Jesus called Herod Antipas a fox (Luke 13:32), and English speakers and Europeans assume the point is obvious. Foxes are proverbially associated with cleverness and craftiness. Therefore, Jesus must be calling Herod a crafty person. However, it turns out that Jesus was saying something very different to his Hebrew-speaking audience.
God will probably test our commitment to him at its weakest, most vulnerable point or points, those areas in our lives that we have made more important than him.
“Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together” (Luke 17:37; KJV), is certainly one of the most enigmatic of Jesus’ sayings. Commentators have noted that Jesus employed a proverbial saying to reply to his disciples’ question; however, they differ about what the proverb means in this context.
There are about 1,500 scribal errors in the Hebrew Scriptures. The letters vav and yod, for instance, were often confused by ancient copyists of the Bible. The two letters are so similar that they are easily confused. In fact, writing by mistake a vav instead of a yod, or vice versa, is the most common scribal error.
There are a number of Christian teachers today who claim that God’s name, spelled with four Hebrew letters—yod, heh, vav, heh (YHWH) in Hebrew Scriptures, is being deliberately kept secret. In what seems partly to be an anti-Semitic attack, much of the blame for this “conspiracy” is laid at the feet of the Masoretes, the Jewish scholars of the sixth-ninth centuries A.D. who created vowel signs with which to vocalize the text of the Bible.
An interesting problem arose while I was reading and enjoying Robert Lindsey’s book, Jesus, Rabbi and Lord: A Lifetime’s Search for the Meaning of Jesus’ Words. Traditionally, the beatitude found in Matthew 5:10 is read as “blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Dr. Robert L. Lindsey would read this as “blest are the righteousness-driven,” that is, those with a passion for righteousness. Lindsey cites a possible Hebrew antecedent, נִרְדְּפֵי צְדָקָה (nirdefe tsedakah), to justify the metaphorical and active-voice interpretation of “pursued, persecuted.” This presents a reader with several problems or riddles.
Most English translations consistently translate the Greek word Ioudaioi as “Jews.” But this inflexible translation has often contributed to an anti-Semitic interpretation of the New Testament.
We continually need to refine our understanding of Gospel passages by viewing them together with what is known of their original cultural setting. In some cases a more informed understanding can be communicated easily in a translation, and a good translation will reflect that fuller, culturally appropriate understanding. We will look at two examples of this: a simple one in Luke 2:28-32, and a more difficult one in Luke 2:34-35.
Not only is “son of man” one of the most important phrases in the Bible, it is one of the most misunderstood and disputed. Rooms could be filled with all the books and articles written on this subject. Translators are not immune to fascination with this phrase, and the meaning of “son of man” is a perennial topic of debate. We are keen to understand it because it is the phrase that Jesus used for himself more than any other. A full understanding of “son of man” reveals what Jesus knew about himself and increases our appreciation of how he communicated his message.
Jewish sages were called upon constantly by their community to interpret scriptural commands. The Torah forbids working on the Sabbath, for instance, but it does not define what constitutes work. As a result, the sages were required to rule on which activities were permitted on the Sabbath. They “bound,” or prohibited, certain activities, and “loosed” or allowed, others.
When a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, “You are canceling (or, uprooting) the Torah!” In other words, “You are so misinterpreting Scripture that you are negating or canceling part of it.” Needless to say, in most cases, his colleague strongly disagreed. What was “canceling” the Torah for one teacher was “fulfilling” it for another.
It is not surprising to find the word “amen” attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. “Amen” appears elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in the epistles of Paul, who usually used it to conclude an expression of praise to God. Nor is it odd that “amen” was simply transliterated from Hebrew into Greek. Its use had become so common in Greek-speaking synagogues and churches that the New Testament writers generally felt translation unnecessary. What is unusual is to find “amen” used as the beginning of a statement rather than as a response.
Jesus spoke of himself using many messianic titles from Scripture. Names such as “Son of Man,” “Green Tree” and “King” all have their origins in messianic passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus also was referred to by such messianic titles as “Lord” (Luke 5:8), “Son of God” (Luke 1:35) and “Son of David” (Luke 18:38). One title applied to Jesus is not so clearly messianic: “Prophet.” There can be little doubt that Jesus viewed himself as a prophet, and that many of his contemporaries concurred. Jesus claimed to be a prophet when he quoted the popular saying, “No one is a prophet in his own village,” going on to compare himself to Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:24-27). He made the same claim when he said, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). But what did the people of Nain have in mind when they exclaimed, “A great prophet has been raised in our midst!” (Luke 7:16)?