Today we’re looking at how the prince of Greece’s influence has affected the way we interpret scripture. Whilst the New Testament manuscripts we have are written in Greek Aramaic, there is reference from one of the early church fathers stating that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew. Irrespective of which language the New Testament was originally written in, for the most part its authors were Jews steeped in the Hebraic mindset and lifestyle. So even though they were writing in Greek Aramaic they used Hebrew (biblical) phrases and concepts.
In Acts 17:10-15 we read of the Jews in Berea, who upon hearing the message of Messiah from Paul and Silas searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were true. We often hear teaching commending them for this action (as it brought them to faith in Messiah) and we are told to emulate them i.e. when someone brings a teaching we should verify it against scripture before accepting it, and this is great advice. However the only scriptures a Berean Jew would refer to for testing teaching is the Tanakh (Old Testament).
Paul states in 2 Tim 3:14-17 that all scripture (again referring to the Tanakh) is inspired by God, is able to make us wise unto salvation and is profitable for doctrine. Paul is showing that the Tanakh was his reference point for truth.
So both Paul and the Bereans have provided us a biblical model for studying the New Testament. We have to check its writings and our interpretations of them against the Tanakh.
Romans 15:4 says:
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Again, these “things written before” refer to the Tanakh.
In fact the Tanakh is woven throughout the New Testament. In the New Testament’s 7,967 verses there are 2,606 Tanakh references, an astonishing 33% strike rate!
Given this wealth of connection between the Testaments, the way we study the New Testament seems quite strange. We often hear someone teaching e.g. on the word “Word” in the New Testament and the first place they start is by going to a Greek dictionary and looking up the definition of the Greek word “Word” used in the New Testament i.e. “logos.” This is the very subtle influence of the prince of Greece, changing our understanding of the New Testament by tying us to the “Greek” meanings and keeping us away from its true biblical meaning (more on logos later).
If the New Testament is rooted in the Hebrew Tanakh (and it is), shouldn’t we go back to the Tanakh, look up the Hebrew word for “Word” and start there? That would mean we could test the Bible against itself and use the Tanakh to define what the New Testament words really mean.
That would be really useful given that many important New Testament terms are just used in the New Testament without any attempt to introduce, explain or define them e.g. Word, Light, Way, Life, Truth, Repentance, Salvation etc. These are fundamental building blocks of our faith and yet we learn their meanings from the “Greek” definitions of the Greek words with pretty much no reference back to their Hebraic (biblical) meaning in the Tanakh. The reason the New Testament writers didn’t bother to define these terms is because they were already well known and understood by their readers who were referencing back to Tanakh (in true Berean style).
“But how can we know which Hebrew words the writers were intending when they wrote in Greek Aramaic?” I hear you ask. And that is a fantastic question. The great news is that there is a mechanism which translates the New Testament Greek directly back into the Old Testament Hebrew giving us clear links to the Hebrew roots and meanings of our New Testament. Possibly the biggest mistake the prince of Greece made during his reign in the centuries immediately before Messiah’s arrival was to have the Tanakh translated into Greek - the Septuagint LXX.
The Septuagint LXX is a translation of the Tanakh and some related texts into Koine Greek, sometimes called the Greek Old Testament. This translation is quoted a number of times in the New Testament, particularly in Pauline epistles. The title (literally “The Translation of the Seventy”) and its Roman numeral acronym LXX refer to the legendary seventy Jewish scholars who solely translated the Five Books of Moses as early as the 3rd century BCE.
So we can take the Greek words from our New Testament, find those same words in the Septuagint LXX and see what Hebrew words from the Tanakh they were translating. Having Paul quote from the Septuagint gives us added confidence of this mapping system back to the Hebrew.
And if we study the New Testament by mapping the meanings of the words from the Hebrew we will get back to the ways of YHVH which are clearly defined in Tanakh but are unfortunately often ignored by Western Christians.
For a quick example of how the prince of Greece has led us away from God’s ways let’s go back to that word “Word.” Among the pagan religious Greeks of Yeshua’s day, logos (the word) was a pagan god, the god of gods. He/it was the supreme knowledge also known as gnosis (Gnosticism anyone?). He/it was all about right thought, right mind, right purpose and right creed. In other words the logos was right belief (a thing and not a person). Knowledge was salvation: saying the right things (sinner’s prayer ring any bells?) and believing the right things (apostle’s creed etc).
And so we have a subtle shift from the “instructions of God becoming flesh” to the divine “knowledge of the god of gods.” Salvation has become an intellectual pursuit, with structured creeds as its evidence. Faith moved from simple trust in God to mean the acceptance of a series of propositions (sounding Greek yet?) And belief in God came to mean the assent to certain propositions about God. We went from God’s teachings in Tanakh concerning marriage, government, children, relationships, disease, food, unclean things, handling of criminals, waste management, health, money and love to a creedal system.
The “words of God” have become an abstract undefined concept that can be obtained by saying the right things without the necessity of doing the right things.
It’s time to get back to the Word and that means getting up close and personal with the Tanakh. This will affect how our faith works out in real life. Having a Hebrew understanding of what the New Testament is saying is like having the blinders come off. The New Testament feels so much more alive and connected and integral to the Tanakh.
To open up the New Testament for yourself, I highly recommend the book:
“The Tanakh – The Dictionary of the New Testament” by Bradford Scott.
It is available from the following link:
Enjoy your New Testament, get closer to God and don’t let the prince of Greece rob this from you.
Shalom and God Bless,