Grace Theological Journal 5.2 (1984) 271-288

          Copyright © 1941 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




       Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus



                                    WESTON W. FIELDS



      Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin and Roy Bliz-

zard. Arcadia, CA: Makor Publishing, 1983. Pp. 172. Paper. No price.


     It was during my sabbatical year in Jerusalem that I first became ac-

quainted with David Bivin, Robert Lindsey, and other students and colleagues

of David Flusser of the Hebrew University.  Thus it was with considerable

anticipation that I began reading this book by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard,

which popularizes some of the results of a whole generation of research into

the linguistic and literary background of the synoptic Gospels by Prof. Flusser,

Dr. Lindsey, and their associates in Jerusalem.  The ideas of the book are

generally good, and I can be enthusiastic about most of them.  The informal

style and largely undocumented format in which these ideas are presented,

however, may for many detract from their ready acceptance.


The Milieu and Burden of the Book


It is important to understand that this book was born out of a combina-

tion of circumstances which cannot be found anywhere except in Israel and

which could not have been found even in Israel only a few years ago.   These

factors include a rapprochement between Jewish and Christian scholars in a

completely Jewish University, freedom of study unhampered by religious

hierarchical control, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a growing

appreciation for their bearing on NT study, and most importantly, the fact

that gospel research in Jerusalem is carried on in spoken and written Hebrew

very similar in many respects to the Hebrew idiom (Mishnaic Hebrew)1 of


[1] See, for example, Jack Fellman, "The Linguistic Status of Mishnaic Hebrew,"

JNSL 5 (1977) 21-22; Chaim Rabin, "The Historical Background of Qumran Hebrew,"

Scripta Hierosolymitana, vol. 4: Aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by Chaim Rabin

and Yigael Yadin (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1958) 144-61; and W. Chomsky, "What Was

the Jewish Vernacular During the Second Commonwealth?ft JQR 42 (1951-52) 193-

212; Jonas C. Greenfield, "The Languages of Palestine, 200 B.C.E.-200 C.E." in Jewish

Languages. Theme and Variations, ed. by Herbert H. Paper (Cambridge, MA: Associa-

tion for Jewish Studies, 1978) 143-54; Herbert C. Youtie, "Response,ft in Jewish Lan-

guages. Theme and Variations, 155-57; Joshua Blau, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew

(Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1976), I; E. Y. Kutscher, "Hebrew Language: The

Dead Sea Scrolls," Encyclopedia Judaica 16: cols. 1583-90; Idem, "Hebrew Language:

Mishnaic Hebrew," Encyclopedia Judaica 16: cols. 1590-1607

272                        GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Jesus’ day.  All of this, moreover, is accomplished in the midst of growing

recognition among NT scholars that the key to understanding a number of

sayings in the gospels has been lost, unless one finds it in Jewish and Hebrew


     The more technical background of Understanding the Difficult Words of

Jesus is to be found in scholarly literature authored by Flusser, Safrai, and

others at Hebrew University,2 but especially important as a prelude or com-

panion to this book are two works by Robert L. Lindsey, pastor of Baptist

House in Jerusalem for the past forty years.  Accordingly, discussion of Lind-

sey's work is integrated here with the suggestions of Bivin and Blizzard.  The

first of Lindsey's works is entitled A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of

Mark (with a foreword by Flusser)3 and the second a pamphlet entitled

simply, The Gospels.4

The burden of these books may be summarized in a few propositions,

which not only go counter in some respects to the prevailing wisdom of NT

scholarship outside of Israel, but also represent something perhaps more

revolutionary than might first appear. These propositions are:


      -Hebrew was the primary spoken and written medium of the majority

       of the Jews in Israel during the time of Jesus

      -Jesus therefore did most if not all of his teaching in Hebrew


2    Many of these articles are available in English. A sampling of Professor Flusser's

writings follows (some of them are English summaries of Hebrew articles): Jesus (New

York: Herder and Herder, 1969); "Jesus," Encyclopedia Judaica 10: cols. 10-17; Mar-

tyrdom in Second Temple Judaism and in Early Christianity," Immanuel 1 (1972)

37-38; "The Liberation of Jerusalem-A Prophecy in the New Testament," Immanuel

I (1972) 35-36; "The Last Supper and the Essenes," Immanuel 2 (1973) 23-27; "Jewish

Roots of the Liturgical Trishagion," Immanuel 3 (1973-74) 37-43; "Did You Ever See

a Lion Working as a Porter?" Immanuel 3 (1973/74) 61-64; "Hebrew Improperia,"

Immanuel 4 (1974) 51-54; "Hillel's Self-Awareness and Jesus," Immanuel 4 (1974)

31-36; "Two Anti-Jewish Montages in Matthew," Immanuel 5 (1975) 37-45; "Theses

51 on the Emergence of Christianity from Judaism," Immanuel 5 (1975) 74-84; The

Crucified One and the Jews," Immanuel 7 (1977) 25-37; "Do You Prefer New Wine?”

Immanuel 9 (1979) 26-31; "The Hubris of the Antichrist in a Fragment from Qumran,”

Immanuel 10 (1980) 31-37; "At the Right Hand of the Power," Immanuel 14 (1982)

42-46; "Foreword" in Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of

Mark (Jerusalem: Dugith, 1973) 1-8. Flusser and Safrai together: "The Slave of Two

Masters," Immanuel 6 (1976) 30-33; "Jerusalem in the Literature of the Second Temple

Period," Immanuel 6 (1976) 43-45; "Some Notes on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12;

Luke 6:20-26)," Immanuel 8 (1978) 37-47. "Who Sanctified the Beloved in the Womb,"

Immanuel 11 (1980) 46-55; "The Essene Doctrine of Hypostatis and Rabbi Meir,"

Immanuel 14 (1982) 47-57. Safrai alone: "The Synagogues South of Mt. Judah,"

Immanuel 3 (1973-1974) 44-50; "Pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the Time of the Second

Temple," Immanuel 5 (1975) 51-62.

3  Robert Lisle Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark (Jerusalem:

Dugith, 1973).

4   Robert Lisle Lindsey, The Gospels (Jerusalem: Dugith, 1972). Also important are

his articles "A Modified Two-Document Theory of the Synoptic Dependence and

Interdependence," NovT 6 (1963) 239-63; and "Did Jesus Say Verily or Amen?"

Christian News from Israel 24 (1973).

FIELDS: DIFFICULT WORDS OF JESUS                         273


     -the original accounts of Jesus' life were composed in Hebrew (as one

      might conclude anyway from early church history)5

     -the Greek gospels which have come down to us represent a third or

      fourth stage in the written6 transmission of accounts of the life of


     -Luke was the first gospel written, not Mark7

     -the key to understanding many of the difficult or even apparently

      unintelligible passages in the gospels is to be found not primarily in a

      better understanding of Greek, but in retroversion to and translation

      of the Hebrew behind the Greek (made possible by the often trans-

      parently literalistic translation methods of the Greek translators).


