(originally November 2, 2007) And when some of the bystanders heard it, they began saying, “Behold, He is calling for Elijah.” Mark 15:35
This one is worth repeating. About a year and a half ago I wrote this Today’s Word. It was the keystone in the arch of my understanding. For thirty years, I had been working in two worlds. One side of the arch was the Greek world – my life in business and in the church. Some things worked but nothing really fit together and made sense. On the other side of the arch was my exploration in Hebrew thought, a process of discovery that began ten years before I wrote my Ph.D. on the differences between the Greek and Hebrew view of time. Suddenly, this one insight, that Jesus spoke Hebrew, was the keystone at the top of the arch. Both sides finally met in the middle, and a whole new way of seeing the integrated world came into being. It was an “ah ha” moment. I want to share it with you again, so that you can have another look at a new way of seeing the integrated Bible.
Elijah – I was wrong. In spite of the common theological idea that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and that the Greek New Testament was a translation from Aramaic, I have discovered that this is a mistake. It’s amazing what you can learn when you get old enough to admit your mistakes. But my confession to you has a much bigger implication than just that the teacher learned something new. The implication changes a great deal about how we understand the New Testament – and the teachings of Jesus. So, bear with me. We are about to make some startling corrections.
This word, Elijah, is the interpretation that people placed on the words of Jesus spoken from the cross. According to Mark 15:34, Jesus said, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” Mark tells us that this is translated as “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” We often take this to be an Aramaic phrase. That’s why we think it needs translation. But if it were in Aramaic, then it would have been impossible for the crowd to confuse Jesus’ words with the name for Elijah, since only in Hebrew does the word Eli have the double meaning of “my God” and the shortened name for Elijah. If Jesus spoke the words in Aramaic, no one would have been confused at all. But Mark records that they were confused. They thought Jesus was calling for Elijah. That means that Jesus must have uttered the words in Hebrew, not Aramaic.
You may say, “So what? What’s the big deal?” The big deal (and it is a very big deal) is that if Jesus conversed in Hebrew as His native tongue, then it is simply impossible to understand what He taught without knowing the culture and grammar of Hebrew, not Greek or Aramaic. We already know that Jesus used Scripture (the Old Testament) exhaustively. But if He commonly spoke Hebrew, then all of His thought forms, expressions and idioms will have to be understood from a Jewish perspective. That is a very big deal. It means that Christians are much closer to Jewish thinking than we have commonly believed. It means that Jesus was the greatest rabbi who ever lived, and that He taught in the fashion of the rabbis. It means that if we are going to practice what Jesus commanded, we will have to enter into the Jewish worldview in order to understand what those commands really mean. We will have to throw away centuries of segregation between Jewish thought and Christian thought and re-discover the Judaism beneath the soil of Christianity. This will rock our world!
Concepts of the church, evangelism, discipleship, tithing, prayer, blessing, confession, repentance and many, many more will have to be reconsidered from an Old Testament perspective. When Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law, we will see this in a radically new light. God has not changed. The plan is the same as it has always been from before the foundation of the world. Jesus came to open our eyes to what God had already been doing for thousands of years with the nation of Israel. The Christian Bible starts in Genesis, not Matthew. So, I’m sorry. We have so much to learn – again. Are you with me?
Topical Index: Elijah, eloi, Hebrew, Aramaic
If you want more on this critical subject, read The Hebrew Gospels.