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When we do exegesis of Jesus's words for example should we take into consideration the original language in which he spoke?

For example: Many try to argue that Jesus made a reference to Exodus 3:14-15 when he used "ἐγὼ εἰμί" in John 8:58:

"εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί." Nestle GNT 1904

This argument would not be so strong if he spoke these words in Aramaic, for example.

So when we do exegesis of Jesus's words (or even the Apostles') should we take into consideration the language that they used when speaking?

  • No one knows all of the languages that Jesus might have preached in. Probably Aramaic, maybe Greek, or maybe even a Hebraicized Aramaic dialect, as Biblical Hebrew was a long-dead language. Some people claim that certain books were either written in Aramaic or Hebrew, (exclusively) - usually western theologians. The fact is - in multi-lingual cultures - they might have written in two/three languages side by side... Or preached in multiple languages - or with interpreters - at the same time. It is all conjecture. – elika kohen Aug 27 '17 at 22:44
  • I did not say that we know for sure in what language he talked. But in the context of Jesus speaking to Jewish people shouldn't we take into consideration the fact that He did not talk in greek? – Sebastian Clinciu Aug 27 '17 at 22:45
  • Sebastien - The tax collectors, soldiers, etc., very probably spoke in Greek, which meant that most commerce cities, (near coasts, etc.), probably knew Greek as well. Pilate certainly knew Greek. And remember, when Paul spoke in Aramaic to the crowd at the temple - it seemed very exceptional. So, again - I think it is more valid to consider the multi-lingual and multi-ethnic context of that region, in that time, because it is invalid to superimpose our way of thinking onto that reality. – elika kohen Aug 27 '17 at 22:48
  • Well that's true. So my question is not valid because we really can't know for sure what language He used? – Sebastian Clinciu Aug 27 '17 at 22:51
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    Well, perhaps change the presupposition a little. If you look around - lots of people accept these presuppositions, and go full tilt. But logically, it is an unanswerable question - though many people try. But - you do have a valid point in your question - "What cultural figures of speech should be considered when interpreting New Testament Writers?" There are actually many of them. (Like, "a Sabbath's day journey", etc.). Personally, I think a single post - perhaps this one - for all of the occurrences would be great. Some might consider it too broad. – elika kohen Aug 27 '17 at 22:53
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The four Gospels were written many years after Jesus' ascension to Heaven and they were written for specific purposes and specific settings/audiences, responding to specific needs of those audiences. The Gospels were not audio-recordings of Jesus' sayings, but more than that, a product of reflection upon Jesus' life and sayings and this reflection was guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Thus, the Gospels written in Greek are in no way inferior to the preserved shorthand or audio-recorded utterances of Jesus (let us suppose hypothetically and anachronistically there had been such) that possibly would have been in Aramaic, for they, i.e the Greek Gospels, are inspired by the Spirit of Truth, through whom only it is possible to understand and profess the divinity of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). I think, it will only lead to a greater confusion to try to understand better Jesus' Greek sayings through conjecturing their possible "authentic" (say, Aramaic) version.

As to specifically John 8:58, the author of the Fourth Gospel picked up this memory of Jesus for the reason that in his time, few decades after Jesus ascension, the Johannine community of believers upheld full divinity of Jesus and quarreled with those who did not; thus this story indeed happened in Jesus' times but John refers to it in order to attack those who also in his time, few decades after Jesus' ascension, fumed against even a possibility of there being a second someone equal to God, simultaneously different and identical to Him, and demanding the same worship. Thus, John's Gospel and all other Gospels pick up those instances of Jesus' life and sayings that were pertinent to their own audiences. Thus, John is referring not to any antiquarian scandal, but the very actual and pertinent scandal of his own theological polemics with his contemporary Jews.

I suspect, for a believer who looks in the Gospels the way to get closer to Jesus and follow Him, will be spiritually damaging to imagine a hiatus between the Jesus of the Greek Gospels and a hypothetic "authentic" Jesus of, say, Aramaic utterances, which will lead to spurious reconstructions and unedifying confusions.