     Although many of the same ideas have been proposed for some time on

the basis of Aramaic NT originals,8 the insertion of Hebrew into the picture is

becoming more and more accepted, especially among speakers of Modern

Hebrew, perhaps because a conversational knowledge of Hebrew makes it


5   Among early Christian writers who speak on the subject there is unanimous

agreement that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew. The testimonies include Papias

(Fragment 6); Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1); Origen (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History

5:25); Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3:24); and Jerome (Lives of Illustrious Men 3). "

6   Lindsey, The Gospels, 4; A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark, xix-xx.

7 This is developed much more at length by Lindsey on the basis of the order of the

stories or units in the Synoptics. There are 77 units found in all three of the gospels. 60

of these are in the same order in all three gospels. Mark contains 1 unit unknown to

Matthew and Luke; Matthew contains 27 units unknown to Mark and Luke; Luke

contains 46 units unknown to Mark and Matthew. These "extra" units occur, usually

in groups, in between the 60 units which the Synoptics share in common. Most

remarkable is the fact that Matthew and Luke contain 36 units which are unknown in

Mark, "yet only in one of these units do Matthew and Luke agree as to where to place

them among the 6O-unit outline they share with Mark" (The Gospels, 6). Lindsey

continues: "When we put these and many other facts together we see (1) that it is

improbable that either Matthew or Luke saw the writing of the other and (2) that

Mark's Gospel somehow stands between Matthew and Luke causing much of the

agreement of story-order and wording we see in the Synoptic Gospels. We also see that

whatever be the order of our Gospel dependence it is probable that each had at least

one source unknown to us" (Ibid., 6). Lindsey suggests that it is the vocabulary of

Mark that is the key to priority. The unique story units show that Mark used either

Matthew or Luke. The book which shows uniquely Markan vocabulary was probably

dependent upon Mark and the one which does not contain Mark's unique vocabulary

probably preceded Mark. It is Matthew that carries over many of Mark's unique

expressions, while they are usually missing from Luke. Hence, the order of composi-

tion seems to be Luke, Mark, Matthew (Ibid., 6-7). The numbers in the statistics and

quotations above have been slightly corrected to coincide with those in A Hebrew

Translation of the Gospel of Mark, pp. xi-xiii.

8   Cf. Gustaf Dalman, The Words of Jesus Considered in the Light of Post-Biblical

Jewish Writings and the Aramaic Language, trans. by D. M. Kay (Edinburgh: T. & T.

Clark, 1902); Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (3rd ed.;

Oxford: Clarendon, 1967); and Joseph A. Fitzmyer,  Essays on the Semitic Background

of the New Testament (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1971); and Idem, "The Contribu-

tion of Qumran Aramaic to the Study of the New Testament," NTS 20 (1974) 382-407.


274                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


easier to see the Hebrew syntax behind a document.  Some of the other ideas

are old ones now revived, and some of the propositions, especially those of

Lindsey are quite new.  At first glance, some evangelicals will undoubtedly be

inclined to say that such an approach represents something dangerous for or

incongruous with certain modem conceptions of inspiration and formulations

of inerrancy, especially when taken together with the inferences which are

commonly drawn out of them by American Christians. But such fears would

be unfounded, and objections based on such misgivings should be held in

check, until it becomes clear whether the problem is with the theory of

Hebrew backgrounds for the Synoptics (to which one might easily add the

first half of Acts and the book of Hebrews, although Bivin and Blizzard do

not), or with the theories of composition and authorship and notions of

literary convention that are sometimes attached to accepted notions of the

inspiration of these ancient documents of the Church.


The Language of Jesus

     Bivin and Blizzard first take up the question of the language of Jesus.

This question is not settled as easily as one might expect from reading the

unfortunate translation of  [Ebrai~j and  [Ebrai*sti< as "Aramaic" in the NIV

(John 5:2; 19:13, 17, 20; 20:16; Acts 21:40; 22:2; 26:14).  One would have

expected a little more reticence in changing the text on the part of these

particular translators.  In their defense, however, it must be said that they are

following in part the suggestion of the Greek lexicon available at that time,9

but the more recent lexicon10 which was published the year after the complete

NIV, adds that "Grintz, JBL 79, '60, 32-47 holds that some form of Hebrew

was commonly spoken." Had either Gingrich and Danker or the translators

of the NIV been aware of the large amount of literature published between

1960 and 1978 which supports Grintz's contention, they undoubtedly would.

have taken more seriously the NT's statement that these words were Hebrew11

It is a little unfair, for example, that the NIV takes "Rabboni" in John 20: 16

as "Aramaic" when the text says that it is Hebrew, and it is in fact equally as

good Hebrew as Aramaic.12 Even if it were Aramaic, it undoubtedly could

have been described as Hebrew as legitimately as "Abba" and "Imma" can be


9   William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New

Testament and Other Early Christian literature (A translation and adaptation of

Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testa-

ments ulid der ubrigen urchristlichen literature, fourth revised and augmented edition,

1952; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1957) 212.

10   William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New

Testament and Other Early Christian literature (Second edition revised and augmented

by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker from Walter Bauer's fifth edition,

1958; Chicago: University of Chicago, 1979) 213.

11 See nn. 1, 2, and 3 of this article for a listing of some of this literature.

12 M. Jastrow,  A Dictionary of the Targumim. The Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi.

and the Midrashic Lliterature, (reprint; Brooklyn: P. Shalom, 1967) 1440. Josephus

seems to use "language of the fathers" J. W. 5.2) and "Hebrew" (J. W. 6.2.1) to refer to

Hebrew and not Aramaic as the spoken language of the people during the siege of



FIELDS: DIFFICULT WORDS OF JESUS                                     275


today, though in fact these last two may also be described as "Aramaic loan

words." NIV reverts to "Hebrew" for Ebri*sti< in Rev 9:11 and 16:16, where

there is no choice but to understand the words "Abaddon" (a synonym for

hell in Rabbinic literature)13 and "Armageddon" as Hebrew.  Somewhat less

defensible is the NIV's insertion of the Aramaic words Elwi, Elwi" in

Matthew's account of the crucifixion (27:46), with little important textual

support.14 These translations of the NIV show the bias which Bivin and Bliz-

zard oppose.

