Appendix B

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The Model for the Messianic Community
by
Ari Levitt*

Appendix B.
Evidences for a Hebrew Source
of the Apostolic Scriptures

This Appendix is based strongly on the Internet article “In Which Language was the ‘New Testament’ Originally Written?” by Rabbi Julio Dam. It was found on the Internet at numerous different locations. The original document was probably posted at Geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/7775/Language.htm, which no longer exists on the Internet. Rabbi Dam was, at the time the article was written, the spiritual leader of Messianic Congregation Beit Shalomin Asuncion, Paraguay.

The Importance of Discovering the Original Language

Why is it important to discover the language in which the Apostolic Scriptures (the B’rit Hadasha or so-called “New Testament” documents) were originally written?

As pointed out by Messianic Pastor Julio Dam, each individual language possesses an inner structure, a specific flavor, and idioms of its own, which provide each language with a unique cultural background.

All of these elements shape the way that those speaking a given language actually think, and make it important that we know for certain in which language the Apostolic Scriptures were originally written.

To understand the teaching of Yeshua and His talmidim more precisely and with any real depth of comprehension, it would be ideal if we could read their words in the actual language in which they were originally spoken or written, because a language’s words, especially its idioms, are only fully comprehensible in the context of that language. The second best condition would be to attempt to reconstruct the original text from the language one has at hand. However, to literally translate words, especially idioms, from one language to another often only makes them absurd and reveals their foreign origin. In fact, we use many words every day that would either have a completely different meaning, or perhaps make no sense at all, if translated literally into another language.

For example, in English we use the term “my darling” as a term of endearment. When we want to express that same term of endearment in Spanish, we would use the term “mi vida” which, if translated literally back into English, would come back as “my life”—a phrase that may have a totally different meaning in a different context.

Another example of a literal translation taking on an entirely different meaning is the result of an early experiment in computer-generated translation. The scientists working on the project wished to develop a computer program that could translate between English and Russian. After creating complete dictionaries for both languages and creating the cross-references between the two languages, they had the computer translate the well-known English phrase “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” into Russian. They then took the Russian result and translated it directly back into English with the following result: “The vodka is fine, but the meat has spoiled.”

Idioms compound the problem, because we use many idiomatic expressions that we don’t even think of as idioms.

For example, what does “taking my hair” mean in English? It could mean several different things, depending upon the context in which it was used. However, if (a) we understand that “taking my hair” is the literal translation of the Spanish idiom “tomar el pelo,” and (b) we understand that it is being used in its idiomatic context, then we can translate it dynamically instead of literally and arrive at the intended English equivalent idiom, “pulling my leg.” But in order to translate the phrase and arrive at the originally intended meaning, one has first to know that it was originally spoken or written in Spanish, and that it was intended in its idiomatic sense. Only then one may try to find an equivalent idiom in English, as we did.

On the other hand, if we assumed that “tomar el pelo” was originally spoken or written in French, we would be at a total loss to find anything in French like “prenez les cheveaux,” the literal translation. We would therefore erroneously conclude that the original writer had a poor grasp of French.

This is exactly what happened with the original language of the Apostolic Scriptures, as we shall try to prove, with the “French” in our hypothetical example standing for Greek and/or Aramaic, and our “Spanish” for Hebrew.

What we will try to prove, then, is that the original language of the Apostolic Scriptures was neither Greek nor Aramaic (as popularly believed), but Hebrew — the same Hebrew that the original Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh, or so-called “Old Testament”) was written in. It is only natural that the language of the Apostolic Scriptures should be Hebrew, since we are dealing with the same country, only in a latter period of its history.

Are there any proofs that the original language was Hebrew, and not Greek or Aramaic? Yes, there most definitely are, both external and internal to the Scriptures. We will deal with the external proofs first.

External Proofs for a Hebrew Original

There are several external sources (i.e., outside Scripture) that point to Hebrew as the written language of the Apostolic Scriptures, as Dr. David Bivin has most eloquently attested [151]. The two primary sources that we will very briefly examine are the testimony of the Church fathers and of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Testimony from the Church Fathers

   • Papias (c. 150 CE), Bishop of Hierapolis, said: “Matthew put down the words of the Lord in the Hebrew language, and others have translated them, each as best he could.”

   • Irenaeus (120-202 CE), Bishop of Lions, France, wrote: “Matthew, indeed, produced his Gospel written among the Hebrews in their own dialect.”

   • Origen (c. 225 CE) said: “The first Gospel composed in the Hebrew language, was written by Matthew … for those who came to faith from Judaism.”

