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Usually in the spring of every year, various sorts of documentaries or reports will appear that claim the discovery of some “new Gospel”. These particular documents are presented as those candidates that did not “make-the cut” into the canon of the New Testament. In recent years the world of scholarship and popular media alike have introduced the public to such documents as “The Gospel of Thomas” and “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” and more recently “The Gospel of Judas”.
In 2006, National Geographic did an extensive documentary on this text, with a panel of scholars offering a translation of the document. CNN had recently produced a documentary that explored six ancient objects or documents that promised to either expose the search for Jesus as a matter of faith, fact or a fraud. The so-called “Gospel of Judas” was included as one of the alleged ancient sources. The aim of this post is to offer an evaluation of the Gospel of Judas, as well as to introduce the reader to the document, its history and discovery.
Our overview of the Gospel of Judas will include identifying what exactly the Gospel of Judas is all about. As will be seen, the so-called “Gospel of Judas” is not a “Gospel” in the strictest sense of the definition nor does it contain any “good news” pertaining to salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross nor resurrection. As a final note, surveying such ancient literature as “The Gospel of Judas” can provide an apologetic for showing how one can distinguish between the historically reliable canonical 1st century Gospels of the New Testament in contrast to the 2nd and 3rd century forgeries like the Gospel of Judas.
An overview of the Gospel of Judas
Key terms to know
Before we get to the Gospel of Judas itself, two key terms need to be defined that enable the reader to better understand the particular worldview being espoused in the Gospel of Judas. First, the Gospel of Judas is part of a larger collection of documents called “The Nag Hammadi Documents” or “Codices”. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary gives an apt description of these documents: “An entire library of papyrus documents was accidently discovered by peasants North of Luxor, Egypt, in 1946. These manuscripts were written in the Sahidic dialect of the Coptic language (Coptic is an Egyptian language utilizing Greek letters). The leather covers in which they were wrapped probably account for their excellent preservation. The find included 13 codices (a codex was the precursor to our modern day book) with nearly 1,000 pages. They have been dated to the third and fourth centuries A.D.”
The second term that the reader needs to be familiar with is the ancient worldview called “Gnosticism”. To avoid a lengthy discussion, Gnosticism is a combination of paganism, sometimes Jewish mysticism, mixed with vestiges of Greek Philosophy and smatterings of Christian thought. Gnostics are so-called due to their insistence on possessing a secret form of knowledge (“gnosis”) that enlightens and sets the devotee free from reliance upon the physical realm.
Gnosticism denies the reality of the One true living God of the Bible and instead posits a series of non-personal manifestations or “emanations” coming from up above. Moreover, Gnosticism viewed the material realm as evil and the immaterial, ethereal realm and knowledge of it as the supreme goal of life. When combined with particular modified doctrines of Christianity, denial of the Bible, the full Deity and humanity of Jesus, the need for blood atonement and ultimately sin results.
Brief description of the Gospel of Judas and its study over the past several decades
With the Nag Hammadi collection and Gnosticism briefly defined, we can now consider what exactly we are dealing with when we speak of “The Gospel of Judas”. Dr. Norman Geisler on page 307 of his book: “A General Introduction to the Bible”, notes the following about the Gospel of Judas, which he dates to the late second century (150 years after Jesus and Judas): “This gospel was known to Irenaeus and Epihanius (c 315-403), Bishop of Salamia. The product of an antinomian Gnostic sect, it may have contained “a Passion story setting forth the ‘mystery of betrayal’ and explaining how Judas by his treachery made possible the salvation of all mankind.”
Gnostic literature expert Marvin Meyer oversaw the production of an English translation of the 13 documents collectively known as the Nag Hammadi Codicies in his book entitled: “The Nag Hammadi Scriptures”. Among the collection is the so-called Gospel of Judas (called by the technical designation “Codex Tchacos 3”). He notes in his introduction to the document: “Thus Judas is not designated, pseudonymously, as the author of the gospel. Rather this is the “Gospel About Judas” or even the “Gospel for Judas,” and his relationship to Jesus and his role in the story of the last days of Jesus are the focal points of the gospel.”
All of the scholars contributing to this English translation do not hide their critical evaluation of the inspired, canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Marvin Meyer and another contributing scholar of the field, Elaine Pagels, express their opinion about the Nag Hammadi documents in the introduction: “For more than fifteen hundred years, most Christians had assumed that the only sources of tradition about Jesus and His disciples are those contained in the New Testament, especially in the familiar gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Suddenly, however, the discovery of over fifty ancient texts, most of them Christian, demonstrated what the church fathers had long indicated: that these gospels are only a small selection of the many more gospel traditions and gospels….”.
Among the thirteen documents in the collection, the “Gospel of Judas” (known by its technical name “Codex Tchacos”) had been nearly destroyed not so much by age as by its poor storage arrangements following its discovery. Through the 1970’s the document was stored in a freezer, with some of its pages being mutilated. In the 1980’s and 90’s not too much work was done on the document. It has only been in the last decade that so-much information has come forth about this document to the general public.
As this blogger read-through of the “Gospel of Judas” in Marvin Meyer’s “The Nag Hammadi Scriptures”, the following main points were found.
1. First, The Gospel of Judas was not authored by Judas nor written in the 1st century. Rather, the work is a 2nd to 3rd century piece of literature attributed to a heretical Christian group called the Gnostics.
2. Secondly, whoever composed the document aimed to portray a series of fictitious conversations between Judas and Jesus (we may do future posts that bear out the details and contents of the Gospel of Judas’ portrayal of these alleged dialogues).
3. Thirdly, concerning the overall point of the document, a tale is told of Judas Iscariot being exonerated from his historic infamy as the one who betrayed Jesus to be judged and crucified. The Gospel of Judas paints Judas in a contrasting light from the Historical Four Gospels. Per this second/third century Gnostic Gospel, Judas is not a villain, but a hero.
Closing thoughts for today
Therefore, the identification of the so-called “Gospel of Judas” demonstrates already that the document cannot possibly be placed in the same class as the four Gospels. In future posts we may look again at this document by noting two further areas:
1. The Gospel of Judas is not a never-before seen document.
2. Concluding remarks on the place of the Gospel of Judas for understanding Jesus Christ today.
So why study a document that is non-authoritative and not inspired scripture? Once we see an example of a document posing as a record of Jesus’ life and words, we can better discern a fraudulent example from the genuine articles that are the four gospels. Such a study shows what typically entails a legendary account (namely embellishment of the details, importing of second and third century Gnostic thinking into a so-called first century setting and a switching of the focus from Jesus to a secondary figure). Such observations can equip us in answering critics who accuse the four Gospels of New Testament as being fictional literature.
1 Corinthians 12:1-7 (Greek Text)
Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν, ἀδελφοί, οὐ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν. 2 οἴδατε ὅτι ὅτε ἔθνη ἦτε πρὸς τὰ εἴδωλα τὰ ἄφωνα ὡς ἂν ἤγεσθε ἀπαγόμενοι. 3 διὸ γνωρίζω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ λαλῶν λέγει· Ἀνάθεμα Ἰησοῦς, καὶ οὐδεὶς δύναται εἰπεῖν· Κύριος Ἰησοῦς εἰ μὴ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ.
4 Διαιρέσεις δὲ χαρισμάτων εἰσίν, τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα· 5 καