Hebrew Influences Greek Meaning

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By Raymond Harris

While I may not be an accredited Bible scholar nor an accredited Hebrew or Greek grammarian, I am a Bible School graduate who was required to have five semesters of Greek and a semester of Hebrew. I am also a dedicated student of the Scriptures who has learned much and still learns much from other disciples and students of Scripture, from both the scholar and the non-scholar. Yet, after spending many years in the Scriptures aiming for understanding and resolution of dilemmas, I learned things about the Greek NT that made me dig deeper for textual clarity, and somewhere along the way I stumbled upon the ongoing debate as to whether the NT was originally Hebrew or Greek. This debate shapes, in part, what I am about to write and how I have learned to interpret the meaning of NT words.

Septuagint The debate centers on the Greek NT:
was the Greek the inspired language or not?

I am adding my thought to this argument in the following way: for sake of argument, let us posit that the NT was written in Greek, period; I now add a furthering posit: that the mind, the intellect, and the spiritual acumen behind the Greek NT must be Hebrew. In essence this means that the Greek NT is similar in construct to the SeptuagintW (also known as the LXX or the Greek OT).

The SeptuagintW is the first Bible translation, ever. This Greek translation was the first in what has become a very long line of Bible translationsW. The SeptuagintW was produced almost 200 years before Jesus was born. In order for the translation of the SeptuagintW to occur, Hebrew scholars were taken to Alexandria, Egypt to translate the Hebrew Scriptures (and what is now called the ApocryphaW into the Greek language. This is vitally important.

Whether or not the SeptuagintW was a formal equivalent or dynamic equivalent translation or a combination of both is not really the point. The point is that the SeptuagintW provides us a lens of how the Greek translators perceived and brought forward Hebrew words and phraseology into Greek words and phraseology, which has direct influence on English Bibles. This means the SeptuagintW should take a prominent position in understanding the Greek NT; however, this does not always seem to be the case.

In my studies of the SeptuagintW, I have found that some scholars are baffled with the Greek syntaxW. But the book Grammar of Septuagint Greek puts forth the claim that while the language of the SeptuagintW is very Greek, the structure is very Hebrew.1 This seems to pose a dilemma when reading and studying the Greek OT, but I am becoming convinced that this Greek Language within a SemiticW Structure is not unique to the Greek OT but is also the situation of the Greek NT. I will use the structure of the New American Standard BibleW (NASB) to explain.

The NASB is reputed to be a faithful translation of the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT. However, the NASB is arguably the most literal and stilted English Bible Translation. Its phraseology is wooden and difficult for many Bible readers, yet it is considered one of the most valuable research tools for grammatical and syntactical studies. Consider the following information about the NASB:

Seeing the need for a literal, modern translation of the English Bible, the translators sought to produce a contemporary English Bible while maintaining a word-for-word translation style. In cases where word-for-word literalness was determined to be unacceptable for modern readers, changes were made in the direction of more current idioms. In such instances, the more literal renderings were indicated in footnotes.

The greatest perceived strength of the NASB is its reliability and fidelity to the original languages, which, along with other literal translations, also allows for ambiguities in the text’s meaning. Its corresponding weakness is that its readability and literary style sometimes prove confusing to the average reader.2

It is my current conclusion that the SeptuagintW suffers the same “weakness” that the NASB suffers, the “weakness” being that “readability and literary style” are “confusing to the average reader”.

However, I am convinced that the NASB represents a modern English equivalent of the SeptuagintW. This is because the NASB utilizes the “English Language within a SemiticW Structure” — this holds true for both the OT and the NT because the Greek NT itself has SemiticW influences. Similar to how the NASB places the “English Language within a SemiticW Structure” the SeptuagintW utilizes and places the “Greek Language within a SemiticW Structure”.

Tyndale New Testament In general, the history of the English Bible is an odd compilation of English, it feels part English, part not. The English Bible contains oddities like baptism. As an English word, baptism did not exist until the pre-Geneva BibleW English translators, like William TyndaleW (see image), who took the Greek word βάπτισμα (baptisma G908) into his English NT translation, the Tyndale BibleW, as baptim (spelled today as baptism).

While there are other oddities, it seems that the way in which the English Bible Translations read has led Bible students to coin the word “Biblish”. In essence, Biblish is saying that the English in the Bible is “Bible English” not common English, to this claim there is some truth. In my opinion, this is one reason why English Bible translations like The Message have been developed, in order to help English readers, read the Bible in more English-like phraseology and terminology.

