“But the Greek REALLY says…” Part 3


Why Hebrew and Greek

are not needed in the pulpit.

In Part 1 and Part 2 I offered a personal philosophy of Expository Preaching without Ancient Words:

  • I use the biblical languages, virtually daily. [1]
  • I cannot remember the last time I did not study the Hebrew or Greek when I was preparing a sermon.
  • I cannot remember the last time I did use a Hebrew or Greek word when I was preaching a sermon.
  • The better I study the original text, the easier it is to explain its meaning in plain English/Spanish.
Preaching an open book and not a scroll.
The exception is that when I give devotionals to my own Greek students, I will often show how a knowledge of the original languages is helpful. But now let’s focus on the positive, and think of times when it is illuminating to mention the Hebrew or Greek while preaching to a “regular” church audience.
The following list might make a start:

  • Shema confession in its entirety from Deut 6:4, including the meaning of “one” (echad) as unity, not singularity
  • Hebrew Names of God: Adonai versus Yahweh, Elohim, Sabaoth, etc.
  • Elohim: I have heard that Elohim is a type of plural form that requires three persons; grammatically this is very shaky ground
  • Messiah
  • Feasts such as Yom Kippur and Hanukkah and Pesach
  • Cherem, putting something under “the ban” or curse

LOANWORDS: a word simply taken over wholesale into another language. These words were taken over into the Greek Septuagint and New Testament and in any language where the faith has spread, including English.

  • Amen – from Hebrew. Also, Jesus uses it in the Greek to mean “verily, verily” it is with the idea of “this is God’s Truth.” The Catholic NAB leaves it as “Amen, Amen.”
  • Alleluia, or HallelujahShalom
  • Abba – originally Aramaic, but later used in the New Testament, always of God the “Father”; also later used in rabbinic Hebrew. And it probably does not mean “Daddy”.
  • Maranatha from the Aramaic means “Our Lord come,” in 1 Cor 16:22 and also in Didache 10.6; it is translated into Greek (and hence, into English) in Rev 22:20. Also, its application to Jesus is extremely important, since shows that from the earliest church, Christians regarded Jesus as Lord.
  • Hosanna, Gehenna


  • ApantesisApostasia – click words to see my blogs on these
  • Basileia – I would give the two senses of the word for “kingdom”, although perhaps not the Greek
  • Christos
  • Pentecost
  • Officers of the Church – Episkopos, presbuteros, diakonos
  • Charismata
  • Mimesis
  • Apostolos
  • Angelos
  • Deity of Christ: why Christ is called “God” in Titus 2:15 and 2 Pet 1:1, 11; why the Logos is God in John 1:1
  • Singular versus plural – the King James Version has one advantage over newer translations; in 1611, the English language still differentiated between second person singular and plural pronouns: it’s why there are “thee’s” and “thou’s”. [2]
  • Gender. If using a version such as the ESV, which is not careful to give gender-appropriate translations, the preacher may have to clear up, “Does this verse speak of men as adult males or men as people?” [3]

In Part 2 we suggested that some words which our people already know and perhaps need clarification – Parakletos as “one come alongside them” is not the best translation; like the phrase “to pour oneself into someone,” it is common Christianese, but not good English. In this category I would add: Agape, Rhema, Ekklesia (which doesn’t mean “called out” [of the world], but more generally an assemblyconvocationcommunity, orcongregation; see Acts 19:32, 39, 40).
PERSONAL NAMES: [4] “Names today,” we hear, “are just picked because they sound good. But in Bible times, names had meanings, and so by translating the name from the original language, they reveal the real essence of the person or their significance in God’s plan.”
First, it is true that Hebrew and Greek names usually are based on some etymological root. Most famously, “Jesus” is the Greek pronunciation of the Hebrew “Yeshua”: the angel told Joseph, “you shall call his name Jesus, He-Shall-Save, for he shall savehis people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). [5] Second, most of our readers have names that mean things. In my case, Gary is Germanic for “warrior,” Steven is from the Greek for “crown” and Sjö-gren is Swedish for “sea branch” (?). If my surname unlocks my permanent significance, then it must do so for all my relatives. I could make up explanations as to why Gary and Steven have deeper significance, but I’m afraid it would be no more reliable than mere random chance. [6] The names of the patriarchs (Abram-Abraham, Sarai-Sarah, Isaac, Jacob-Israel, Esau, the twelve sons of Jacob) were all so designated because of what their names meant; since the Bible text explains that to us, we are not going beyond the bounds of good sense when we interpret their names in the pulpit; the same goes for Melchizedek of Salem. To this we might add Moses, Miriam, David, but not most of the other kings. Peter/Cephas yes; but Andrew (“manly”), Philip (“lover of horses”)? James and John were Boanerges, “Sons of Thunder”, but we are unclear as to how they got that nickname. How about Judas Iscariot, who shares his name (“Yahweh be praised”) with the more commendable Judah the patriarch, Judah Maccabee, and Jude the brother of the Lord?
In Genesis, Adam and Eve have names that mean something, as do Cain and Seth; but Abel’s name (“breath” maybe?) could lead anywhere or nowhere.
Plenty of Bible names are a dead end for the exegete. Barnabas was aptly name, but Silas? Paul’s Latin name (“Paulus”) means “little,” and so some see proof that he was a short man. The logic of that soon falls apart, once we remember that like all babies he received his name while he was very short. His name in Hebrew, Saul or Sha’ul, may be related to the Hebrew (“the one asked for”), but who did the asking? It’s entirely possible that he was named for a favorite uncle or benefactor.
The four young men in Babylonian Captivity communicate a message:

