Sunday, August 29, 2010

Which is the Great Commandment?

By Dan Cathcart

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus (Yeshua) was asked by a Jewish leader (a Pharisee) a key question about the law (Torah)

Matthew 22:34-37 KJV But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Before we can understand the answer that Yeshua gave, we must first understand the question. The main body of manuscripts of New Testament writings that we have today is written in Greek. But it is a strange form of Greek. They are not written in proper classical Greek of the day, but are in a form that closely resembles the Septuagint, the 3rd century BCE Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, what many scholars refer to as “Jewish Greek” because of its many anomalies that make it read as if it were in Hebrew. When analyzing the Greek NT manuscripts, it is beneficial to refer to the Septuagint for guidance. Most biblical scholars today would agree that many of the writings of the NT were most likely originally written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek. The Greek NT writings and the Septuagint are written in a style that retains much of the original Hebraic syntax and idioms.

Since Yeshua himself was Jewish, lived his entire life among the Jewish people and chose His disciples from among the Jewish men, it is safe to assume that he spoke and taught his disciples in Hebrew. We know that Hebrew was the common language in the religious circles of the 1st century and Hebrew is the language that the Torah is written in to this very day.

So let’s look at the question asked of Yeshua in the passage above.

In the Greek manuscript it is this:
(The numbers above the text are Strong’s Dictionary and Concordance reference numbers)

    1320             4169            1785                    3137                            3551
Δάσκαλος    ποία      εντολή          μεγάλος    στ ην    νόμος
  Master,    which   command (is)   great      in the     law?

The first word is Δάσκαλος "didaskolos" which more correctly means "teacher or instructor" and is the equivalent to the Hebrew word מורה "moreh".

The second word is ποία "poios" is an individualizing interrogative and is normally translated as "what" as in “what sort of”. The Hebrew word here would be מה "mah".

Next is the Greek word εντολή "entole" which in Hebrew is the word מצוה "mitsvah". Mitsvah is most often translated as "commandment", but it more accurately means "precept" in this context. Mitsvot (the plural form of mitzvah) in the Bible refers to lifestyle, culture and attitude. In Hebraic thought, mitsvot are about doing “good works”, not just hearing. When the bible speaks of “good works”, it is speaking of doing “mitsvot”, of living by the precepts of the Torah.

Next is the English “is”, this word is inserted in the English translations and is not found in the Greek manuscripts. Although Classical Greek has a word for “is”, it is not included here. This makes the Greek read more like Hebrew where there is no individual word for “is”, thus giving the Greek manuscripts a definite Hebraic flavor.

The next word here is μεγάλος “megalos”, where we get our English word “mega” whish means big or exceedingly large. It is equivalent to the Hebrew word גדולה "gadolah".

Next is the phrase στ ην "en to". It is not found as a separate word in Hebrew but is found in the form of the prefix b (a single Hebrew letter ב beit, in this case pronounced “ba”) added to the root word rendering the meaning “in the” or “within the”.

The last Greek word is νόμος “nomos”. In the bible this word is most frequently translated as "law". But it doesn’t mean “law” in our modern legal sense. It more accurately means "teachings or a principle”, which is the Hebrew word תורה “Torah”, or in this case “in the Torah” בתורה.

So now we have the Hebrew translation of the Greek text in Matthew 22:
מורה מה מצוה גדולה בתורה
moreh mah mitsvah gadolah batorah

Now we can translate this Hebrew text into English and we get:

“Teacher, what is the great precept of the teachings”?

When we translate the question directly from the Greek to English, the implication is that the speaker (the Pharisee) is asking for one commandment found in the Torah that is above all the others. But when we look at the embedded Hebraic nature of the Greek translation, we can clearly see above that it is an entirely different question. The question becomes much clearer when we translate the Hebrew directly to English!

Now, when we use the same method to translate Yeshua’s answer found in Matthew 22:37-40 we get the following:

“You shall love YHWH (“The LORD” in English) your God with all your heart and with all your soul (being or life) and with all your mind (faculties or possessions) this is the beginning and great precept, and another like it is 'You shall love your companions as yourself'. Within these two precepts hang all of the Torah, the Prophets and the writings".

