We study a Hebrew book—written by Hebrews; we serve a Hebrew Lord—who had Hebrew disciples; we desire to follow the first-century church—which was first predominately Hebrew; and through Christ, we are grafted into a Hebrew family! It makes sense to study the Hebrew culture.
To fully comprehend our Christian faith, we should know about this fascinating heritage.
This is a refreshing, new, exciting way to view the Bible! Much of the Bible is mysterious to most Americans. The perplexing phrases, puzzling actions, the sometimes difficult-to-understand words of Jesus, unconventional holidays and parables are only understood within the context of the Hebrew culture.
A Christian’s roots are deep in Judaism through Christ, all the way back to Abraham! And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).
Studying Scripture from our Western/American/Greek worldview is like looking for gold in a dark mine with a dim pen light—you can see enough to stumble around but you need more light to see clearly. Having a good grasp of the ancient Hebraic customs and terminology would allow you to reexamine Scripture in this powerful flood light, exposing intricate details and treasures.
Take a look at the examples below. One is a familiar Bible story, the other a familiar Bible phrase. Examine each with a light shed from Hebraic understanding.
The Woman with the Issue of Blood
The woman described in Matthew 9:20 had faith. She believed she would be healed if she did but touch the very hem of his garment. If you understand Hebrew thought you’ll understand the significance of the story. Why did the woman touch the hem?
The hem of a Hebrew’s prayer shawl is very important. The prayer shawl worn by Hebrew men is called a tallit. The fringe on the corner of the tallit is called a tzitzit. In Numbers 15 God directed the Hebrews to make fringes on the borders (also called corners or wings) of their garments to remind them of God’s law!
… Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD…(Numbers 15:38-39).
There are 613 actual commandments in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible)—248 positive and 365 negative. Each tzitzit consisted of eight strands and five double knots. According to one Jewish numerological tradition, the numerical values of the Hebrew letters for the word for tassel (tzitzit) totalled 600. Six hundred plus eight plus five is 613, the traditional number of biblical commandments.
During the first century, a tradition associated with the tallit is that the tzitzit of the Messiah had healing powers. The Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings (Mal 4:2). The woman must have known of this tradition and in faith she touched the wings of His garment, showing that she believed Jesus was the Messiah!
The Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God is the central theme of Jesus’ preaching. The Hebrews did not use the sacred name of God. Many times they used the expression Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God—just as today we say, “Heaven help me.” We are not asking for Heaven’s help. We are asking for God’s help.
Look at the phrase “The Kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9-11). The Kingdom of Heaven or God is described by most commentaries as God’s kingdom to come sometime in the future. Some teach it means the second coming of Christ (Jesus called the second coming “the coming of the Son of Man”).
The Greek word engiken means “about to appear” or “is almost here”. However, if it is translated back to Hebrew, the verb karav means “to come up to,” “to be where something or someone is.” In the Greek the Kingdom is at a distance. In the Hebrew—it is here! Jesus’ Messiahship is present here and now.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not futuristic, but rather a present reality wherever God is ruling…when one is able to put [Greek] passages back into Hebrew, it is immediately obvious that the kingdom has already arrived, is in fact already here—almost the exact opposite of the Greek meaning (Bivin, Blizzard 1995).
Jesus Himself proclaimed that the kingdom was at hand. This proclamation involved an awakening cry of sensational and universal significance. He was referring to Himself as the King being at hand—being present. He was already present in his person, He is the King. For one to follow Him he had to make Him his King and follow His rules.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven (Matt. 7:21) takes on a whole new meaning. It is not Heaven that they won’t be entering. It is His kingdom now, of peace, following His ways (Wilson 1989). Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven also takes on a new meaning.
Reread the following verses with this new light. It may change your opinion of these teachings: Mark 4:30-32; Matt. 13:33; 18:3; Luke 13:20-21, Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20; Luke 17:20-21. Jesus did not come right out and say, “I am the Messiah.” In Hebrew there are far more powerful ways of making that claim (Bivin, Blizzard 1995).
Seeking first the kingdom of God is making Jesus Lord of your life today!
Studying Our Hebrew Roots
Several fascinating books are available explaining Hebrew thought. Yeshua: A Guide to Jesus and the Original Church by Ron Mosley explains misunderstood idioms in Jesus’ teaching such as binding and loosing, the parable of the reed and oak, the golden vine, the good eye, and many more. Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, explains that a proper Hebraic understanding of the words of Jesus would stop most theological controversies!
Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith by Dr. Marvin Wilson is an in-depth, detailed look at the Hebraic thought patterns, as well as a study of Hebrew culture, worship, law and every aspect of family life. Here Dr. Wilson explains the contour of Hebrew thought:
Modern man in the Western world thinks he has an image to defend. He is supposed to be macho and keep his cool. He is expected to be made of steel, always in control. He does not allow himself to become vulnerable by revealing much of his emotions. It is usually considered unmanly for him to cry. Yet Jesus, the exemplary man, wept (Luke 19:41; John 11:35).