  • Daniel (Hebrew for “God is my judge”) changed to Belteshazzar (Babylonian name, based on pagan god Bel, as in the story “Bel and the Dragon”)
  • Hananiah (“Yahweh is gracious”) to Shadrach (based on name of god Marduk)
  • Mishael (“Who is like God?”) to Meshach (possibly “Who is like the god Aku?”)
  • Azariah (“Yahweh has helped”) to Abednego (“servant of the god Nabu”)

A preacher might show that, what is significant is not the meaning of each name, but the fact that the Babylonians deliberately tried to erase and defile the Jewish identities of these captives.
The reader might wish to consult http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_biblical_names which gives long lists of names and their possible meanings. For my part, putting aside those names which the Bible remarks upon, I could not find one name in twenty that seemed to convey a clear message.
Place names (toponyms) have meaning if the Bible indicates it is so; beyond that, the preacher should beware. Like proper names, some few are significant, but the majority are not:
Bethel means “house of God,” so named by Jacob because of his vision. Eben-Ezer means “Stone of Help.” But Bethlehem, which is probably “house of bread”? Beersheba probably; but Jericho, hardly, although Augustine famously used its possible meaning of “moon” to take it as a symbol of our mortality, because like the moon “it is born, waxes, wanes and dies.”
Exegesis, if done properly, is hard work. Still remember that every Sunday we are preaching to people who worked hard all week at their respective jobs, and most importantly, are God’s chosen people. They deserve a message based on God’s inspired Word, delivered with much prayer through a Spirit-filled preacher. They deserve craftsmanship that is properly sketched out, assembled, sanded, finished and ready for use.
Thanks for your input: David Gilbert, Fred Zaspel, Fred Putnam, Jimmy Snowden
[1] Just to give an example, this month I’m reading Mark in the Greek and Isaiah in the Hebrew and in the Septuagint, for my daily devotions, in addition to praying through the psalms in English. This is beyond my courses, teaching Greek grammar and the Greek of the General Epistles, plus researching an article on 1 Thess 5. This isn’t more than others in my sort of ministry might do. See My four decades in the Bible – Part III
[2] In the Matthean Great Commission, the KJV has “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always.” Meanwhile, the ESV has “Go therefore” and “behold, I am with you always.” Now, it is clear from the context that Jesus is speaking to more than one person, but it’s worth clearing that up. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Art thou a master [teacher] of Israel” and then declared, “Ye must be born again.” Nicodemus, singular, is a teacher; then “you”, plural, that is, “all of you Israelites” must be born again. I’ve seen this used as an argument in favor of using only the KJV, by the way, an unconvincing proof.
[3] The NIV 2011 follows the rule that, when the Greek speaks only of males, the English must do so, the same with females, but when the original is generic, it makes that clear. These versions actually give a sharper understanding of the biblical text. Compare the ESV with the NIV 20111:  Acts 1:21-22 ESV – “So one of the men who have accompanied us …one of these menmust become with us a witness to his resurrection.” According to the philosophy of the ESV translators, “men” is an appropriate translation for “men and women”; hence the reader is left guessing, is Peter calling for a man to be the new apostle, or for a person? The NIV 2011, by contrast, the women are women and the men are men; thus when it translates “one of the men,” the reader knows that Peter is speaking of an adult male, not a woman. The same thing happens in Acts 6, when they choose the Seven. ESV – “pick out from among you seven men” – but is it men, or men and women? The NIV is better with – “choose seven men from among you”. As in Acts 1:21-22, the text has the Greekanēr, which means man as male, not man as human being. In passages such as these, when the NIV 2011 says man, you know the Greek is talking about adult males; meanwhile, the supposedly more literal ESV leaves the door open for women apostles and members of the Seven, even though the Greek text does not. The preacher should mention this, unless the church is using a version that is gender-appropriate and doesn’t need a boost from the Greek text. In my opinion, all things being equal, that translation is better which is self-explanatory with regard to the sex of the person in a verse, and doesn’t require an appeal to the Greek. See Is the NIV 2011 a Satanic, Homosexual, PC Bible? Part II
[4] I have taken most of these data from the New Bible Dictionary, 3rd edition.
[5] I deal with many Messianic Christians, who argue that we must use the form Yeshua, since Jesus is a pagan name and was never used in the New Testament times. This is wrong for so many reasons; for example, I have used the TLG software to search through all Greek literature from the earliest antiquity through about the 4th century AD: “Jesus” was used only by Jews. Hence, “Jesus who is called Justus” is a Jewish Christian in Col 4:11; he has a Hebrew name in its Greek form Jesus, and a sound-alike Latin name, Justus (“the just one”).
[6] In fact, I happen to know that, like many people, I bear my names simply because my mother liked the sound of them; also, I’ve lately read that “Gary” was popular in the 1950s because of the fame of actor Gary Cooper.
~ Gary