  • Hmm.. I find it helpful to know that AGP in Hebrew means 'combatant' and that agape is not a word borrowed from Greek, but embedded in Jesus's Hebrew teaching that we should love our enemies with no expectation of return or reward. I also find it helpful to know that in Hebrew 'mammon' means 'the believing ones'. We cannot serve God and self. Therefore we should have no thought for our 'life'. Jesus did things in the context of what he saw in the OT scriptures that prophesied of him. He naturally taught in the language that would express the same. – Bob Jones Sep 3 '17 at 22:44
  • The Greek church did not want to be Jewish, so they asked for Christianity-lite, with Paul preaching only of Christ and him crucified. They missed out on the rich mystery hidden from the beginning, only getting small glimpses here and there. By 400 AD they had to go to disbelieving Jews to learn to read Hebrew at all. – Bob Jones Sep 3 '17 at 22:46
  • @Bob Jones Even without knowing of AGP the commandment αγαπάτε τους εχθρούς υμών is in no way suffering in its divine scandal and by following it through aid of divine Grace, one gets all smack of divine life in no 'lite' way, but in full gravity, depth and paradoxicallity. There are only dim glimpses of this commandment in the OT (book of Jonas is the brightest of those glimpses), in Hellenic culture, in Plato, Homer and Aeschylus such glimpses are no less bright and sometimes even brighter (remember e.g. Priamus forgiving and in fact making his new son Achilles, killer of his son Hector). – Levan Gigineishvili Sep 7 '17 at 11:43
  • @BobJones what Hebrew word are you referring to here when you say "AGP" means combatant in Hebrew? – user33515 Dec 25 '17 at 7:21
  • @user33515 אגפיך, אגפיה, אגפיו – Bob Jones Dec 25 '17 at 13:40
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Exegesis is generally understood to mean the interpretation of Scripture.

Meaningful exegesis is carried out within a particular set of principles or guidelines, generally referred to as "hermeneutical principles", or sometimes just "hermeneutics".

With this in mind, I don't think that your question, "When we do exegesis of Jesus's words (or even the Apostles') should we take into consideration the language that they used when speaking?" can be answered completely or maybe even at all outside of some specific hermeneutical context.

If, for example, one of my hermeneutic premises is that a priori the Apostles faithfully conveyed the meaning of whatever was spoken by Jesus in whatever language He spoke, then delving into what was said in the original language, although perhaps academically interesting, would be superfluous according to my principles. If, on the other hand, however, one of my hermeneutic premises is that the Greek texts we have are corrupt to begin with (not far from most Islamic hermeneutics regarding the New Testament), then I might be much more motivated to understand Jesus' original words so that I could classify the related passage as being more or less corrupt than others.

I think a better, related question, might be regarding the advantages or disadvantages of a hermeneutic that seeks to understand Jesus original words in the language he spoke. Perhaps that is what you really meant to ask and I may be overly pedantic here. But hermeneutics and exegesis are not really interchangeable terms.

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What is provided for us, is provided - by the power and influence and effectiveness of God, the Holy Spirit. And what is provided is in the Greek language apart from the one instance (that I can remember) when Mark specifically quotes the actual words of the Messenger of the Covenant, "Eloi, Eloi . . . .

I believe that God influenced - over a period of about 1,500 years - the development of the Greek language and this can be seen in the structure of it and the way in which words are used in scripture.

These scriptures are utterly masterful in construction and content.

If we had needed anything else - I have no doubt at all in my mind that we would have been provided with it.

Nigel

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There is always important to be aware of the multi-lingual/ethnic/cultural context of that region, during the entire 1th century. Likewise, there is always important to be aware of the fact that the Gospels were written a couple of years (decades) after the events described. No less, there is always important to be aware of the fact that we have no such a thing as an original text.

So when we do exegesis of Jesus's/Apostles' we should take into consideration first of all as many versions as we can of the text, in the language that WE are using when speaking. YES, I am aware this might sound funny, but it is the best way to start with. There is no perfect translation of the Bible, yet every effort to translate the text is shedding a new light from a new perspective on it. Secondly, if you can, do have a look on other translations, in different other languages - this is very helpful too.

Thirdly, there certainly are some words, concepts, ideas, that are very important to be analysed in the "original", if we know it, if we can be sure that Jesus or the Apostles were using that particular word in hebrew/aramaic/greek.

In your specific example, John 8:58, I would be interested to find out why is Jesus beginning his utterance with Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν? In the western tradition (very broadly speaking), you would rather end a sentence by ἀμὴν. Why is Jesus using it as a beginning? How it came that we start using it as an ending, like a full stop? Why was this translated into English as "Verily, verily" or "Truly, truly" or even "I tell you for certain" (CEV) or "The fact is" (ERV)? Ἀμὴν is not a Greek word, it is obviously a transliteration of something. You see, this is a case where English translations are so diverse, they try to express the same idea, yet they appear to be missing something that perhaps we can find out by taking into consideration the language that was used when speaking.

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