come to know Him (and to be known by Him), and become empowered to do as He does.
An example of the importance of God’s Word is seen in the fact that the first song in God’s worship hymnal – i.e. The Book of Psalms – is a wisdom psalm, more suited one would think for the book of Proverbs. The Psalm speaks of two clearly distinguishable paths, one for the righteous and one for the wicked.
Some have called the first psalm the Psalm of Psalms (the Psalms unlock the Bible’s meaning). The very first verse defines the whole of the book of psalms “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked (ungodly)”. Those that obey God’s word are “blessed,” the Hebrew being makarios, which is translated as blessed, or sometimes as happy. True happiness comes from being blessed by God, and to be blessed by God one needs to walk in His ways. The psalmist uses the verb “walk” to describe the choice the individual makes, as our choices lead to a path of actions.
Note that the “blessed” is plural, i.e. there is more than one blessing involved in walking with God, and walking with God is a prerequisite for the blessings.
Psalm 1, the introductory Psalm, does not start with “I will praise you, O Lord with all of my heart” (Psalm 138:1), but rather a sound instruction that worship is more than songs of Praise. Obedience to God is the highest form of worship, and carries the greatest blessings. That is why Psalm 1 is the introductory psalm. Let us continue to interpret the psalm up to verse 2 for confirmation:
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,”
The psalmist uses synonymous parallelism to repeatedly reinforce his point – our actions are a consequence of our choices. Then as further emphasis, the psalmist uses verbs to highlight that life’s errors are influenced by who we choose to associate with. The unrighteous (and therefore not blessed by God), “walk in step with the wicked’, “stand in the way the sinners take” and “sit in the company of mockers.” The righteous will be found in God’s House, with God’s people, doing God’s work. The unrighteous will be drawn to the things of the world that separate man from God, they will walk in the way of the sinners, stand with the ungodly and sit in the council of the wicked.
The psalmist is recommending separation from the world and the philosophies of man. When we allow the world to break into our lives, we allow the world to drive our thoughts – and the ideology of the world is dominated by self-indulgence and pride. The warning is clear: stay away from the path of sinners and avoid worldly council i.e. man’s wisdom. Believers are to influence the world, not the other way around – we are in the world, but not of the world.
“but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”
Those whose ‘delight is in the law of the Lord,” – it implies, constantly – will spend time not only reading the Word and hearing it expounded, but also in relationship with God. The two are inseparable due to the Holy Spirit. For it is the Holy Spirit that guides us through God’s Word. Spend time reading your Bible and you are spending time with God the Holy Spirit, while getting to know God the Son. We should saturate ourselves in God’s Word, dive in head first and linger, allowing the waters of the Spirit to minister to us.
Christian meditation involves spending time chewing the cud on what scriptures you have read, or what message you have heard preached, and then internalising the Word. It is during these times of drawing close to God through His Word, that the Holy Spirit works to bring insight and understanding. God does not allow breaks from spending time with Him, we are to meditate on His Word day and night, each day and every day. Intake of the Word equals growth as a believer.
An important note: Christian meditation is not the eastern religions practice i.e. an emptying out of the mind to become one with the universe. Christians meditate on God’s Word, becoming one with the Word of God – Yeshua.
“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life”(Deuteronomy 30:19).
The Jewish letter Chai means life:
The cross also means life:
God Repeatedly warns Against Corrupting His Word:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll” (Revelation 22:18).
“Do not add to what I command you, and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
“Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
“Do not add to His word or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar” (Proverbs 30:6).
These warnings are not a reference to Bible believing commentators of the Word who mistakenly translate some passage and inadvertently minimize it. The Lord’s warning here is addressed to those who engage in deliberate falsification or misinterpretation of Scripture, those who Paul denounces as peddlers of the Word of God, (2 Cor. 2:17). God will also hold accountable those who use man’s wisdom, and man’s philosophies to interpret scripture – they are taking that which God has ordained through the Hebraic culture and incorrectly interpreting it through Greek Philosophy.
Replacement theology – which has its roots in anti-Semitism, birthed by the Catholic Church – has resulted in a rejection of Hebraic thinking, and therefore the use of Western thought and understanding in interpreting scripture.
- Yeshua and the disciples spoke Hebrew.
- The Torah was always viewed by Israel as a gift of God’s grace, given to a redeemed people, to provide them with guidance, direction and instruction as to how to live holy lives, as an elect covenant people.
- Yeshua is the Torah – the Word.
- The Torah is eternal, not a jot or tittle will be lost. The Torah is meant for love and life, and as talmidim (students) of Yeshua we are to conform to His image.
- Yeshua’s yoke: “Love God” & “Love thy neighbour” are combined into one! So, there is really only one commandment. The requirement to love God is also a requirement to love others. All of mankind is made in the image of God, so when we love others, we are showing our love for God.
- The study of God’s Word is worship.
- God warns against corrupting His Word