The oldest known manuscripts of the New Testament were written in Greek, but by comparing Matt. 1:21 in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek with the knowledge of the naming formula so common in the Hebrew Bible, we see that this verse only makes sense in Hebrew. Since the naming formula depends on a wordplay that does not work in Greek or Aramaic, Matt. 1:21, or the oral tradition behind it, had to be in Hebrew.
When three eager prospective disciples asked permission to follow Jesus, Jesus responded to each of them with a riddle. Why would God allow Jesus and his followers to sleep on the ground when he provides safe places even for the animals to sleep? How can the dead bury a corpse? Why would a disciple set his hand to a plow when Elisha had given up plowing in order to follow Elijah? These riddles would have to be puzzled over before their meaning was fully understood. But each of the riddles were ominous, and it appears that each of the three prospective disciples reconsidered his desire to join Jesus.
The Tower Builder and King Going to War similes attempt to explain why full-time discipleship was not suitable for everyone. Not everyone had the freedom and the ability to give up their livelihoods and leave their families in order to travel with Jesus from place to place. Full-time discipleship was for the select few who could set aside their ordinary activities and engagements in order to master Jesus’ message in order that they, in turn, might accurately pass it on to others. Jesus was willing to take on as full-time disciples only those whom he believed were up to this extraordinary task.
Supposing that these twin parables once belonged to the same narrative-sayings complex as the Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven incident enables us to understand their message. Jesus’ demand that the rich man sell everything wasn’t an onerous or unreasonable request; to the contrary, Jesus had offered the rich man an extraordinary bargain.
In Widow’s Son in Nain, David Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton ask “Which Nain was the town where Jesus raised the widow’s son?” and “What is the meaning of the people’s exclamation that a prophet had arisen among them?” The possibility of a Judean ministry early in Jesus’ career and of the messianic connotations of the Widow’s Son in Nain story are discussed in detail in this segment of the Life of Yeshua commentary.
Despite the popularity of the modern suggestion that the Synoptic Gospels are the end result of several decades of oral transmission, the internal evidence indicates that this is not the case. Dozens of pericopae in Matthew and Luke translate to Hebrew so easily and so idiomatically that we must conclude that the Synoptic Gospels are the result of literary transmission.
The Gospel of Mark was never popular in the Greek-speaking Hellenistic church. Papias, the mid-second-century bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, was the first church father to mention the Gospel and his statement was probably dictated by the general criticism voiced against Mark by the early Greek readers of the Gospel: “Mark,” Papias says, “did no wrong in writing down the things [he had only heard Peter say].”
Every reader of the Gospels knows the phrase, “Verily, I say unto you,” or “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” According to the standard English translations of the Old and New Testaments, it seems that Jesus alone used such a preamble. Most Christians, long accustomed to such expressions in the Bible, take it for granted that “Jesus talked that way.”
A “Hebraism” is a typical feature of the Hebrew language found in another language. The majority of today’s New Testament authorities assume that Aramaic is behind the Semitisms of the New Testament, and that Jesus spoke Aramaic as his primary language. So much so, in fact, that the student who checks standard reference works is informed that the Greek words for “Hebrew” and for “in the Hebrew language” (not only in the New Testament, but in Josephus and other texts) refer to the Aramaic language.
It has been noted that in instances where Mark’s editorial hand restructured his story, Luke has preserved a more primitive form of the account, a form that is independent of Mark’s influence. Gospel scholars need to properly evaluate Mark’s editorial style and acknowledge that frequently a theological agenda influenced his rewriting.
Mark’s placement of Jesus’ “no longer dared” comment is very awkward: first, because the comment comes in the middle of a lovefest between Jesus and a scribe; and second, because the comment immediately follows Jesus’ appreciation of the scribe’s wisdom: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
In a beautiful statement that probably referred to the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus proclaimed to his disciples, according to Luke, that “many prophets and kings” desired to see and hear what they (his disciples) are seeing and hearing. Matthew preserves the same saying, but in Matthew’s account the doublet is, “prophets and righteous persons.” The wording of Jesus’ saying in these two accounts is so similar that it appears likely that their slight differences reflect literary, or editorial, changes rather than different versions of the saying uttered by Jesus on different occasions. If so, which of these gospel accounts preserves the more original form of Jesus’ saying? Did Jesus say “prophets and kings” or “prophets and righteous persons”?