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Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica[/author_info] [/author]
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1 Peter 1v20-23 (II)


We know what we have been ransomed from.

Peter's first letter

1 Peter 1:20-23

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. ESV

Love one another
Last week when we looked at our passage and found that Peter’s command to “love one another” doesn’t stand alone. It is sandwiched between two statements with each providing a reason or a basis for such love.
A sandwich needs two slices of bread to give it structure and make it possible to handle. So it is with the love that is commanded for the Christian life. It’s not just to be a vague gooey idea like sixties notions of love. Rather, it stems from the solid realities that Peter mentions.
So, the command to “love one another” is like the sandwich filling and it is between two reasons  which are like the slices of bread. We see the first slice of bread in the preceding statement where we read: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love”. You see, it’s “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth” that you’re commanded to “love one another”. This loving one another is on the basis of “Having purified your souls”.
Having considered the first slice of bread that makes up the sandwich served up by Peter let’s examine the second slice.
The Second slice of Bread
The second slice of bread is contained in verse 23 where we read: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable”.
You see, Peter’s command for them to “love one another” was “ since you have been born again”. This loving one another is on the basis of having been “been born again”.
It is clear that Peter’s command to “love one another” wasn’t wishy washy idealism but the result of concrete realities in the lives of his readers. They had purified their souls and they had been born again. I suggest that purifying your soul and being born again are essential prerequisites for obeying this command to “love one another”.
So, before we consider the command itself let’s see what Peter meant by “Having purified your souls” and “have been born again”.
We see that in verse 23 where we read: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God”. You see, the command to “love one another” is not only because of “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth”, it’s also “since you have been born again”.
Now, do you notice that there is a significant difference between the two slices of bread?
With the first slice we noted that Peter’s readers had been active in purifying their souls by obedience to the truth. With this second slice we find that Peter’s readers had been passive. Instead of “since you have done something” Peter is saying “since something has been done to you” and that something is “since you have been born again”.
You see, human beings are no more active in being born again than babies are active in being born physically. Remember that back in chapter 1v3 Peter said: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.
You also see, it is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” who has “caused us to be born again”. It wasn’t our doing; it was His doing. He caused it. He brought it about.
Now, it seems to me that it’s very important to maintain the distinct emphases of these two slices of bread if we’re to have a Biblical and balanced understanding of the gospel and how it is worked out in people’s lives. On the one hand we must recognise that the working out of the gospel depends fundamentally on God working in sovereign power in bringing about new birth.
If you don’t recognise that then you essentially have a man centred gospel.
However, as we saw previously, we must nonetheless do the believing. For sure, we can only do that once God has “caused us to be born again” but we must believe. If you don’t recognise that that is something that we must actually do you enter into the realms of hyper-Calvinism and then preaching the gospel to every nation as Jesus commanded becomes pointless and urging people to repent and believe becomes pointless.
How does Peter’s assertion “since you have been born again” support the command to “love one another”?
I suggest it does so in two ways.
Firstly, being born again gives new life. It’s a new type of life.
Notice that Peter describes it as being “born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable”. He goes on to say that that is “through the living and abiding word of God”. We’ll think about that in more detail next time but, for now, we simply need to recognise that being born again is to be born to a new, spiritual life which enables us to love in a way that natural life in this fallen world doesn’t. It provides the power and ability to love one another because it gives us new Christ-like  nature.
Secondly, being born again supports the command to “love one another” because we’re born again into a family. It provides us with the context in which to love. It provides the “one another” to love.
In our next post we will look at: The filling.
~ Steve
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!