From my studies of the SeptuagintW and research about the SeptuagintW, the LXX appears to be the earliest faithful translation of the Hebrew OT. In this, I mean the original LXX translation; I am not addressing the argument of Septuagint inspiration, nor am I addressing the redactions that have occurred during the centuries. The importance of the SeptuagintW is found in the Introduction to the Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary where the authors state that Philo put forth the claim that the Alexandrian Jews used the SeptuagintW for scripture study during Sabbath gatherings.3 Knowing this, then it would seem that the Greek translators were required to find suitable Greek words to represent Hebrew thought and Hebrew thought pattern. Period.

Thus the SeptuagintW has what I call Bibleek, in essence saying that the Greek in the SeptuagintW is “Bible Greek” which means that the translators modified the use of Greek, but in a way that allows the Hebrew language to work in the Greek language. As put forth in Grammar of Septuagint Greek:

“The New Testament, itself having been written in Greek, is not so saturated with Hebrew as the SeptuagintW: still the resemblance in this respect is close enough to warrant the two being classed together under the title of Biblical Greek. …”

The language of the SeptuagintW, so far as it is Greek at all, is the colloquial Greek of Alexandria, but it is Biblical Greek, because it contains so large an element, which is not Hellenistic, but SemiticW.”4

It is my current thinking that this Bibleek situation may be similar for the Greek NT. This does not diminish the argument that Koine GreekW is the Greek used in the NT, Bibleek just offers a further explanation of why the Greek OT and Greek NT are unique to the Scriptures.

Genesis 1.1 The thesis, then, of my article is that in order to understand the Greek NT, one cannot define the Greek NT terms with Greek ideas, the Greek NT must be defined by Hebrew ideas; this means that the Greek OT becomes the lexical and lingual lens through which Greek NT terms and structures are more clearly understood. This idea comes, in part, from a statement from William D. Mounce, in which he writes:

“But remember: never define a Greek word on the basis of its English cognate! English was not a language until much later, so it had no impact on the meaning of Greek.”5

I offer that his statement also holds true for Greek. In essence, we should never define a Hebrew word on the basis of Greek. Greek as a language developed outside the reach and influence of Hebrew, so Greek had no impact on the meaning of Hebrew. All this means is that English cannot be used to understand Greek, and Greek cannot be used to understand Hebrew. Hebrew should be used to define Greek, which means that Hebrew should be used to define English.

This is one reason why modern English translations use the Hebrew OT in order to translate the English OT, and the SeptuagintW is used for clarifying English OT translations. In essence, if English translators relied solely on the SeptuagintW, they would be basing an English OT translation only on the Greek OT translation – doing so has value, but this is not going to the Hebrew source to provide the best English Translation.

While all of this may seem confusing and highly technical, understanding the translation process is critical for Biblical study beyond devotional and Bible class studies. It is true that the process of translation takes the thoughts and words of a source language and places those thoughts and words in another language. However, the Greek NT is not completely uninfluenced by the Hebrew.

To the contrary, the Greek NT is significantly influenced by Hebrew, which means that we will find many transliterated words (this is a focus of an upcoming article). Transliteration is done when the letters of the source word are represented into corresponding letters of the target language, which in essence creates a new word in the target language. For example, the English word amen, is a transliteration of the Greek word ἀμήν; but ἀμήν is neither original nor unique to Greek, ἀμήν is a transliteration of the Hebrew word אמן (‘âmên), interestingly Strong’s makes note that ἀμήν has Hebrew origins (see the following grid).

Greek NT

Language

Word
Strong’s
Number
Strong’s Definition
My NOTE
Hebrew
אמן
(‘âmên)
H543
From H539; sure;
abstractly faithfulness;
adverbially truly: – Amen, so be it, truth.
Greek
ἀμήν
(amēn)
(Bibleek)
G281
Of Hebrew origin [H543];
properly firm, that is, (figuratively) trustworthy;
adverbially surely
(often as interjection so be it): – amen, verily.
English
amen
(Biblish)
G281
MY NOTE: What this means is that the King James translators
followed the example of the Greek NT (where it transliterated
the Hebrew into Greek), and the KJV simply transliterated
into English the Greek NT word, which kept the tradition
of transliteration which insinuates SemiticW origins.
Keep in mind that Hebrew is read the opposite of English.
Hebrew is read right to left.

What seems somewhat perplexing is that the SeptuagintW translators did not transliterate the Hebrew word אמן (‘âmên) into the Greek word ἀμήν, instead they translated the Hebrew word אמן into the Greek word γίνομαι. Circumstances like these do not create doubt; they simply reveal some differences in translation verses transliteration preferences between the Greek OT and the Greek NT. Recall that the process of translation takes the thoughts and words of a source language and places those thoughts and words in another language; where as transliteration changes letters of the source word into the corresponding letters of the target alphabet that results in the creation of a new word.

