When Jesus’ twelve emissaries to Israel returned from their mission, thrilled by their success at exorcising demons, Jesus described to them a vision of the expulsion of Satan from heaven. The vision’s message was double-edged: on the one hand, the downfall of the angelic prince meant that the way was opened for the redemption of Israel; on the other hand, having fallen to earth, Satan was about to unleash his fury against God’s chosen people.
In the past, some scholars have relied on the evidence of Jesus’ use of the word “Abba” to draw far-reaching conclusions about Jesus, the language he spoke, and his relationship to Judaism. As part of their ongoing research for the LOY project, David Bivin and Joshua Tilton revisited the evidence for Jesus’ use of “Abba” as an address to God. Tilton summarizes their findings here.
Today we usually think of Jesus as the one who appointed apostles, and to hear of Jesus himself being referred to as an apostle can sound jarring. But while referring to Jesus as an apostle might seem strange to Christians in the twenty-first century, this designation for Jesus would not have sounded strange to early believers.
The Apostle and Sender saying (Matt. 10:40; Luke 10:16) not only gave assurance to Jesus’ emissaries as he sent them out on their first healing and teaching mission, it also offers us an extraordinary glimpse into Jesus’ high self-awareness as the shāliaḥ, or official representative, of Israel’s God. In this segment of the Life of Yeshua commentary, David N. Bivin, JP’s editor-in-chief, and Joshua N. Tilton envision how Jesus’ Apostle and Sender saying may have been worded in Hebrew and explore the Jewish backgrounds of this profound saying.
David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton suggest a Hebrew reconstruction of Jesus’ instructions about how the twelve apostles were to behave when they entered a town. In this pericope we learn about the giving and receiving of hospitality among Jesus’ earliest followers. We also learn what may be wrong about the popular view that shaking the dust from the apostles’ feet was a symbolic action meant to signal to Jews who rejected Jesus that they were henceforth to be considered as Gentiles.
The standard interpretation of the apostles’ dust-shaking action proposes that Jesus turned the concept of the impurity of Gentile lands against the Jewish inhabitants of cities within the (ritually pure) land of Israel. This interpretation concludes that shaking the dust from their feet dramatically symbolized that Jesus’ apostles would henceforth regard the Jewish inhabitants of a city that had rejected their message as though they were cut off from Israel. It is time for this mistaken interpretation to finally be put to rest.
In our recent attempt to propose a Hebrew reconstruction of Jesus’ instructions to his twelve apostles (see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road), David Bivin and I were confronted with a racially sensitive issue. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the apostles not to enter any city of the Samaritans (Matt. 10:5). Reconstructing Jesus’ words in Hebrew raised an uncomfortable question that, as far as we are aware, has never before been considered by New Testament scholars. The question is: What Hebrew word did Jesus use to refer to the Samaritans? This is a sensitive question because, of the two Hebrew alternatives, the more common term in ancient Jewish sources is a racial slur.