     Their first chapter reminds the reader that 78% of the biblical text as we

have it is in Hebrew (most of the OT).  If one grants to Bivin and Blizzard for

the moment their assertion about Hebrew originals for the gospels and adds

to the OT the highly Hebraic portions of the NT (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and

Acts 1:1-15:35, which together constitute 40% of the NT), the percentage of

the biblical material with a Hebrew background rises to 87% (subtracting the

1% that is in Aramaic in Daniel and Ezra).  When one further adds the 176

quotations from the OT in John and from Acts 15:36 to the end of the NT,

this percentage rises to over 90%.  To this Bivin and Blizzard might have

added the entire book of Hebrews, which early Christian writers who speak

on the subject agree was written by Paul in Hebrew and translated into Greek

either by Luke or Clement of Rome.15 This would bring the percentage of NT

books with a Hebrew background even closer to 100%.16 All of this leads


13 Ibid., 3.

14 The textual support in favor of the Aramaic phrase is: x B 33 copsa, bo eth, but as

Metzger points out, this was undoubtedly an assimilation to the Aramaic reading in

Mark 15:34. The manuscripts are more divided on the spelling in Greek of the trans-

literated Hebrew hml (why?) as well as yniTaq;baw; (forsaken), with Codex Bezae charac-

teristically giving a completely Hebrew reading of the quotation from Ps 22:1, -------

representing the Hebrew yniTab;zafE. Thus the NIV strikes out on its own here, rejecting the

reading of the Byz family, most other manuscripts, and the UBS text as well (Bruce M.

Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [New York: United

Bible Societies, 1971] 70,119-20).

15 Eusebius speaks of this tradition several times, indicating his preference for

Clement of Rome as the translator on the basis of literary similarity with I Clement,

but also recording that there was a strong tradition in favor of Luke. Both Clement of

Alexandria and Origen concur with this tradition that the Greek Hebrews is a transla-

tion (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3:37; 6:14; 6:25).

16 To this many would add the Gospel of John. Cf. C. F. Burney, The Aramaic

Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1922) and The Poetry of Our Lord

(Oxford: Clarendon, 1925). What is proposed here for Aramaic might even more

cogently be proposed for Hebrew. In addition to this, even W. F. Howard (James

Hope Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. II: Accidence and Word

Formation, by W. F. Howard [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920] 484) says that "the

solution of the tangled problem of the language of the Apocalypse is said to be this:

(a) The author writes in Greek, thinks in Hebrew; (b) he has taken over some Greek

sources already translated from the Hebrew; (c) he has himself translated and adapted

some Hebrew sources." On the basis of "the instances of mistranslation corrected by

retroversion" Howard leans toward the latter two suggestions. However, it appears

that, when new advances in understanding the Hebrew of the period as well as early

historical references about the composition of the Apocalypse are taken into account,

the first of these suggested solutions is nearer the mark. The very Hebraic style of

Revelation is most transparent.



rather inescapably to the conclusion that Hebrew is as important for the

study of the NT as it is for the study of the OT (though certainly not to the

exclusion of other languages and cultures which were influential in the period

of the Second Temple).

     It is interesting that the authors connect the theories of Markan priority

and Aramaic backgrounds as well as the idea that the Greek Gospels repre-

sent "late, faulty transmission of oral reports recorded by the Greek speaking

Church far removed from the unsophisticated Judean and Galilean scene"

(p. 26) with "liberal" scholarship.  It might be more to the point to say that

the first two are almost universally assumed by NT scholarship of every

brand, while at the least the oral aspect is tacitly assumed by many, both

"liberal" and "conservative" alike.  Bivin and Blizzard imply (though the point

is not made as forcefully as it could be) that the gospels we have rest on

written records, and that these records were made in the land of Jesus in the

language of Jesus by people surrounded by the culture and religion of Jesus

very shortly after the life of Jesus.  This, in their opinion, makes the study of

Hellenism and things Hellenistic (not to speak of Roman language, religion,

and culture) very secondary indeed for the understanding of the gospels.17 Of

course, it must first be established that Hebrew was the primary spoken

medium of Jesus and his followers.  Certainly Aramaic was used, but not as

much as it was four or five centuries earlier by the returning captives from

Aramaic-speaking Babylon.  Aramaic was the language of the upper class and

was well-known and used among scholars for certain purposes.  But most of

the literary indications extant today about the language of the common people

of Jesus' day point toward Hebrew as the primary language in an undoubtedly

bi-, tri-, or quadrilingual society (and no one living in multilingual Israel

today can doubt the possibility and feasibility of such a thing in Jesus' day).

The linguistic situation during that time is probably best described by the

term "diglossia."  This term is used to describe the well-known habit of multi-

lingual speakers of speaking their various languages in different religious,

social, economic, or political situations, which may vary as well with the

particular geographical setting in which an utterance is made.  The indications

in favor of Hebrew are: (1) the languages used in the inscriptions on the cross

(Greek, Latin, and Hebrew); (2) the large number of Hebrew words surviving

in the NT (many more by actual count than Aramaic words); (3) the now

better-understood fact that Hebrew works from the time (just as modern

Israeli Hebrew scholarly works) contain Aramaisms, but that these do not

point to Aramaic originals; and (4) most especially the astounding fact that

much of the day-to-day Second Temple literature discovered at Qumran and


17 The debate about the "Hellenistic" or "Non-Hellenistic" background of the

writers of the NT (including Paul) continues.C.F. e.g., on the Hellenistic side, Samuel

Sandmel, The Genius of Paul (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), and on Jewish side,

W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (4th ed.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980). For

a most stimulating recent approach to the religion of Paul, see E. P. Sanders, Paul and

Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) and Idem, Paul. the law and the

Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983).

FIELDS: DIFFICULT WORDS OF JESUS                         277


Massada is in Hebrew. All of this, and especially the last point, is so over-

whelming that even Matthew Black has had to concede that "if this is a cor-

rect estimate of the Qumran evidence [Wilcox's contention that Hebrew was

a spoken Palestinian language in NT times], where Hebrew vastly predomi-

nates over Aramaic, then it may be held to confirm the view identified with

the name of Professor Segal that Hebrew was actually a spoken vernacular in

Judaea in the time of Christ.”18

     One of the most striking indications of Jesus' use of Hebrew comes from

his words on the cross, Hli hli lema  sabaxqani (Matt 27:46; see n. 14 above

on the text).  Although Mark 15:34 records them in Aramaic, Elwi  Elwi

lema sabaxqani, quoting the Targum to Psalm 22, the context seems to indi-

cate that Jesus must have uttered them in Hebrew, because Eli (Hli, ylixe) was

a shortened form of Eliyahu (Hli<aj, Uhy.Alixe), "Elijah," only in Hebrew, and

the bystanders thought Jesus was calling for Elijah. But yhilAx<, the Aramaic

(see Dan 6:23), could not have been mistaken for "Eliahu." Only Hebrew ylixe

can account for the misunderstanding.  Bivin and Blizzard could have pointed

out the obvious psychological fact that the utterance of a man in pain and in

the throes of death, without any doubt whatsoever would have been made in

the language he was most accustomed to speaking. Sabaxqani may have been

as much Mishnaic-like Hebrew as Aramaic, though it was certainly Aramaic

in the first instance and would have come over into Hebrew only as a

loanword-a distinct possibility in Jesus' time, considering the kind of litera-

ture in which it occurs.19  It is used enough now in Modern Hebrew to be

considered genuine Hebrew by Even-Shoshan; it passed from loanword status

to Hebrew status somewhere along the way.20  Of course the Biblical Hebrew

word in Psalm 22:1 is yniTab;zafE. The word hm.AlA?, transliterated variously by Greek