This display of emotion was in sharp contrast to the Greco-Roman world of the Stoics, who sought to be indifferent to pleasure or pain; they were determined never to submit or to yield; they were resolved to overcome their emotions and desires. The Hebrews, however, were a very passionate people; they did not hide or suppress their emotions.
The Hebrews, both men and women, were able to affirm their full humanity. They gave vent to their feelings, for each emotion had “a time” appropriate for its expression: being angry, crying, laughing, singing, feasting, dancing, hand clapping, shouting, embracing, and loving (see Eccl. 3:1-8). A brief summary of the holidays described in the Bible reveals a decisive emphasis on the release of emotion, especially joy.
The weekly Sabbath is a time of rejoicing as God is celebrated as Creator (Isaiah 58:13-14; cf. Exod. 20:8-11). The entire annual calendar of festivals shows that the Hebrews were not afraid to release their emotions, in collective historical memory, before God and one another. The Hebrews were hardly halfhearted or reserved in their approach to life.
Digging Through The Layers
What we now consider “the church” is almost nothing like the early New Testament church. Author/speaker Richard Booker once explained this by giving the example of an archaeologist digging through layers to find out what life was like in ancient times.
To understand the early church we must dig through layers of a mountain of man’s influences, shoveling off and discarding man’s traditions, theories, interpretations, and philosophies from Greek and Roman civilizations, Constantine, Marcion (see Appendix F), Catholicism, etc., to be able to examine the early church.
During the Reformation, men such as Wycliffe and Calvin were digging in the right spot. They dug up and discarded many theological errors and found a view of God’s plan of salvation by grace; but anti-Semitic layers remain and now there are new layers of tradition, interpretations, western thought (a return to the Greek and Roman thought) and conditioning that need removal. Only then can we have a clear view of the early church worship.
Biblical Worship is Family Worship
God has specific ways that He wants us to serve and worship Him. Those ways are pointed out for us by Jesus and the first church. They are the old paths. Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls… (Jer. 6:16). Unfortunately these “old paths” have been paved with man’s influences, opinions, traditions and interpretations of interpretations of interpretations of interpretations… and sometimes, like the holidays, simply ignored.
Christians can learn much from the biblical Hebrew’s strong family/worship lifestyle. Everything is centered around the home—family, education and worship. Every area of the Hebrew worldview is entirely saturated and encompassed with God. The Hebrews make no distinction between their spiritual life and the physical areas of life.
They see all of life as an entirety. It is all God’s domain. Everything that happens is an opportunity to praise Him. He is in control of everything—pains and joys. God’s Word explains this Hebrew reasoning: I have set the Lord always before me (Psalms 16:8), and in Proverbs 3:6, In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths. There were times of temple worship; however, most of the worship centered around the home.
If you were to visit a religious Jew’s home on a typical Friday you would find everyone in the home in a hurried state preparing for the coming Sabbath. Setting a fine table and special meal. At sundown, all the hurrying stops. The mother of the home prays and dedicates this special day unto God as she lights the Sabbath candles to begin the Sabbath.
The father leads the family in prayers, Torah readings, and singing praise and worship. He prays a special blessing over each child. The rest of the twenty-four hour period is spent resting, enjoying family, growing spiritually as individuals, and growing closer together as a family.
We should ask ourselves, “Is there a time, if someone entered our home, that they would see such devotion to God?” How ashamed we should be when those who don’t even know Jesus as the Messiah, show such devotion.
Professing Christians in America, in general, tend to view “the church” as a part of their life—only a small part. Life and relationships are added into quarters, into four distinctly different locations: partly religious (a few hours a week at church), partly educational (school), partly professional (workplace), and partly leisure (home).
Each person in the family goes in separate directions and are rarely at home together. Even in the church, the only family time spent together is on the ride to and from church. Upon arrival the family divides into their proper classes. It is hard to find all the members of a family together in one area at the same time in church—much less worshiping and interacting together or praying together as a family.
By examining the holidays, we can get a taste of the almost forgotten family worship—worship led by father, in our homes, teaching our children God’s Word (Deut. 6), with our families, singing and praising God, learning of His ways—growing, in Him, together!
Dr. John Garr Ph.D., Th.D., Chairman, Trustee, and Chancellor Hebraic Heritage Center. See his book Touching the Hem: Jesus and the Prayer Shawl
Dr. Marvin R. Wilson is the Harold J. Ockenga Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts. His Ph.D. is from Brandeis University in the field of Semitic and ancient Near Eastern Studies. See his book Our Father Abraham
Dr. Ron Mosley, Founder of the Arkansas Institute of Holy Land Studies. See is book Yeshua .