   • Eusebius (c. 325 A.D.), Bishop of Caesarea, wrote: “Matthew had first preached to the Hebrews, and when he was about to go to others also, he transmitted his Gospel in writing in his native language.”[152]

   • And Jerome, translator of the Scripture into Latin (the Vulgata or Vulgate version), says the same.

The Testimony from the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered by an Arab shepherd boy in the caves of Qumran in the Judean wilderness, contains a treasure load of Scripture: some 40,000 fragments of rolls, with 600 partial manuscripts, both scriptural as well as non-scriptural. Says Dr. Bivin:

Of the ten major non-biblical scrolls published to date, only one, the Genesis Apocryphon, is in Aramaic. The most recently published scroll, and the longest to date (28 feet, equivalent to over 80 Old Testament chapters), is the now famous Temple Scroll, also written in Hebrew … If we compare the total number of pages in these ten sectarian scrolls, we again find a nine-to-one ratio of Hebrew to Aramaic (179 pages in the nine Hebrew scrolls to 22 pages of Aramaic in the Genesis Apocryphon).” [153]

In sum, as far as the external evidence is concerned, both the Church Fathers as well as the recently discovered Dead Sea Scrolls state quite clearly and without any subtlety that Hebrew was the language spoken and written at the time of the Rabbi Yeshua.

Internal Proofs for a Hebrew Original

The internal proofs for Hebrew being the original language spoken by Rabbi Yeshua are equally direct and even more convincing, for we can take the Apostolic Scriptures and prove so now, in our own native language, be it English or Spanish or any other.

First of all, Scripture itself says the language of the Rabbi Yeshua and His disciples was Hebrew. Despite this scriptural proof, several translations, especially the NIV, have arbitrarily changed the word ebraisti (Hebraisti) in the Greek manuscripts to “Aramaic” (see these examples; compare the same passages in the NAS). It does not require one to be a Greek scholar to understand that Hebraisti says “Hebrew.”

Additionally, there are over 5,366 Greek manuscripts of the Apostolic Scriptures, each differing from the other and containing several hundred variants. However, in each one of these manuscripts there are idioms which are almost meaningless in any language—including Greek—except in Hebrew! How can this phenomena be explained unless Hebrew was the original language?

Of these many of these Hebraisms, one of the most common is “Son of man.” What does “Son of man” mean in English, Spanish, German, or any other language? Absolutely nothing; it only has significant meaning in Hebrew. The Hebrew expression “ben Adam” means literally “son of Adam” and, by extension, “son of man” and “man,” Adam being of course the first man alive. In any street corner in Israel you may hear, “Here comes this ben Adam,” meaning “Here comes this man.”

This phrase occurs no less than 92 times in the Tanakh and 43 times in the Apostolic Scriptures (per Cruden’s Concordance), and is obviously the same Hebrew idiom.

Most scholars claim that the Apostolic Scriptures were written in Koine (or common) Greek, because Koine is a rather unsophisticated version of Greek, and the Apostles are assumed by many to have been unsophisticated men. But when we find the many Hebraisms there, we begin to understand that it is not Koine Greek underlying the text, but actually a Hebrew original. Since the Hebrew original was translated almost literally into Greek, the text sounds like poor Greek.

As another example, the idiom “Peace be to you,” appears twelve times in the Apostolic Scriptures. What kind of a greeting is “Peace be to you” in English, Spanish, French, or any other language except Hebrew? It is meaningless. Only in Hebrew does it make any real sense. This is the most common, everyday greeting in Israel today, the world-famous “shalom” or “shalom aleikhem.” Shalom literally means “peace” or “peace upon you,” but it is used as an everyday greeting, meaning anything from “Hi” to “Goodbye” to “How are you?” according to the intonation and the mood of the speaker, like the Hawaiian greeting “Aloha.”

The third internal proof of the Hebrew character of the Apostolic Scriptures is the use of two very Jewish ways of speaking: that of repeating things twice for emphasis, and the answering of a question with another question. Yeshua did both quite often. In Matthew 27:46: At about three in the afternoon, Yeshua uttered a loud cry, “Eli! Eli! L’mah sh’vaktani? (My God! My God! Why have you deserted me?)” and the phrase “Truly, truly, I say to you” (John 3:3; John 3:5), and in Luke 20:2-3 (NAS): “… and they spoke, saying to Him, ‘Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me:…’”

It is important to stress that these two characteristics, especially the former, are strongly associated with Hebrew. We don’t see them in English or in any other European language.

If this is true, then …

How did it come about that “everybody knows” that the Apostolic Scriptures were originally written in Greek or Aramaic?

