There are certain words in the bible that Pastors spend a great deal of time studying in seminary, but never fully discuss with their congregations. Often Church members either assume these words synchronize with their modern (worldly) understanding of the word, or think they are expected to know what those words mean, so end up being too afraid to ask questions around words that they might be confused about.This page is an effort to try and delve deeper into the big words of faith, taking advantage of the original Greek and Hebrew meanings of these words along with the historical interpretation that goes along with them: Something to remember about the Gospels in particular is that Jesus taught and spoke in Aramaic, which is a very close cousin to Hebrew.
The gospel writers, writing in greek, (as paul did), would have been forced to use greek words that would have approximated the hebrew/aramaic words, so even though a word in Greek can have a specific understanding, (justice/righteousness is a great example of this), it is often more important to try and understand what the original hebrew would have been, it is important to pay attention when Old Testament passages are quoted or eluded to, as they can point us towards what the original aramaic/hebrew might have been. Everything in the bible has a context, it is important to know that context as best we can.
I would argue that Christian Hope is so much different than worldly hope, that when we read the bible, we shouldn’t even equate the two. Worldly Hope, as it is commonly understood, is something that we wish for. It was emblazoned across posters for Obama’s presidential campaign. The problem with worldly hope is that it rarely lives up to expectations, disillusionment with President Obama by many of his strongest supporters highlights this reality, as there was no way President Obama would ever be able to live up the expectations placed on candidate Obama. I would also make the argument that worldly hope is dangerous, as when the things hoped for don’t happen, a strong sense of disappointment follows, this disappointment can lead to disillusionment and is particularly devastating when worldly hope is confused with Hope in God.
Hope in God is different. The words used in greek and hebrew highlight waiting, but also trust and confidence, something we can count on. God is that thing we can count on when all else fails. By the very nature of sin, people, more often than not, will let us down, not because it is there plan, but because we all have flaws and are imperfect.
Hope in God is something unexpected, something new, something we could not imagine. And Hope from God can emerge from the most unlikely places and the most unlikely circumstances. The story of Christ embodies Christian Hope.
If the world were to write the story of our savior, of our hoped for king and ruler, the world would write the story of someone who was born under miraculous circumstances, like in a palace or on the top of a mountain, or in someplace of power. Christ was born instead in a barn, among livestock, welcomed into the world by shepherds and foreign Magi.
The world would write the story for our king as one raised in the halls of the greatest universities, or among the leaders of the world, or in the midst of great wealth, or on fields of great battles, but Christ was raised poor and illiterate as a carpenter, in a rural backwater of the empire.
The coronation of our king, the king’s entry would be splendid, with all the world’s leaders there to cheer, all the people of power in support, it would be a great day. Christ entered on a donkey, cheered on by day labors with nothing more than palms leaves and their cloaks to celebrate. And Christ was constantly shunned by those in power around him, questioned and doubted. On top of this, Christ’s followers were toll booth collectors, and fisherman, and prostitutes, and other undesirables, those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder.
And the king would certainly not fall into the hands of a corrupt and throughly evil empire to be hung on a cross, which is exactly what happened Christ. And if resurrection was part of the worldly king’s plans, it would be spectacular, with everyone as witnesses, and everyone celebrating. Christ on the other hand was resurrected quietly, inside his tomb, and was not recognized at first, even by those who loved him.
To try and define Christian Hope is hard, but it is clearly not worldly hope, it is something completely different. Christian Hope is something we can trust in and rely on, something we can not predict accurately or understand while we are in the midst of it. It is something that is constantly present in our lives, if we are willing to acknowledge it and do the hard work of repentance (turning towards God) and allow it to transform us to be synchronized with the will of God.
Anyone who has ever tried to translate anything knows of the challenges of prepositions. Often the meanings of prepositions we use in english and the meaning of prepositions other languages use do not always neatly match up. Hebrew is particularly difficult on this front. If you look up pretty much any preposition in a hebrew lexicon, you will find dozens of entries. Greek is not quite as bad, but still struggles with this reality. There many examples where this can become problematic, but two good examples are: Mark 1:8 “I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the holy spirit” could just as easily be “I have baptized you in water; but he will baptize you in the Holy Spirit” both make sense, and both mean slightly different things. Job 42:6 “I repent in dust and ashes” could as easily be “I repent of dust and ashes” (or out of, over, against, aside, under, among, through, using, as, at, with…) each version has a significantly different understanding (this inconstancy in Job was pointed out by my Old Testament Professor Dr. David Carr at Union Theological Seminary in New York City)
I point this out more as a challenge with translation, most of the time the preposition is pretty clear based on context and you can, for the most part trust NRSV and NIV translations because they try to translate consistently, for example En in greek is usually translated as In, so you can sometimes tell what the original word was and use that to help make sense of the sentence. Other translations, like the Good News Bible (LEV), take a lot of liberties, and in my opinion, often make the wrong decision. One more reason why learning greek and hebrew can be so valuable to accountable bible study.