18 M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts (3rd ed.; Oxford:

Clarendon, 1967) 47. Birkeland gives a convenient summary of the history of Aramaic

and suggests a view of the relative importance of Aramaic and Hebrew as spoken

languages in the time of Jesus similar to the one suggested above in this article (Harris

Birkeland, The Language of Jesus [Oslo: I Kommisjon Hos Jacob Dybwad, 1954]

1-40). Some other important sources for the consideration of Aramaic vis-A-vis Hebrew

are: B. Jongeling, C. J. Labuschagne, and A. S. Van der Woude, Aramaic Texts from

Qumran Semitic Study Series, new series edited by J. H. Hospers, T. Jansma, and

G. F. Pijper, vol. 1/4; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1976); Jonas C. Greenfield, "Aramaic and Its

Dialects," in Jewish Languages, ed. by Herbert H. Paper, pp.29-43; and E. Y.

Kutscher, "Aramaic," Encyclopedia Judaica 3: cols. 259-87. Especially important is the

evidence in favor of Mishnaic Hebrew as the spoken medium during the Second

Temple period adduced by M. H. Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (Oxford:

Clarendon, 1927) 1-20.

19 Jastrow, Dictionary, 1516-17.

20 Nwvw-Nbx Mhrbx, yrbfh Nylymh (rps-tyrq: Mylwvry) 1323. James Barr's discussion

ofAramaisms" and Aramaic loanwords in Hebrew still remains one of the best on the

subject.  See his Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (Oxford:

Clarendon, 1968) 121-24. For an explanation of and a listing of other Modern Hebrew

borrowings from Aramaic, see Jonas C. Greenfield, "Aramaic and Its Dialects," in

Jewish Languages. Theme and Variations ed. by Herbert H. Paper (Cambridge, MA:

Association for Jewish Studies, 1978) 42.

278                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


manuscripts in the Matthew passage as lima, lema, and lama, and in the

Mark passage by the additional meima.21 The difference in pronunciation

between the Aramaic and Hebrew would have been difficult to distinguish

orally, so the language of the utterance probably hinges on the shortened

form of Elijah.

     Other convincing proofs for Hebrew as the spoken vernacular follow one

upon another.  Consider the account in the Talmud (Nedarim 66b)22 about the

difficulties an Aramaic-speaking Jew from Babylon had in communicating

with his Jerusalemite wife, who spoke Hebrew, or the findings of Flusser that

of the hundreds of Semitic idioms in the Synoptic Gospels most can be

explained on the basis of Hebrew only, while there "are no Semitisms which

could only be Aramaic without also being good Hebrew" (p. 40). Or consider

the opinion of Moshe Bar-Asher, the prominent Aramaic scholar at Hebrew

University, that the Synoptics go back to an original Hebrew and not Ara-

maic.  Joining in this train, according to Bivin and Blizzard, are Pinchas

Lapide of Bar-Ilan University (Tel-Aviv), William Sanford LaSor (Fuller

Seminary), Frank Cross (Harvard University), and J. T. Milik (pp. 40-43).

     But for those familiar with the writings of the early Fathers this does not

come as a total surprise.  The testimony to an original Hebrew Gospel by

Matthew is found from about A.D. 165 in Papias, through Irenaeus, Origen,

Eusebius, Epiphanius, and most strikingly, Jerome (ca. 400).  During his

thirty-one years of translating in Bethlehem he wrote that

Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel

of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the

circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though

by what author is uncertain.  The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the

present day in the library at Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered.  I

have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the

Nazarenes of Beroea, a city of Syria, who use it.  In this it is to be noted that

wherever the Evangelist, whether on his own account or in the person of our

Lord the Saviour quotes the testimony of the Old Testament he does not follow

the authority of the translators of the Septuagint but the Hebrew.  Wherefore

these two forms exist, 'Out of Egypt have I called my son,' and 'for he shall be

called a Nazarene."23

One of the common arguments for an Aramaic vernacular at the time of

Jesus is the existence of targumim and the discovery of some of these Ara-

maic paraphrases at Qumran.  But the targumim undoubtedly originated in a

linguistic situation which preceded Jesus' time by at least a century and a half

or more and which changed by the last days of the Second Temple.  This can

be seen by careful analysis of the writings of the Tannaim and Amoraim.

Furthermore, the Aramaic targumim are outnumbered at Qumran by Greek

translations, and few seriously contend that Greek was the primary spoken


21 Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 70, 119-20.

22 Babylonian Talmud (London: Soncino, 1936), Nedarim 66b, pp. 214-15.

23 See n. 5 above for the other references. To these should be added Epiphanius,

Refutation of All Heresies, 30.3.7. The complete. quotation from Jerome can be found

in Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, 3, in vol. 3 of the Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers,

second series, trans. by E. C. Richardson, ed. by P. Schaff and H. Ware, p. 362.

FIELDS: DIFFICULT WORDS OF JESUS                         279


language of first century Israel.  It is significant that the Pesharim (commen-

taries) found at Qumran are all in Hebrew.   It is possible that it was the

religious revival that occurred under Judas Maccabaeus after his cleansing of

the Temple in December, 164 B.C. (for which Hannukkah is a commemora-

tion), which was the impetus for the resurgence of Hebrew as the primary

vernacular of Israel's Jews by the time of Jesus (p. 55).

      Coins, inscriptions,24 Rabbinic literature such as the Mishnah, and espe-

cially Rabbinic parables (there are about five thousand of these which survived in

Hebrew and only two in Aramaic) all go to bolster the case for Hebrew as the

vernacular of Second Temple Israel and thus of the documents behind the gospels.

       But perhaps most telling are the gospels themselves, and in particular the

Gospel of Luke, the Greek translation of which evidences transparently

literalistic translation from a Hebrew original more often (and perhaps most

surprisingly) than do either Mark or Matthew. These semitisms, most notice-

able in syntax and idiomatic expressions (as would be the case with any

literalistic translation) are not evenly spread throughout the book. They occur

in blocks, most notably in direct statements attributed to Jesus or to his

Jewish opponents.  Some of these Hebraisms are so common and obvious

that one scarcely needs to mention them, but for those unfamiliar with them,

perhaps it is valuable to note a few. The constant kai>  e]ge<neto + e]n + article +

infinitive + subject of infinitive in the accusative + kai> + main verb obviously

reflects yhiy.;va + preposition (usually b or k) + infinitive construct + v + main

verb.25 Thus, the repetitious use of - in narrative is reproduced as one of the

outstanding characteristics of the gospels, a feature also apparent in literalistic

English translations such as KJV or NASB, which retain the semitic syntax,

even twice or three times removed.

       It might be helpful to give an example of the ease with which many

portions of Luke are returned to idiomatic Hebrew, often with few changes

even in word order.  One that Lindsey uses, Luke 22:67-70, is particularly

excellent since it contains a common Rabbinic introduction to a disputation

as well as allusions to two OT passages (and possibly a veiled reference to a

third passage):

ei] su> ei# o[ xristo<j,  ei]pon  h[mi?n.  ei#pen de>                           UnlA rmox, Haywim.Aha hTAxa Mxi

au]toi?j: e]a>n u[mi?n ei@pw, ou] mh> pisteu<shte                    Mk,lA rmaxo Mxi Mh,ylexE rm,xy.Ova

e]a>n de> e]rwth<sw, ou] mh> a]pokriqh?te                           UnfEta xlo lxawix, Mxiv; UnymixEta xlo

a]po tou? nu?n de> e@stai o[ ui[o>j tou? a]ntqrw<pou                  bweOy wnAx,  rBa hy,hyi hTafameU

kaqh<menoj e]k deciw?n th?j duna<mewj tou? qeou?.                                  . . . hrAUbG;ha Nymiyli

ei#pan de> pa<ntej: su> ou#n ei# o[ ui[o>j tou? qeou?.                  NB, xOpxe hTAxa  MlA.Ku Urm;xy.ova

o[ de> pro>j au]tou>j e@fh: u[mei?j le<gete o!ti e]gw<                 MT,xa Mh,ylexE rm,xy.ova Myhilox<hA

ei]mi.                                                                                                      xUh ynixE yKi Myrim;Ox


24 Francis E. Peters has cautioned against giving too much weight to coins for

deciding the languages of Palestine during this period (Francis E. Peters, "Response,"

in Jewish Languages. Theme and Variations, 161).

25 As recognized by Nigel Turner, who calls this construction a "Semitism" (James

Hope Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. 3: Syntax, by Nigel Turner

[Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963] 144-46). See also his long listing of other semitisms, pp. 398-99.

280                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Lindsey's explanation of this passage is a good example of the kind of

work that is being done by those studying the gospels from the standpoint of

their Hebrew and Jewish background:


                      As in all of Luke it is not Jesus who uses the word Messiah about himself;

this word is employed by the chief priests who are trying to get Jesus to "level"

with them and confess the thing his actions and speech have long hinted at but

not made explicit.  Faced with hostile interrogators who are nevertheless con-

scious of their duty to get the facts Jesus does "level" with them by pointedly

telling them that he cannot expect them to believe the truth if he says it and that

he cannot even "ask" them anything; this last is a reference to the accepted

rabbinic procedure in debate: the one asked a question is allowed to ask a ques-

tion in return.  But rather than leave things at an impasse Jesus then makes a

statement which can only leave his hearers following the patterns of rabbinic

exegesis to try to make out what he means. "The Son of Man" is a Messianic

title they know full well from Daniel 7.13,14 and the "seated at the right hand"

they easily identify as a reference to Messianic Psalm 110.  Jesus' expression "the

Power" is another accommodation to the rabbinic habit of replacing an ordi-

nary name for the deity by an evasive synonym.  But of even more interest is the

seeming addition in the priestly expression "the Son of God."  Here, as Professor

Flusser once pointed out to me, the explanation seems to be in the way the

rabbis connected Psalm 110 with Psalm 2 by reading verse 3 of the former as

j~yTil;lAy; lFa (cf. the LXX) which is the same verb found in Psalm 2:7.  They answer

therefore: "You are then the Son of God!" and of course mean, "You are, then,

the Messiah!" Jesus answers, "It is you who are saying that I am he!"26


       Bivin and Blizzard point out such common Hebrew idioms in the gospels.

as "he lifted up his eyes and saw," "Heaven," in "Kingdom of Heaven" as a

substitute term for God for fear of violation of the third commandment;27

and the idiom "to come/be near," as the equivalent of "to be present" (i.e.,

"the Kingdom of God is here," not "near"). Bivin and Blizzard's equation of

the word "judgment" with "salvation" instead of with "destruction" may not

be as well chosen, even though this may occasionally be the way to translate

the word in the OT.

       Even Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker recognize a number of these idioms,

while, perhaps, not fully appreciating their significance since the bulk of their

work (and Bauer’s) was completed before the important implications of the

Qumran discoveries came to be appreciated.  Still they list a number of

idioms with a semitic background both in the introduction to the lexicon as

well as in the text itself.28  They do at least recognize the influence of the LXX

on NT Greek syntax, and there can be no doubt where the LXX got its

syntax.  Still, one is not quite prepared for the superlative in which they

express it.  “As for the influence of the LXX, every page of this lexicon shows

that it outweighs all other influences on our literature.”29  While this state-

ment may be hyperbole, these lexiconographers are definitely on the mark


26Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark, xx-xi.

27Cf. Bruce D. Chilton, A Galilean Rabbi and His Bible (Wilmington: Michael

Glazier, 1984) 78.

28BAGD, xix-xxv

29BAGD, xxi

FIELDS: DIFFICULT WORDS OF JESUS                                     281


about one thing: the NT is full of semitic syntax, vocabulary, idioms, and

thought patterns.  Perhaps in the case of the Synoptics, however, this should

not be traced so much to the influence of a Hebrew-to-Greek translation of

the OT, as a Hebrew-to-Greek translation of documents which lie behind

these gospels.  In any case, the point is that the Hebrew influence is there, and

this fact coupled with other factors already mentioned in this article once

again points to Hebrew as the linguistic background for the gospels.  As for

the actual listing of the Hebrew expressions and idioms in the gospels, the

72-page-long list in Moulton-Howard, vol. 2 (where the whole scope of the

NT is covered) is only a beginning;30 there are many more which are most

apparent to someone who wears the glasses of Hebrew fluency to see them.


The Process of Composition


       One of the more controversial parts of the book by Bivin and Blizzard

will be their discussion of the process of composition of the gospels.  Although

there is very little in the canonical writings which explains the actual process

of writing down the stories, or the mechanics of inspiration, there are ideas

about composition and inspiration which have come to be almost canonical!

       It is undoubtedly worthwhile to remind ourselves just what is actually

known.  As for the composition of the gospels, only Luke tells us his method:

he used written sources (Luke 1:1-4).  He undoubtedly had oral sources as

well, but he does not say that he did.  Early church historians suggest rather

often that Paul was an oral source for Luke and that very well may have been

true to some extent.31  As for the mechanics of inspiration, the Bible gives no

explanation at all.  And the situation is complicated even more by the fact

that the foundations of currently popular views on inspiration among Ameri-

can evangelicals, the "autograph," is something neither mentioned in the NT,

nor in any of the discussions of inspiration and canonicity in the first cen-

turies of the Church.32 This is notable because there is an obvious question

which arises from the early church accounts that the Greek Gospel of Matthew

and the Greek book of Hebrews are translations: what is an autograph? Or,

more to the point, which was the autograph then in the case of these books:

the Hebrew original or the Greek translation?  The same question might arise

out of Luke's report that he used written sources for his gospel, as well as the

suggestions of Bivin and Blizzard about the composition of the Synoptics.  On

the one hand both our conceptions of canonicity and the content of the

Canon are entirely dependent upon the tradition of the Church Fathers.33


30 Moulton and Howard, Grammar, vol. 2, 413-85.

31Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.24.

32Liddell and Scott list only Dionysius Halicarnassensis and Plutarch as users of

the word (LSJ, 279). BAGD does not list the word. It is true, of course, that the

concept does not depend upon the use of this particular word, but I can find no such

concept connected with inerrancy during the early centuries of the church.

33The main canon lists are: The Muratorian Canon (ca. 2nd century); Eusebius

(4th century); Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 349); Apostolic Canons (4th century); Codex

Alexandrinus (4th century); Council of Laodicea (A.D. 363); Council of Carthage

(A.D. 397); the African Code (A.D. 419); and Jerome (A.D. 420). None except Jerome

282                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


the other hand the Fathers neither raise nor answer the question of "auto-

graphs," since they were not, apparently, concerned with them or even aware

of the concept as it is used today, even though they spoke freely about the

fact that some of the NT books were translations.  Thus, an answer to the

question, "what is an autograph" is not immediately apparent, but it is a

crucial question for the doctrine of inerrancy, since inerrancy is claimed only

for "the autographs." Bivin and Blizzard raise the question only by implica-

tion and thus do not suggest an answer.

       With this background, then, we come to the propositions of Bivin and

Blizzard about the composition of the Synoptics.  They outline four steps in

the process of the preservation and transmission of the gospel stories.  Natur-

ally, these steps are hypothetical.  Of course this must be the case with any

reconstruction based on a particular theory, such as the currently popular

theory of Markan priority.  Since any theory of composition is based on a

long series of inferences, no matter what hypothesis one prefers, one is still

working in the dark.  In the end a theory of composition must be judged on

the basis of how many questions it answers and problems it solves, weighed

against the questions it does not answer and the problems it does not solve.

Bivin and Blizzard believe that their alternative to Markan priority answers

more questions and solves more problems while at the same time leaving

unsolved and unanswered less than does the theory of Markan priority.

       Step one occurred within five years of the death and resurrection of

Jesus, when his words were recorded in Hebrew.  Bivin and Blizzard estimate

that this "Life of Jesus" was about 30-35 chapters long.  Notice that they

postulate a very early written account, as opposed to the widely held theory

that the raw material of the gospels is late and oral.

       Step two according to Bivin and Blizzard involved the translation of the

Hebrew "Life of Jesus" into Greek in order to supply the demand for it in

Greek-speaking churches outside of Israel.  The translation was, like the trans-

lation of the LXX, slavishly literal, and "since books translated from Hebrew into

Greek are much longer in Greek, it was about 50-60 chapters in length" (p. 94).

       Step three followed only a few years later when, "probably at Antioch,

the stories, and frequently elements within the stories, found in this Greek

translation were separated from one another and then these fragments were

arranged topically, perhaps to facilitate memorization.  (What remained were

fragments that were often divorced from their original and more meaningful

contexts)" (pp. 94-95).  There are a number of clear instances of "fragmenta-

tion" in the gospels which Bivin and Blizzard did not point out.  An example

may be seen by comparing Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" with the

fragments of it scattered throughout Luke. My own computer-assisted analy-

sis of the approximately 390 sections (using the divisions of the UBS Greek

NT), for example, has demonstrated that large sections of the material found


agrees completely with our canon. Most of these are conveniently gathered and cited in

their original Greek or Latin (except the Muratorian fragment, which is undoubtedly a

translation) in B. F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the

New Testament (7th ed.; London: Macmillan, 1896) 530-68.

FIELDS: DIFFICULT WORDS OF JESUS                         283


in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 in one "sermon" are found in six different places in

Luke (6, II, 12, 13, 14, 16) in addition to shorter sections found elsewhere.

Some of this difference in arrangement of material is undoubtedly a reflection

of Jesus' repetition of his words in slightly different form to different audi-

ences in different places at different times and in different contexts.  But some

of it might also support the contention of Bivin and Blizzard that a certain

amount of fragmentation and displacement occurred between the time that

the stories were originally committed to writing and the time that they were

arranged in the form in which we have them now.34  This displacement of

stories from their contexts may be clearly seen by comparing accounts of the

same stories in the Synoptics.  One example which will clearly illustrate the

point is the healing story found beginning in Luke 4:40, Mark 1:32, and

Matthew 8: 16.  In Luke and Mark the phrase "when it was evening," or "when

the sun had gone down" makes sense in those two books since the story is set

in the context of Shabbat (the Sabbath); and of course the Jews had to wait

until Shabbat was over before they could do any work such as bringing sick

people to Jesus to be healed.  But in Matthew the same story (as well as the

healing of Peter's mother-in-law) is set in a different context with nothing

either preceding or following it about Shabbat.  Hence in Matthew the phrase

"when evening came" has been separated from its original context and one

must go to the parallels in Luke and Mark to recover its full meaning.

Step four in the composition of our Synoptics according to Bivin and

Blizzard was the stage at which a fluent Greek author used this topically

arranged text, reconstructed its fragmented elements and stories to produce a

gospel with some chronological order (either explicit or implicit), and thus

created still another document.  "This author, even before our Matthew,

Mark, and Luke, was the first to struggle with a reconstruction of the original

order of the story units (represented by steps one and two).  In the process of

reconstruction, he improved its (step three's) grammatically poor Greek, as

well as shortening it considerably" (p. 95).

       According to this theory of the composition of the gospels, Luke wrote

first and used only the "topical" text (step three) and the "reconstructed text"

(step four).  Mark followed Luke's work (both Luke's Gospel and his Acts, as

Lindsey points out)35 and Matthew used Mark's.  Mark and Matthew had

access to the "topical" text (step three) as well, but none of the synoptic

writers had access to the original Hebrew "Life of Jesus" (step one) or the

first Greek translation of that "Life" (step two).  Matthew did not use Luke

directly.36  Bivin and Blizzard also suggest that Matthew wrote the original

Hebrew "Life of Jesus" as all of the Church Fathers who speak on the matter

in the first 400 years of church history contend, but the extant Matthew was


34Cf. Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark, xxii-xxvi; Joachim

Jeremias, The Sermon on the Mount, trans. by Norman Perrin (Philadelphia: Fortress,

1963) 13-33.

35Lindsey, A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark, 39.  To this Lindsey adds

Mark's verbal dependence upon James, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Corinthians, and

Romans (p. 52).


284                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


not done by him, and his name came to be associated with it because of its

evidently Jewish tone and the tradition that Matthew wrote his in Hebrew.

While it is true that our Gospel of Matthew does not itself say who wrote it,

and we thus rely entirely on the tradition of Church History for this conclu-

sion, the tradition itself is so pervasive that there seems to be no good reason

to deny it. Matthew's Hebrew "Life of Jesus" is connected with the disciple

by that name as late as Jerome, who, as we noted above, says that a copy of

it in Hebrew was still in the library in Caesarea in his day.  But even Jerome

admits that no one knows or even suggests who might have translated the

Hebrew Gospel into Greek.

       In any event the priority of Luke is the heart of the burden of Bivin and

Blizzard and in this they are merely summarizing decades of work by Lind-

sey, which Lindsey himself conveniently outlines in a most convincing manner

in the introduction to his translation of Mark.  NT scholars in the West have

yet seriously to interact with it, perhaps in many cases because they simply do

not know about it.  It is most unfortunate that the book was originally pub-

lished in Israel, that its title does not indicate the full scope of the important

material it presents, and it has not been widely advertised.  These factors have

undoubtedly led to its obscurity.



       Some of the scholars in Israel who have spent a lifetime studying the

Synoptics have themselves attempted to reconstruct some of the fragmented

stories and teachings by combining elements from the various gospels which

can be related through key words.  Bivin and Blizzard give one example of

this with a reconstruction of the Mary and Martha story, combining elements

from Luke 10, Matthew 6 = Luke 12, and Luke 16.  Thus, Martha's complaint

about Mary's neglect of her share of the work precedes Jesus' teachings on

worry gathered from several places.  These are followed by the story of the

rich man who tore down his barns to build bigger ones.  Then the story is

concluded with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

       Of all of the innovations in the book, this is the one which may be

hardest to accept.  In fact, the entire chapter would probably have been better

left out of the book.  Such reconstruction, one might argue, may be the next

logical step after one has recognized that some stories are fragmented.  Gospel

harmonies actually amount to this.  But there is still a lingering feeling that

what we have is what we have, and that we should leave it as it is.  Each

canonical gospel has come down to us in a form which has value and signifi-

cance just as it is. Each must in the end stand on its own merits.  Comparison

of the Synoptics for the purpose of understanding parallel stories is one thing

(and must be done at a deeper level than mere lexical similarity); comparison

of the Synoptics for the purpose of reconstruction is quite another.  It is not

that it is any more theologically dangerous or disrespectful of the gospels

than, e.g., Gospel Harmonies or the numbers in the Eusebian and Ammonian

Canon Tables.  It is simply a question of whether extensive reconstruction on

the basis of a few similar words or thoughts is really convincing or helpful.

FIELDS: DIFFICULT WORDS OF JESUS                         285


Retroversion and Retranslation


       "Theological error due to mistranslation" takes up the next section of the

book.  These "theological errors" according to Bivin and Blizzard are "paci-

ficism," "giving without discernment," and the "theology of martyrdom."  The

arguments are made rather convincingly, but they may not convince everyone.

This section is followed by an appendix in which Bivin discusses individual

verses and phrases and explains them from their Hebrew/Jewish background.

For the less trained reader this section will undoubtedly be the most interest-

ing.  For the trained reader this section is the test of whether the idea of

Hebrew backgrounds to the gospels is a good solution for difficulties of trans-

lation and interpretation.  If a few of the flaws, such as the use of the King

James Version instead of the Greek text, can be overlooked, almost anyone

can find help here with some of the most impenetrable sayings of Jesus.

The first saying which Bivin discusses is "Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Here Bivin points out that this verse

intends to teach that God's followers are made up of the spiritually "down

and out," who are humble enough to let God save them.

       Luke 23:31, "For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be

done in the dry?" is explained against the background of Ezekiel's prophecy

against Jerusalem and its Temple in Ezek 20:45-21:7.  Jesus identifies himself

with the "Green Tree," a Messianic symbol of the times and the "Dry Tree"

with the people of Jerusalem who would face a worse fate than Jesus at the

hands of the Romans.  Bivin suggests that "in" should be "against" (no doubt

going back to an original Hebrew ).  Not only does the verse finally make

sense, but it shows once again, as Bivin says, that "Jesus seems hardly ever to

have spoken without somehow or in some way making a messianic claim," even

though he never comes right out and says "I am the Messiah" in the Synoptics.

       Bivin finds the key to Matt 11: 12, "From the days of John the Baptist

until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it

by force," by comparing a rabbinic midrash of Mic 2:13, a connection pointed

out by Flusser.  It appears that Jesus is here taking a Messianic interpretation

from the literature (whether oral or written) of his culture, perhaps altering it

slightly, and subtly using it to make a messianic claim.

       Bivin next takes up Luke 12:49-50:  "I am come to send fire on the earth;

and what will I, if it be already kindled?  But I have a baptism to be baptized

with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished."  This enigmatic state-

ment is the occasion for the most lengthy and fascinating explanation that

Bivin offers.  By comparing the verse with Matt 3:11 and Isa 66:15-16, and by

explaining the many Hebraisms latent in the verse, Bivin shows that it is

better translated,


     I have come to cast fire upon the earth,

     But how could I wish it [the earth] were already burned up?

     I have a baptism to baptize,

     And how distressed I am till it is over!

