And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with this hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying, Acts 21:40
Hebrew Dialect – The single greatest impediment to understanding the words of the New Testament authors is our refusal to hear them in their own culture. For nearly two thousand years, the Church has generally considered the apostles as if they were Christian converts from Judaism. Yes, the Church acknowledges these men were ethnic Jews, but it contends, even today, that they left Judaism behind to become followers of the Christ. Hear the words of Ronald Fung. Claiming to describe Paul’s “pre-conversion” life, he writes, “the fanatical zeal which he [Paul] displayed as a devotee of Judaism was inspired not only be his desire to please God, but also be a desire to seek the favor of men, but the call of Christ had set him free . . .” In addition, Fung cites Barclay approvingly, claiming “faith in Christ and full commitment to the Torah are mutually exclusive in Paul’s soteriology.” Claims like this about Paul are not unusual in Christian theology. As far as the history of the Church is concerned, Sha’ul, the Jewish rabbi, converted to Christianity to become Paul, the apostle, a Greek-thinking apologist for a radical break from the legalism of the Jews. Of course, that isn’t what Paul says (but who cares what he says).
As a result of the theological bias, other elements enter the vocabulary of the Church. We inherit “mind-body-soul” from Greek philosophy and think it is Pauline. We speak as if Paul’s comments about women in particular circumstances are universal principles for all times and places (a Greek idea lodged in the eternal logos). We move toward an interior religious experience (individualism) rather than a community (Body). All of this changes when we take Sha’ul at his word. He is a Pharisee, a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, a follower of the Way, a believer that Yeshua is HaMashiach. So, when Sha’ul speaks to this audience at the Temple, he addresses them in Hebrew.
Ah, but you might object. The Greek text reads te ‘Ebraidi dialekto (in Hebrew dialect). Yes, it does say this, but look at Acts 2:7 where the same Greek word, dialekto, is used. Clearly in Acts 2 the word must mean language, not dialect. The surprise of the men from outside Israel is this: “these men speak to us in our own language.” So, why do the translators use the word “dialect” in Acts 21? Once again, we encounter theological prejudice. The claim that Jews in the first century spoke Aramaic is based on a particular theological view of the Babylonian captivity. But support for this claim is not found in the text or the archeology. It’s another example of the artificial separation of the Church from its Jewish roots. Is it any surprise the Church required specific renunciation of Judaism? Consider the following:
“I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspirations, purifications, sanctifications, and propitiations, and fasts and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants, and observances and synagogues, absolutely everything Jewish, every Law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be an anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils.”
Sha’ul spoke to them in Hebrew. He was one with his own people in thought and language. The only way we will ever understand him is to enter into Jewish thought and language. Then, perhaps, we can begin to recover a wasted legacy. It’s time to rewind.
Topical Index: Hebrew language, dialect, dialekto, Acts 2:7, Acts 21:40
Post note: You might find another required affirmation of the Church just as disturbing: “I accept all customs, rites, legalism, and feasts of the Romans, sacrifices. Prayers, purifications with water, sanctifications by Pontificus Maxmus (high priests of Rome), propitiations, and feasts, and the New Sabbath “Sol dei” (day of the Sun), all new chants and observances, and all the foods and drinks of the Romans. In other words, I absolutely accept everything Roman, every new law, rite and custom, of Rome, and the New Roman Religion.”
For today’s photo, click here – Barcelona