Often in our world today we equal justice with vengeance, and this is perpetuated by New Testament translations that do use the word Justice for the greek word ekdikésis, which more specifically means vengeance. But in the Old Testament, Mishpat, has a very different sense, and Jesus, and the writers of the Gospels would have certainly had this in mind when referring to passages from Isaiah and the other prophets and when they spoke about the righteous Justice means fairness, not vengeance. God’s Justice sees through the failed Justice system that so many with, whether the Roman system or the Assyrian system or the Pharaohs or the unjust kings and judges of Israel. God’s Justice sees one’s true nature, and does not require anyone to show their righteousness (or rather innocence), God knows whether we have cared for the least of these, we have nothing to prove.
Lord, Master: (Kurios in Greek)
Translations often interchange these two words, particularly in Jesus’ parables. Lord and Master are both the word Kurios and is the word used to describe Jesus Christ our Lord. This is hard to truly translate into a modern equivalent in a democratic society, but it clearly means overseer or ruler, one who is completely in charge.
The Greek term Metanoeo literally means to think differently afterwards. It highlights change and also historically has gone on to highlight the direction of ones thoughts which gives it a sense of turning.
The hebrew nacham means literally to console oneself, but is also translated as to suffer grief, to comfort, to change ones mind, to be sorry, to have compassion.
Pastorally speaking, repentance has so often been aligned with self-hatred, that we think we have to give ourselves up completely when we repent. I firmly believe that our whole true selves are called by God, so that when we repent, although we do change our thoughts, and console ourselves for our errors, we do not forget who we are. There is an important tension here, Yes we are called to be a new creation in Christ, but God still knew us before we were born, and we are meant to bring with us our in-born gifts and talents, our full selves.
I think when we talk about repentance we need to embrace this idea of turning. When placed in context with the rest of the New Testament, it is safe to say that to repent is to turn ourselves, our thoughts, towards God, and that we are not turning away from ourselves or abandoning who we are. Repentance is about coming into the fullness of God, it is not about giving up aspects of ourselves. If we focus on turning away from ourselves, instead of turning towards God, we end up focusing more on sins and less on God. As we more fully come into God’s intended fullness for us, the more we let God guide us and lead us and in turn, the more virtuous we are and the less sinful we become.
This is another word, like justice, that is misunderstood in our modern context. Often when we think of righteousness, we think of someone who is self-righteous, who goes around touting how great they are. But this is not the meaning from the hebrew. To be righteous is to be in a right relationship with God, to do the Godly thing, its not about thinking one is right, it is much more about endeavoring to try to do the right thing in God’s eyes, to really make an effort to be a follower of Christ. Pastorally speaking, one is never fully righteous, we always fall short, righteousness is something the we constantly strive for, if anything it is a destination, not a state of being.
*Again, like Justice, the greek word used has specific judicial implications and is not a perfect translation, but remember, Jesus taught in aramaic, not greek, and aramaic was much closer to hebrew, so it is most likely safe to assume, Jesus was implying the more hebraic understanding.
For the most part, when we encounter the word slave or servant in the bible, it is referring to doulos or ebed, an exception is noted below. Looking at the greek doulos, the most literal translation is bondsman. In other words a doulos is someone who’s rights are owned by someone else. It is far more severe a term than simply servant, which to our modern ears tends to make us think the person has a choice in being there. When doulos is used, there is no choice. Of course, doulos is not as severe as what we would imagine when we think of slavery in the united states before the civil war. Most doulos would have the ability to work their way out of indentured servitude, where as Slaves in the United States had more often than not had no such option.
The Hebrew term Ebed/Aved is the root of the word Avodah, which means service. Again, the hebrew, like the greek implies a lack of choice in being in the position, closer to a bondsman, more severe than servant, but less severe then Slavery in the United States. We can take this to mean that the term Avodah, or service, has attached to it this notion of deep commitment, of duty, of responsibility, like the way a bondsman would interact with their master. Pastorally speaking, this highlights the nature of our commitment to serve God, whom we serve with unwavering devotion.
*diakonos, which is sometimes translated as minister or deacon, but also as servant, has the connotation of a errand boy and not that of a bondsman. There are two theories as to where the word came from. One claims that dia means “produce” and konos means “dust” making its literal meaning kicking up dust, and may have derived its name from messengers. The other claims it is rooted in military terminology, diokos, which means attendant, specifically the attendant to an officer.
Sin is that which injuries our relationship with God