286                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


       In his discussion of Matt 16:19, "Whatsoever you shall bind (or loose) on

earth shall be bound (or loosed) in heaven," Bivin shows that understanding

the Hebrew background of the saying would lead to the translation "allow"

and "disallow" for this very common rabbinic phrase.  He also shows how this

authority was applied at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, at which James

both "loosed," i.e., allowed the believers not to be circumcised and not to

keep the whole law, and "bound," i.e., disallowed idolatry, cult prostitutes,

and eating meat from which the blood had not been removed (Lev 7:26).

Matt 5:20, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of

the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of

heaven," is illuminated by the insight that the hqAdAc; of the Pharisees had been

reduced to almsgiving, and Jesus was calling for a greater hqAdAc;, God's hqAdAcA


       Matt 5:17-18, "Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the

prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say to you, till

heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law

till all be fulfilled," is explained by showing the typical Hebrew rabbinic

phrases employed in this statement evidently aimed at other rabbis.  The

Hebrew idiom "I have come" obviously means "it is my purpose to," and the

terms "destroy" and "fulfill" were commonly employed in Jesus' day as tech-

nical terms in rabbinic argumentation.  "When a rabbi felt that his colleague

had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, 'You are destroying

the Law.'  Needless to say, in most cases his colleague strongly disagreed.

What was 'destroying the Law' for one rabbi, was 'fulfilling the Law' (cor-

rectly interpreting Scripture) for another" (p. 154).  Thus, it is Jesus' method

of interpretation that is under consideration here. Hence, to paraphrase, he is

saying "never imagine for a moment that I intend to abrogate the Law by

misinterpreting it.  My intent is not to weaken or negate the Law, but by

properly interpreting God's Written Word I aim to establish it, that is, make

it even more lasting.  I would never invalidate the Law by effectively removing

something from it through interpretation.  Heaven and earth would sooner

disappear than something from the Law.  Not the smallest letter in the alphabet,

 the yod nor even its decorative spur, will ever disappear from the Law" (p. 155).

       Bivin goes on to show that Luke 6:22, "cast your name as evil" is simply

a literalistic translation of the Hebrew idiom meaning, "to defame (publicly)

you."  Luke 9:29, "the appearance of his face was altered," a phrase appearing

twice in rabbinic literature, is shown to be a subtle messianic claim.  Luke 9:44,

"lay these sayings in your ears" is a Hebrew expression familiar to any reader

of Biblical Hebrew.

       One often hears that the expression "he set his face to go" in Luke 9:51

demonstrates Jesus' resolve to go to Jerusalem, but Bivin correctly points out

that this expression has nothing to do with resolve, but is only a Hebrew

idiom which means "turned in the direction of."

       One final example of sayings of Jesus better understood through recog-

nition of the Hebrew and Jewish background of the gospels is offered. It is

FIELDS: DIFFICULT WORDS OF JESUS                         287


the saying in Luke 10:5-6: "Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Shalom be

to this house.' And if a son of shalom is there, your shalom shall rest upon

him; but if not, it shall return to you," Bivin would paraphrase this "When

you are invited into a home, let your first act be to say, "Peace to this

family!" If the head of the house turns out to be truly friendly and hospitable

[a 'son of peace’], let the blessing, 'Peace,' you pronounced when you entered

his house remain upon his family.  If he is not friendly, withdraw your bless-

mg [and move to another house]"  (p, 168).  Bivin compares Jesus' instruction

here to similar blessing used by other rabbis: "Shalom to you, shalom to your

house [i.e" 'family’], and shalom to everything you own" (p. 169).

       With this the book closes, but it does not close the discussion it is likely

to engender.  The core of ideas which the book presents represent an oppor-

tunity for NT scholars to make a real advance in the understanding of the

gospels, and the book ought to be taken seriously even though it is in a

popular style and is defective literarily, typographically, and especially in the

many assertions which are not supported by sufficient documentation.  The

trained critical reader should not presume that lack of documentation in the

book means that documentation is not available.  One may suppose that some

of this lack of documentation is a result of the popular style the authors

chose in order to reach a larger audience.  It may also be that after having

lived and worked among speakers of Hebrew the authors came to assume

many things which are obvious to someone fluent in Hebrew and very con-

versant with Jewish culture and history, but not to those who do not have

such a background.  Or they may have simply underestimated the degree to

which NT studies in Western Europe and America have remained com-

fortably unaware of the original linguistic and cultural setting of our Synop-

tic Gospels. It is also possible that they did not fully realize the extent to

which American conservative Christianity is so much more dependent upon

the fourteen epistles of Paul, the Gospel of John, and the Apocalypse. The

Synoptics are largely untouched in American conservative Christianity, except

for portions which contain the infancy narratives, the narratives of the last

days of Jesus on earth, and a few scattered eschatological references.  In

contrast to the early Christians whose favorite gospel seems to have been

it: Matthew, there is no doubt that American conservatives today prefer John, In

contrast to early Christians who placed much more emphasis on the teachings

of Jesus, American conservatives emphasize the epistles of Paul.  Without

making a judgment on the reasons for or the rightness or wrongness of these

phenomena, it is sufficient in the present case to remark that these facts alone

portend a resistance to the suggestions of Bivin and Blizzard.  The lack of

familiarity with the Synoptics on the part of a major segment of the Christian

community m the West will mean that few will even see the significance of

their suggestions and fewer still will be capable of evaluating them.  This is

not to say that everything that is suggested in the book will be acceptable

even to those who are capable of such evaluation.  Unfortunately, the tone of

some of the statements in the book places the forum for discussion of the

merits of its ideas on the very level where no questions of theology or biblical

288                             GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


scholarship are finally decided: the level of polemics and assertion.  I can only

hope that in a future edition of this book or perhaps in another book the

authors will offer more documentation from the many sources that are avail-

able, and that they will present this evidence in a format that will appeal

more to scholars.   But if one can look past this defect to the ideas themselves,

he will find a tool for the recovery of the background of the Synoptics which

will make them live, and thus, in my opinion, make them a much more

powerful corrective for human lives.  To be realistic, however, it must be

admitted that Bivin and Blizzard (as well as Lindsey, Flusser, Safrai, Lapide,

and others) are going against much of the mainstream of Western Synoptic

studies; but perhaps the stream needs to ask itself whether it is really flowing

in the right direction.

       It remains, finally, for each student of the Synoptics to remind himself,

as he should do periodically, that it is possible to worry so much about what

kind of material was used to build the house, who put it there, when it was

put there, and how and why it was put there, that the beauty of the finished

house itself is missed; but if the point of the study of gospel composition

continues to be the better understanding of the difficult words of Jesus and

the more incisive application of them as a corrective for human behavior,

then the enterprise remains not only beneficial but obligatory.




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Grace Theological Seminary

            200 Seminary Dr.

            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: