Hebrew words usually have many shades of meaning, and the Greek translator of the conjectured Hebrew “Life of Jesus” could convey only one sense of each Hebrew word’s meaning. When the standard Greek translation of a Hebrew word became fixed, Greek translators often employed this standard translation even when the Hebrew word it translated appeared with an obviously different meaning.
In Robert L. Lindsey’s theory of gospel transmission, the Hebrew version of Jesus’ biography and its Greek translation have both been lost. Although none of the synoptic Gospels preserves the original text in its entirety, together they do preserve all, or nearly all, of the stories in the original work.
Nearly all first-century sages practiced a trade. Despite having a profession, however, a sage was not always able to support himself as he traveled throughout the land. While traveling, a sage could not easily set up a shop due to the shortness of his stay in a given location. Nor would it have been fair when visiting smaller communities to take work away from a local resident in the same profession. Also, work could not readily be found for the large number of disciples who often accompanied a sage. Therefore the sage and his disciples were necessarily dependent upon the hospitality of the communities they visited.
Research by Robert L. Lindsey has helped clarify the process by which gospel texts were preserved and transmitted. Luke desired, he said in his prologue, to present to Theophilus an “orderly” account. Such ordering is to be noted in Matthew and Mark, as well. These attempts at ordering help us understand why so many of the synoptic gospel stories appear in a different chronological order from gospel to gospel.
The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus, like all observant Jews of the first century, wore tsitsiyot. These are the tassels that were attached to the four corners of one’s robe as commanded in Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 22. Jesus’ observance of this commandment is dramatically illustrated by the story of the woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years.
Tithing is a biblical commandment set forth in Leviticus 27:30-33, Deuteronomy 14:22-29 and Deuteronomy 26:12-14. Most Christians would probably agree that Jesus observed this commandment since the New Testament clearly states, “having been born under the Torah, he committed no sin” (Gal. 4:4; 1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15). However, the question is, did Jesus observe the commandment to tithe as it was interpreted in the Oral Torah? The biblical commandment was to tithe only on grain, wine and oil. The sages extended this commandment to include tithing on “anything used for food.”
The original understanding of the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exod. 20:7), was that one must keep one’s vows when swearing by God’s name. Israel’s ancient sages eventually came to interpret this commandment to mean using the LORD’s name lightly or frivolously. To avoid the risk of employing the divine name irreverently, the sages ruled that one should not utter it at all.
Jesus apparently attached great importance to the Oral Torah (unwritten in his day), and it seems he considered it to be authoritative. When Jesus admonished his disciples to “do and observe everything they [the scribes and Pharisees] command you” (Matt. 23:3), he was referring to the Pharisees’ oral traditions and interpretations of the Written Torah. The Written Torah itself could not have been in question, for it was accepted by all sects of Judaism, and Jesus himself said, “Heaven and earth would sooner disappear than one ‘yod’ or even one ‘kotz” from the Torah’ (Matt. 5:18).
Torah has always been the focus of rabbinic teaching. Unfortunately, the Hebrew word “torah” is usually translated in English simply as “law,” which has created the impression that it has to do only with commandments. This is not the case at all. The Torah was given by God as a guideline for a whole way of life. A better translation would be “God’s instructions.”
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)?
Although he was born in Judea, Jesus grew up in the small Galilean village of Nazareth. Many scholars believe that the Synoptic Gospels contain little evidence that Jesus ever toured Judea. Robert Lindsey disagreed. He believed that there is sufficient evidence in Matthew, Mark and Luke to support the existence of a Judean ministry, and that Judea is the setting of many of the Gospel stories.
Many of Jesus’ words were spoken against a profoundly Hebraic background. We believe that a knowledge of Hebrew is central to understanding much of what Jesus said, and what was written about him in the Gospels. This is the second of a series of articles about the Hebrew language. Hopefully, these “nuggets” will encourage you to explore the riches Hebrew study can offer to those who want to understand the Bible more fully. The second sound in Jesus’ Hebrew name, יֵשׁוּעַ (ye·SHU·a‘), is a vowel. Hebrew vowels are represented by signs that are placed under, or sometimes, to the left of consonants (letters). A vowel is pronounced after the consonant that carries its sign.
The commandment “Be fruitful and multiply” has always been strongly emphasized in Judaism, both today and in the first century. It is therefore surprising that Jesus, who in every other way observed the commandments, did not marry—at least the New Testament gives no indication that he had a wife or children.