Dropping a little Hebrew on the fellow Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 July

For some Christians, the only fellow Christians they ever encounter are a small, insulated bunch. Basically it’s just family members and their church, and the few books and podcasts they personally approve of. They’ve got narrow little boundaries and won’t travel outside. Often out of the dark Christian fear they might be led astray, but more often it’s just because they don’t care to stretch themselves. Either way it’s a shame. But I’m not gonna discuss that particular shame today. Me, I browse widely.

And from time to time I run into Christians who insist on referring to Christ Jesus as Yeshúa ha-Mešiakh. They’ll spell it lots of different ways; I spell it the way it’s meant to sound, so if it looks a little unfamiliar they might not be pronouncing it properly. Basically it’s Hebrew for “Jesus the Messiah.”

Because they learned some Hebrew. And they’re gonna use their Hebrew on everything.

  • God’s gonna get called Adonái/“my Master” or ha-Šém/“the [LORD’s] Name.” And if they wanna call him “Father,” they’ll stick with Abba.
  • The Holy Spirit’s gonna be Ruákh ha-Qodéš.
  • The Old Testament’s gonna be the Tanákh, the common Hebrew acronym for Toráh-Neveím-Khetuvím/“Law-Prophets-Writings.” The New Testament’s the Brit Khadašá.
  • Student, or disciple, is gonna be a talmíd. Plural talmidím.

And don’t be surprised if they generally drop Hebrew words and terms all over the place. And, every so often, Yiddish.

Why? Three reasons.

  1. They took a Hebrew class, so they’re showing off.
  2. They’re of Jewish descent and grew up knowing a little Hebrew, so they’re showing off.
  3. They think it’s important for us Christians to recognize our traditions stretch all the way back to the ancient, noble culture of Israel. So they’re showing off.

Yeah, I realize a number of them will be totally offended that I’ve accused them of showing off. The rest will shrug and say, “Well yeah. But who’s it hurting?” Well, nobody really. So relax.

So there’s no valid reason for all the Hebrew?

Y’notice from time to time I drop some Hebrew on this blog. Usually it’s to explain my translation of some Old Testament, or explain why I’m interpreting a bit of New Testament in light of the Hebrew culture. I could go out of my way to explain myself without using any Hebrew whatsoever, but it’s much faster to just refer to the original-language words.

I leave it to you as to whether I’m doing so legitimately, or whether I’m really just showing off how I know biblical languages. Thing is, certain people are regularly intimidated by anyone who knows a little more than they do. Their self-defense instincts irrationally switch on. And how they choose to feel better about themselves is to accuse others of less-than-honorable motives. “Oh, he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. Oh, she’s trying to put one over on us. Oh, they’re just showing off.” You know, childish stuff.

Am I doing that with the Christians who like to fling around little bits of Hebrew? Not really. Because the little bits of Hebrew they say, is pretty much all the Hebrew they know. They’re hardly fluent. They don’t even have the vocabulary of someone who’s taken Hebrew 101. They may not even be able to read Hebrew characters when presented with ’em.

They have one little bit of knowledge, and they’re milking it.

What they should do—what we all oughta be doing—is pursue the deeper meaning of the original-language words of the scriptures. If we’re gonna bust out the Hebrew, let’s get serious about it. Get out those Hebrew dictionaries. Learn what those original-language words mean. Learn how the original hearers of the scriptures thought when people used those words. Point out how the bible—which we think we’re quite familiar with, and too often take for granted—is a bit more foreign than we realized.

F’instance referring to Jesus as Yeshua. It’s not actually his Hebrew name, y’know. The Greek name Yisús/“Jesus” is used to translate the Hebrew Yehoshúa/“YH[WH] saves,” which we usually translate “Joshua.” (The King James Version even refers to Joshua as “Jesus” twice, Ac 7.45, He 4.8 which’ll be really confusing to people who don’t realize these verses aren’t actually about our Lord.) But Yisús is also used to translate Jesus’s actual name, the Aramaic name Yeshua/“he saves.” It doesn’t mean “the LORD saves,” even though the LORD totally does. Gabriel told Joseph that Jesus would “save his people from their sins,” Mt 1.21 and his name literally reflects this.

See? That’s some interesting and useful info. Whereas just calling Jesus “Yeshua” all the time teaches none of this stuff. It simply refers to Jesus by his original name, which has all the impact of referring to Jesus in any other language’s variant of his name: Isa, Isus, Jesu, Yesu, Jezi, Gesu, Jésus, Jesús, etc. Again, just showing off.

Those folks who insist on calling him Yeshua aren’t trying to educate, but point out they wanna call Jesus by his original name. Because they must care more about him than us English-speakers who only call him by the English translation. So they’re not just showing off. They’re snobs.


Or even worse: They think knowing Hebrew grants them power.

In ancient cultures (and even in a few of them nowadays) your name isn’t just the label your parents hung on you because they had to call you something other than “the baby.” It’s meant to describe your nature. Either it’s the character you had (like Solomon, Šlomó/“peace”), or the sort of character your parents wanted you to have (like Daniel, Daniyél/“God my judge”). It expressed something significant about you. If it didn’t, it might get changed on you, like when God changed the name of Abram (Avrám/“high father”) to Abraham (Avrahám/“father of many”).

It’s connected to the reason the LORD commanded we not take his name in vain. Ex 20.7 The ancients would invoke powerful people’s names, or gods’ names, implying they had the endorsement of those whose names they dropped. It’s what praying in Jesus’s name means: We’re evoking his authority.

But just as people misuse Jesus’s name, and treat it as an incantation which’ll grant ’em whatever they wish, a lot of Hebrew-dropping Christians are misusing these Hebrew words with the very same intent. They use them to imply they know God better than your average, commonplace Christian. They know all the hidden words. They know all the secret names. They use these words, which makes ’em closer to God, or mightier in God’s power.

It’s all rubbish. But really popular rubbish.

How do we really get closer to God? Duh; obedience. We listen to his voice and do as he says.

No, you don’t need to take Hebrew or Greek classes to be a greater or stronger Christian. Not that they’re a bad idea if you wanna be a knowledgeable Christian. Lemme tell you, they come in handy when you’re trying to interpret the bible. (Or come up with really impossible passwords for the church’s computers.)

But knowledge, in the hands of someone who forgets to be humble, can be a problem and a stumbling block. 1Co 8.1 We’re not to use this knowledge to show off how educated or clever we are; we’re to use it to build up our fellow Christians. If we’re not doing that, it’s a total waste. 1Co 13.2

And God would much rather have us serve others, than learn all the ancient Hebrew words for everything. He much prefers we follow the Holy Spirit than mispronounce Ruákh ha-Qodéš all day long.