Assumptions and Prejudices Leading to the Greek and Aramaic Theories

First of all, let us say that the issue of the Apostolic Scriptures being written in Greek or Aramaic was non-existent prior to the Fourth or Fifth Century C.E. It has been a rather modern theory.

The question we must ask is this: What basis does the “Aramaic theory” have? What are its external and internal proofs?

The answer — quite unbelievably — is: None!

There are a few isolated “loaned” Aramaic words present in the Apostolic Scriptures, but these are far outweighed by the Hebrew words and idioms.

The “Greek theory” is based on the fact that the Apostolic Scripture manuscripts that survive are all in Greek, and not one single copy remains of the Hebrew originals. Admittedly, this might be sufficient basis for the theory, but only if we disregard the other evidence: the statements by the church fathers, the Hebraisms, the idioms, the language of the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. We must also consider the fact that Constantine and his successors made a concentrated effort to destroy all extant Hebrew manuscripts, and may very well have succeeded in destroying the Hebrew originals of the Apostolic Scriptures.

In sum, what we have are assumptions by theologians. These assumptions have historically been based upon or influenced by ugly, anti-Semitic prejudices. Why do we say prejudice? Is there a basis for raising up the ugly specter of anti-Semitism within the Church? Judge for yourself.

The Church: A History of Unremitting Anti-Semitism

Historically, the Church has had a consistent record of being very anti-Semitic for most of the 2,000 years of its history.

Consider first the Inquisition, with hundreds of thousands of Jews tortured and slaughtered simply because they were Jews.

Consider the anti-Semitic statements by the fathers of the Church, such as Chrysosthom, Eusebius, Origen, Cyril, Hyppolitus, and even Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation. Let us quote a couple of brief statements from sermons that Luther wrote just four days before he died.

“The Jews deserve the most severe penalties. Their synagogues should be razed to the ground, their homes destroyed. They themselves should be exiled to living in tents, like the gypsies. Their religious writings [the Tanakh and the Talmud] should be taken away from them. The Rabbis should be forbidden to teach the Law [the Torah]. They should be forbidden to do any profession. Only the hardest, most strenuous work should be allowed to them. Their fortunes should be confiscated from them …”

“A Jewish heart is as hard as a stick, a stone, as iron, as a devil.” [154]

The famous historian, the late William Schirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, says that the influence of Martin Luther on the German Church is one of the two factors explaining its behavior towards the Jews during the Holocaust (p. 294).

Throughout the centuries there has been a Satan-led movement away from anything Jewish. In this spirit, the Church was forbidden to celebrate Passover on the “Jewish” (i.e., scriptural) dates set for it, and it could be only celebrated on any other date except the “Jewish” (scriptural) date. Those who insisted on celebrating Pesach (Passover) on the correct date were called “quatorcediman,” from the fourteenth day of the first month, on which Passover was ordained by God to be celebrated.

Even today the Church celebrates “Easter” (the pagan Feast of Ishtar re-dressed up with “Bible” words) as a substitute for Passover and First Fruits.

The wisdom of the Jewish sages contained in the many-volume Talmud, from which the Jewish Rabbi Yeshua drew countless parables and examples, was condemned by all within the Church, including Luther, as we just quoted. The scrolls of the Torah and the books of Talmud were not merely condemned, but were burned along with their owners. It is my firm belief that, starting with Constantine, the “Church” has managed to burn all of the Hebrew copies of the Apostolic Letters so that none exists today.

A sustained campaign of “de-Judaization” continues to this day. We can only offer some brief highlights here:

   • Statements by almost all of the Church Fathers like Chrysosthom, Hippolytus, Origen, Cyril, Eusebius (“Abraham was a Christian, he was not a Jew.”), Bishop Agobard, and, of course, Luther.

   • For twenty centuries the Jews have been accused of kidnapping Christian children and drinking their blood for Passover meals. (The last time this accusation surfaced—believe it or not—was in 1992 in the Soviet Union.)

   • Jews were accused of murdering God. [What kind of “god” can be murdered? Certainly not the God of the Bible!]

   • All sorts of doctrines were made “Judenrein” (free of Jews or “Jewishness”), as if the Renewed Covenant was never made with “the House of Israel and the House of Judah” but with the Church (see Jeremiah 31:31 in which the “new covenant” is clearly made not with the “Church” but “with with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah”).

   • The appropriate name for the Land of Israel has been obliterated for the last 2,000 years at the bidding of Emperor Julius Cesar who swore to wipe the name of Judea from the face of the earth—and he succeeded. Even contemporary Christian authors call Israel “Palestine” and both the news media and the United States government insists on referring to Israel as “Palestine,” “the Middle East,” or the “West Bank”!