This “amen” example helps reveal why researching how the Hebrew was translated in the Greek OT is vital for understanding the Greek NT. This is because the bibleek word ἀμήν and biblish word amen are inadequate to convey the thoughts of “truly, truly” or “so be it”, there are times that the Greek word γίνομαι more properly conveys the idea of “to become (come into being)”. This is because the SeptuagintW translators believed the Greek word γίνομαι best represented the primitive meaning of the Hebrew word אמן (‘âman, H539) which means “to build up or support” in essence asking for something to become reality.

Greek OT

Language

Word
Strong’s
Number
Strong’s Definition
My NOTE
Hebrew
אמן
(‘âmên)
H543
From H539; sure;
abstractly faithfulness;
adverbially truly: – Amen, so be it, truth.
Greek
γίνομαι
(ginomai)
G1096
A prolonged and middle form of a primary verb;
to cause to be (“gen” -erate), that is, (reflexively)
to become (come into being),
used with great latitude (literally, figuratively, intensively, etc.):
– [Strong’s gives lots of examples].
English
amen
(Biblish)
H543
MY NOTE: What this means is that the King James translators used the Hebrew OT as the source for translation, not the Greek OT. But instead of translating H543 like the Greek OT (where it translated the Hebrew into Greek), the KJV simply transliterated the Hebrew into English (keeping the pattern of the Greek NT), doing so insinuates SemiticW origins.
The Septuagint translates the Hebrew word אמן as the Greek word γίνομαι.
In the SeptuagintW, the following verses have the Greek word γίνομαι where we find the English word “Amen”:
Numbers 5.22, Deuteronomy 27.15-26, First Kings 1.36, First Chronicles 16.36,
Nehemiah 5.13, 8.6; Psalm 41.13, 72.19, 89.52, 106.48; and Jeremiah 28.6.

This simply means to fully define the English word amen, we should turn not to the definitions of the Greek transliteration ἀμήν nor to the Greek translation γίνομαι but we should turn to the Hebrew word אמן. This simply means that when Jesus uttered “amen,” his speech and thoughts were Hebrew. Especially when Jesus says “אמן,אמן” which is transliterated as “Amen, Amen” because the word amen and the phraseology are highly inflected Hebrew, not Greek.6

This brings me to the point that since Jesus was a Jew he must have spoken in a SemiticW language (either Hebrew or Aramaic which is a sister language of Hebrew) as evidenced by him crying out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”7 It is the Greek NT that provides the in-line translation which gives us the English, “that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”8 (underline italics emphasis mine) The phrase “that is to say” indicates that the Greek (and now the English) is providing clarity for the SemiticW language. Which brings me to seven other occasions of the phrase “that is to say”.

The KJV has seven occurrences9 translating the NT Greek into the English phrase “that is to say”. This English phrase reveals internal Biblical evidence that when the Greek NT was composed (when Greek was the only text outside of Hebrew) that not all audiences would understand the embedded SemiticW word (whether that word was Hebrew or Aramaic). This means that the Greek NT provided an in-line Greek translation of SemiticW terms like: Aceldama,10 Corban,11 and Golgotha.12 This is important because these SemiticW terms have embedded lexical and lingual meanings that lend support to the literary context. The Greek NT gave an in-line Greek translation in order to reveal how the SemiticW term was vital to the situation. Since the in-line Greek translation was necessary for the Greek reader to better comprehend the statement, then it seems appropriate to conclude that there are other instances where SemiticW terms have a vital role in the interpretation and intended meaning of the Greek OT and Greek NT, as seen with amen.

Let us now refer to Paul and his Jerusalem Speech.13 Before Paul became well, Paul, he was known as Saul14 or in Hebrew Sha’ul (pronounced Shaw-ool). From this point forward, I will use Sha’ul when referring to Paul, this is because I want us to keep in mind that Sha’ul was Jewish. Knowing this is vital because Sha’ul described himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews,15 which means a tremendous amount, but for our discussion it indicates two important things.

Hebrew, Greek, English Interlinear One, even though Sha’ul was a Jew from Tarsus16 who could speak Greek,17 he was also trained by Gamaliel in Jerusalem.18 Gamaliel and Jerusalem bring us to point number two, since Gamaliel was himself a Pharisee,19 then it means that Gamaliel taught Sha’ul Pharisaic interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which insinuates that Sha’ul was able to read and write Hebrew, and we have the NT declaratively stating that Sha’ul could speak fluent Hebrew.20 From these two items, it is important for us to grasp that while Luke records Sha’ul’s Jerusalem Speech in Greek, Luke makes it abundantly and absolutely clear that Sha’ul addressed the Jews in their Hebrew language.21

Those things are vital to keep in mind because Sha’ul’s Speech22 was originally Hebrew, not Greek. This means that for better comprehension of what Sha’ul said, Greek alone is helpful, but understanding the Hebrew behind the Greek is best. Reading and attempting to comprehend Paul’s speech with only the English language is the equivalent of a person who knows only English reading an English translation of a Spanish translation of something spoken in French.