So what is Yeshua telling us here? In answering the Pharisee’s question, He is explaining the overriding precept of the 613 “commandments” in the Torah. Not the one “greatest” that we should pay the most attention to. Yeshua was explaining that the Torah is not about a set of “laws” dictated by an angry god against a rebellious and backslidden people, or a set of “rules” to be followed as a means of receiving salvation, but that the Torah is a “road map” to a relationship with a loving God and to each other. It is the set of “instructions” from God to be incorporated into our lives to draw nearer to Him. As we look at the order of events of the Exodus from Egypt, we see that redemption from Egypt or sin came first, passing through the Red Sea or baptism came second, followed by receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. He takes us out of bondage to sin and teaches us how to live a holy life set apart for His service.

As you can see, much is lost in translation. But it can be restored once we decide to dig a little deeper and study the original language and culture of Yeshua’s day. We clearly see the Hebraic nature of the NT scriptures. The “bad Greek” is a deliberate attempt by the early Greek translators to retain the Hebraic structure and idioms of the original documents just as the scholars of the 3rd century BCE translated the Hebrew Bible into the Greek Septuagint.

Shalom and Be Blessed
Dan and Brenda Cathcart

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Hebrew Letter "ב" Beit

The second letter in the Hebrew alphabet is the ב beit. Its meaning is “house”. In the ancient pictographic Hebrew it was a symbol resembling a tent on a landscape. (see figure 1) It is interesting that if you turn this ancient beit 90 degreed clockwise it becomes our modern lowercase “b”, the second letter in our modern alphabet.

In the original Hebrew manuscripts as well as Torah scrolls to this day, there are what is referred to as “jots and tittles”. Remember what Yeshua said about “jots and tittles”?

Matthew 5:18 KJV For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

In the very first word of the Bible is what is known as a “tittle”. A tittle is an anomaly in the text, a letter that is larger or smaller then the others, a missing or added letter in a word or name from the standard spelling, a gap in the text or even an upside down letter. Jots and tittles add a depth of meaning to the word of God that Bible translators over the centuries have chosen to ignore. In order to restore this deeper meaning, we have to go back and study the original text. So let’s look at the very first verse of the Bible in the original Hebrew. (see figure 2)

Notice that the very first letter of the first word is enlarged. It is the beit, or the “house”. It is as if the entire body of scripture is flowing out of the house through the open door. Whose house is it? All the clues are in the very first word. The first word of Genesis in Hebrew is בראשית breshit, pronounced brasheet and is translated in to three English words “in the beginning”. The first three letters tell us whose house all these words come from.

The second letter is the ר resh. Along with the first letter, ב beit form the word בר bar, the Hebrew word for son. The third letter is the Aleph, and we know that the Aleph represents God the father. So from the “house” comes the Son of God. This is further established by looking at the other 5 letters of the word breshit. This is another Hebrew word, ראשית “resheth”, which means “first Fruits” and we know that the Son of God is the first fruits of the resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:20 NKJV But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

In addition, the first three letters form the Hebrew  ברא bara, which means “created”. Notice that this is the same as the second complete word in the Hebrew text. So God the Father, represented by the aleph א, with the Son בר Bar, together created ברא (bara) the entire universe. So when we read the strange plural translation in Genesis 1:26

Genesis 1:26 NKJV 26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;…”

We now begin to understand the “Us” referred to here is God the Father and the Son together. This is not inconsistent with Hebrew thought. In the Shema, a cornerstone of Jewish theology, found in Deuteronomy chapter 6 beginning with verse 4, and a part of the daily prayer life of a devout Jew, we find the Hebrew word “echad”, which is translated in English as “one”. But the word, echad, is in a semi-plural form. It represents a “composite unity”, a sum that is greater than its parts but is nothing without all its parts. The Father and the Son together are a “composite unity” who created (bara) the entire universe!

This concept of the Son being a composite unity with the father is further illustrated in the Gospel of John.

John 1:1-3 MKJV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being.

The richness of God’s word comes alive when we look a little deeper and come to understand it in its original language. When he comes to take us home, let Him find us in His house studying His words.