   • The true name of our Lord was Yeshua. What we have been left with is a very Gentile-sounding “Jesus.”

   • The name of Rabbi Yeshua’s brother was Ya`akov (Jacob) — apparently too Jewish for the Christians, although there is a form of “Jacob” in every known language—so the anti-Semites have “Gentilized” it to “James,” as in the book of “James,” even though in the Greek manuscripts it is quite clearly titled Ejpistolhv jIavkwboß (Epistole Iakobus, the Letter of Ya`akov).

   • Marcion, a historically recognized heretic within the Church, created two gods: A Jewish God, the God of the “Old” Covenant, “Yahweh,” akin to a small deity, severe, for the Jews; and a Gentile God, Jesus, the God of Love. [How many Gods are there?] However, the spirit of Marcion lives on the Church to this day, where the “God of Old Testament” is a fierce desert God who delights in bringing judgement against people, and Jesus, the “God of the New Testament,” is a God of forgiveness and compassion.

   • There are several specific references in Scripture to both Yeshua and Sha’ul (Paul) speaking Hebrew. Westcott and Hort arbitrarily changed the Greek word “hebraisti” (which should obviously be translated as “Hebrew”) to “Aramaic.”[155]

The above discussion demonstrates that the “Aramaic” and “Greek” theories were not isolated mistakes or misconceptions, but part of a worldwide, centuries-old “de-Judaization” campaign by the anti-Semites within the Church to make the Church “Judenrein,” despite the fact that we worship a Jewish God of Israel and the promised Messiah of Israel.

The external and internal proofs show, on the other hand, that the Apostolic Scriptures were written in Hebrew in its original and not in Greek or in Aramaic.


In addition to the above evidences for a Hebrew original of the Apostolic Scriptures, see also Norman B. Willis, “Was the ‘New’ Testament originally written in Greek, or in Hebrew?” on the Internet at NazareneIsrael.org/ studies/Minim.doc.

Renowned Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also wrote that although he far exceeded those of his own nation in Jewish learning, he could not pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness, and that “our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations …” Furthermore Josephus reveals, “The Greeks called old nations by names of their own,” (Antiq. I,v,) “and put the Hebrew names into their own form” (c.vi.) This explains why some Hebrew names end up in English texts in a Grecianized form.

_______________

151. Bivin and Blizzard Jr., Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, 1988, pp. 45-78. [RETURN]

152. Ecclesiastical History, III 24, 6. [RETURN]

153. Bivin and Blizzard Jr., op. cit., p. 49, 52. [RETURN]

154. Eric W. Gritsch, “Was Luther an Anti-Semite?” Christian History Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp. 38-39. Retranslated from the Spanish by Rabbi Dan. [RETURN]

155. The Westcott and Hort (WH) version of the Greek text (1881), also called the “Critical Text” (CT), formed the basis for many of the pre-World War II English translations. However, Westcott and Hort had only about 1400 manuscript sources to work with compared to over 5000 manuscripts available today. Though the WH was the “standard” critical text for a generation or two, it is no longer considered such by anyone, and has not been for many years. In fact, the only WH-based English Bible translation currently in print that the writer is aware is the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which cannot really be considered a Bible translation because of glaring theological errors introduced by its editors.

      The King James and New King James Versions are based on the Textus Receptus (Received Text, or TR) version of the Greek text. The TR was based on only about 20 Byzantine Greek texts which were available in the 1500’s, which many believe were “edited” by the Church in the fourth century.

      The Majority Text (MT) by Hodges and Farstad is based on the majority reading in the over 5000 Greek manuscripts now available, and contains 1,838 differences when compared to the TR. The main argument in its favor it the number of manuscripts.

      The “standard” text or texts today are the Nestle or Nestle-Aland text (1st edition, 1898; 27th edition, 1993) and/or the various editions of The Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies (1st edition, 1966; 4th edition, 1993). Eberhard Nestle originally used as his text the consensus reading of three editions of the Greek New Testament in his day, Tischendorf, WH, and Weymouth, later substituting Weiss for Weymouth. The UBS editors used WH as their starting point and departed from it as their evaluation of manuscript evidence required.

      The New American Standard Bible, which I personally consider to be as close as possible to an accurate, literal, English translation, is based on the 23rd edition of the Nestle Greek New Testament, which is recognized and used by most evangelical Bible schools and seminaries as being the most reliable. As the last two editions of Nestle and UBS contain an identical text, we now essentially have a new “received text.” [RETURN]

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