UNDERSTANDING THE NEW TESTAMENT FROM A HEBREW PERSPECTIVE
by Peter Michas
I am a Greek-American born of Greek parents, raised in a Greek environment. I have been around Greek culture, language, and customs all my life.
About ten years ago, an elderly gentleman came into my life, shared the Scriptures with me, and told me what it really means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I had already left the Greek Orthodox Church, having become disillusioned by all of their doctrines and traditions, and I really didn't want to hear any more about "religion" - period! I questioned everything the gentleman had to say, but, thank God, he persevered. He proved to me through the Scriptures the truth of God's word.
After I accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as my personal savior, I began to read my Greek Bible, and I noticed that in many cases the English meanings did not agree with those of the Greek. I also noticed that the Greek was not really Greek but that much of what was written was really Hebrew words spelled with Greek letters.
I pursued this inconsistency and discovered that much Scripture was from a Semitic (Hebrew) original. To confirm this discovery, I went to the Jewish bookstores in Los Angeles. I bought many books, and to my astonishment I found that almost everything in the New Testament had a parallel in the Old Testament or in other Jewish sources corresponding to or pre-dating the time of Jesus.
The daily use of the Old Testament was a principal concern of the writers of the New Testament; for what was there but the Old Testament as well as other oral and written works and commentaries. Throughout the New Testament the writers were basically arranging and commenting on common Jewish knowledge and the Law of God, both oral and written.
One fact I might stress is that the students of the Old Testament do not necessarily need to have the New Testament to know God, because under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit they can draw from the Old Testament and other Jewish sources and come to know the fulfillment of Scripture the same way that the writers of the New Testament did. But the reverse is not true.
Once a person has discovered that Yeshua is the fulfillment, he or she is then ready to learn the complete meaning of that fulfillment. Again, we do not necessarily need the New Testament to come to this understanding. From the Old Testament, we could almost completely compile another New Testament, minus historical events. The New Testament does give us information from the Old Testament and other Jewish sources, as well as historical facts and the cultural setting of the time. However, from the New Testament alone, we cannot reassemble the Old Testament, but can only guess as to its content.
We need to go back a few centuries to the translating of the Old Testament into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint (the "seventy") and was written around 284-247 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt by, according to popular tradition, seventy Jewish elders.
By 331 B.C., there were Jews all over the Middle East, and Greek was the common spoken language on many of the trading routes. Greek was also the language spoken by the majority of people in the synagogues outside of Israel, making it extremely difficult to read the Hebrew Scriptures to Greek-speaking people. This created a need to translate the Hebrew into Greek.
Hebrew is a pictorial, realistic language and does not have the concept of "past, present, and future," but has a verb construction called "vav conversive." To quote from a textbook called Contemporary Hebrew, "some of the outstanding features of biblical Hebrew is the use of vav conversive with verbs. When the conjunction 'and' (vav) is prefixed to the past (perfect) tense, it changes its meaning to future (imperfect). When the vav is prefixed to the future (imperfect), it changes its meaning to the past (perfect)."
The Hebrew thought imparted is that God spoke everything in the beginning and it is either completed or being completed. The Greek thought is just the opposite, which presents us with our first problem.
In Greek, we have a tense of verbs called aorist, meaning nondefined. Some non-Greeks using Seminar Greek will tell you that this is past tense, but it is not. It derives its tense from Hebrew thought. Aorist tense comes from the past and is current in the present (whenever it is read-that is, the present), and in the future it will still be current. This first problem of tenses was solved by writing most of the Hebrew in aorist tense, thereby retaining its Hebrew thought.
The second problem was the fact that Hebrew is pictorial and realistic, while Greek is analytical and scientific. There was no simple way around this. The next step required the elders who were extremely qualified in Hebrew and Greek, and in the cultures of both peoples, as well as the Scriptures, to become very creative with classical Greek. They combined additional letters and sometimes even other words to allow the Greek to create the same pictures. When this was accomplished, the people of all lands could read the Scriptures with the Hebrew context and meaning retained.
The third problem was the fact that Hebrew was created around a monotheistic God and Greek around pantheism. This was resolved in the fact that Greek, as well as Hebrew, can have words that are plural with a singular result, such as Elohim in Hebrew and Pneumati in Greek.
When the wandering rabbi of Jesus' day taught, his disciples would transcribe his sayings and his quotes from Scripture, as well as any teaching that he did, in the form of Haggadah and Halachah (parables and laws). This was probably the case with Jesus as well. The disciples were his chief learners who, in turn, were to make learners out of future generations in keeping with Hebrew customs of passing instruction from generation to generation as with Hillel, Akiva, and Rambam.
The big difference between Judea and Alexandria is that, in Judea, Hebrew was not a dormant language in biblical studies. In fact, it was a living language of conversation and study. So as Jesus' disciples wrote down what he said, it was in Hebrew with pure Hebrew thought-the language of the Old Testament.
In summation, since the New Testament is Greek written to convey Hebrew ideas, why stop at the Greek when we have the root benchmark which is Hebrew. The New Testament is a briefing of the Jewish traditional works of Mishnah, Haggadah, Halachah, Talmud, and Midrash, inspired by God from the common people, translated and transliterated into Greek, the language of all Anglo-European thought and concepts.
The main purpose of this article is to show that what is written in the New Testament is actually pulled from the Old Testament and other Jewish writings with the exception of some historical events. The Old Testament and other Jewish writings, being pure Hebrew and Aramaic, have stood the tests of time and languages. For even today, the Hebrew language is almost exactly the same as the Hebrew of Jesus' day and before. The proof of this is to be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Therefore, should we not approach our studies of the New Testament by returning to the original concepts stemming from Hebrew words, thoughts, and traditions of Jesus' day?
Unfortunately, the English Bible is not nearly as carefully or prayerfully translated as we have been led to believe. Until we go back to the benchmark works and understand them as God intended, we will remain in division and denomination. God gave Adam the earth in perfect order and Adam allowed it to become a mess. God gave us the divinely inspired Scriptures in the language he selected to communicate his word and will, and in our translations we have created confusion.
God is not the author of confusion. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He made us to be free will agents of whatever he gives us, and it is up to each one of us to study to show ourselves approved before him because we know how to correctly interpret and understand his word.
Yavo Digest Vol. 1, No. 3, 1987
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Last updated 4 April 2020