Figure 1

                                                                             Figure 2

שלום ברוך
Shalom and Be Blessed
Dan and Brenda Cathcart

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hebrew Letter "א " Aleph

The Hebrew letter א, pronounced “aleph”, like all Hebrew letters holds a meaning in itself. The sages say that the letters contain spiritual lessons and that the Aleph holds a special place at the head of the Hebrew Alphabet. As the head, the Aleph is said to be the “father” of the letters. As a matter of fact, the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet form the word “אב”, pronounced “ab or av” which is Hebrew for “father”. The aleph is also the first letter in many of the names of God found in the Jewish scripture such as Elohim and El Shaddai, and as such, the letter aleph is said to represent God.

A cornerstone of Jewish theology is the “shema” found in Deuteronomy chapter 6. It says in part, “Hear O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is One!” According to Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, the letter Aleph, which represents God, is actually made up of three parts, or three of the other letters. It is made up of two yods (י) separated by a slanted vav(ו). The yod means “hand” and the vav mean “nail” or to “secure”. So in the three components of the aleph, you see a hand above, reaching down, a hand below, reaching up and a nail connecting the two.

Another interesting fact about the Hebrew alphabet is that, unlike English, the letters also represent numbers. The aleph is 1, the beit is 2, the gimel is 3 and so on. When we look at the three letters that make up the Aleph we find that they have a total numeric value of twenty six  ( yod + vav + yod  = 10+6+10=26 ). Then the logical question is, does the number 26 hold any significance?

The single most common name for God in the Hebrew scriptures is יהוה. It is referred to by the Greek term “tetragrammaton”, which means “the four letters”. This name of God which first appears in Genesis chapter two has troubled Bible translators for centuries. The Jewish sages have no pronunciation of this name. When speaking it in public, or reading the scriptures, they will most often substitute the term “HaShem”, which in Hebrew means “The Name”. There is no official translation of this name so in most English bibles beginning with the KJV, it has been translated as “LORD” in all capital letters. You may also find it translated as “Yahweh” and “Jehovah”. The fact is, nobody really knows how it is pronounced because Hebrew has no vowels in its written form and no pronunciation marks are given where the יהוה is written.

In proverbs 25:2 it says “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of Kings to search it out.” So let’s do a little searching and dig into a few interesting facts about this names of God and the letter Aleph. As shown above, the aleph has a numeric value of 1 or 26 when broken down to its component parts. In the name LORD or יהוה we also have a numeric value of 26. (yod + hey + vav + hey = 10+5+6+5=26). So here in a single letter, the Aleph, and in the most common name of God, found in scripture, יהוה, we find the number 26 in both cases.  But what about other names of God in the scriptures? Do they also add up to 26? No, but there is something much more interesting to be found in the text with regard to various names of God. We are going to look at the first five versus of the Bible in the original Hebrew. (see figure 2)

A shortened form of יהוה used in the Hebrew text is יה, pronounced “Yah” and the two most common other names are אל El, as in El Shaddai, and אלוהים Elohim. El has a numeric value of 31, and Elohim is 86 and Yah is 15. (see figure 1) Now look at figure 2 and find the 15th letter, the 26th letter, the 31st letter and the 86th letter. Remember Hebrew is read right to left. What do you find? In all cases we arrive at the letter Aleph! And as we learned from the sages, the Aleph represents God, the head or father. And you can add the Hebrew word for father, אב, to the list. אב has a numeric value of 3 and the third letter of the text in Genesis is an Aleph.

In the original Hebrew text we find many such mysteries beyond our imagination. The LORD, יהוה has given us such richness in His word, the perfect embodiment of Himself. Remember the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 1: MKJV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


NAME , Numeric Value

יה Yah, 10+5=15 The 15th letter of the Torah is א

יהוה LORD 10+5+6+5=26 The 26th letter of the Torah is א

אל El 1+30=31 The 31st letter of the Torah is א

אלוהים Elohim 1+30+5+10+40=86 The 86th letter of the Torah is א

אב av 1+2=3 The 3rd letter of the Torah is א

                                         (Figure 1)


Figure 2

שלום ברוך
Shalom and Be Blessed
Dan & Brenda Cathcart