The point to this entire article is to emphasize and reveal that the Greek OT, the SeptuagintW (LXX), is an appropriate lexical and lingual lens for interpreting the SemiticW meaning behind the Greek NT. This in no way belittles or undermines the importance of the Greek NT, this simply means that the Greek OT becomes the lens by which our minds understand the Hebrew.

Since Christians are following the Jewish Messiah, why would we not want to understand to the fullest extent possible, the teachings of our Master and Messiah? Unfortunately, the sad reality is that there is no Hebrew/Greek or Hebrew/Greek/English interlinear Strong’s numbered Bible. Oh, how I desire for there to be such an item!

Genesis 1.1 Hebrew, Greek Interlinear

 
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Additional Links
Three Early Biblical Translations
The Septuagint (LXX), ecclesia.org.
Translation, Wikipedia.
Grammar of Septuagint Greek available for online reading from archive.org.

 
Endnotes
1. Grammar of Septuagint Greek With Selected Readings, Vocabularies, and Updated Indexes; George Stock and F. C. Conybeare, Introduction, page 17, “The uncompromising Hebraisms of the Septuagint is doubtless due in part to the reverence felt by the translators for the Sacred Text [that being the Hebrew Bible]. It was their business to give the very words of the Hebrew Bible to the Greek world, or to those of their own countrymen who lived in [the Greek world] and used its speech. As to the genius of the Greek language, that was entirely ignored.” This simply means the SeptuagintW translators did not use the Greek language to communicate Greek ideas, they used the Greek language to communicate Hebrew ideas.

2. NASB: Translation philosophy, Wikipedia.com.
3. SeptuagintW used at Sabbath gatherings in the Alexandrian Jewish synagogues, Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, Introduction (page xviii).
4. Grammar of Septuagint Greek With Selected Readings, Vocabularies, and Updated Indexes; George Stock and F. C. Conybeare, Introduction, pages 16-17.
5. “never define a Greek word on the basis of its English cognate!”, Basics of Biblical Greek, Grammar, Second Edition, William D. Mounce, Part 1: Introduction, Chapter 4: Punctuation and Syllabification, Vocabulary, page 18.

6. The word amen and the phraseology are highly inflected Hebrew, not Greek, cf. Numbers 5.22, Nehemiah 8.6, and similar to Psalm 41.13, 72.19, 89.52.
7. Jesus cried out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” Matthew 27.46a.
8. “that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” underline italics emphasis mine, Matthew 27.46b.
9. The KJV has seven occurrences translating the NT Greek into the English phrase “that is to say”. Matthew 27.33 KJV, Matthew 27.46 KJV, Mark 7.2 KJV, Mark 7.11 KJV, Acts 1.19 KJV, Hebrews 9.11 KJV, and Hebrews 10.20 KJV.
10. Aceldama, Acts 1.19 KJV.

11. Corban, Mark 7.11 KJV.
12. Golgotha, Matthew 27.33 KJV, the SemiticW origins of Golgotha are confirmed when conferring with Mark 15.22, and John 19.17.
13. Paul and his Jerusalem Speech, Acts 21.26-22.22.
14. Paul also known as Saul (Sha’ul), Acts 13.9.
15. Sha’ul described himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews, Philippians 3.5.

16. Sha’ul was a Jew from Tarsus, Acts 9.11, 21.39, 22.3.
17. Sha’ul could speak Greek, Acts 21.37.
18. Sha’ul was trained by Gamaliel in Jerusalem, Acts 22.3. Acts 21 (specifically Acts 21.4, 21.11-13, 21.15, 21.17, 21.31) reveals that Gamaliel trained Sha’ul in Jerusalem because when Sha’ul refers to “this city” (Acts 22.3), he is referring to Jerusalem because that is the city in which Sha’ul addressed the Jewish multitude in Hebrew (Acts 21.40). As a side note, this means that Gamaliel taught Sha’ul Pharisaic interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which indicates that Sha’ul, as a Pharisee, was intimately familiar with the Oral Torah, which became a written document years after Sha’ul’s death, the document is known as the Mishnah compiled between 100-200 A.D./C.E.

19. Gamaliel was a Pharisee, Acts 5.34.
20. Sha’ul could speak fluent Hebrew, Acts 21.40.
21. Sha’ul addressed the Jews in their Hebrew language, Acts 21.40, 22.2.
22. Sha’ul’s speech (Acts 22.1, 22.3-21) was originally Hebrew, not Greek.

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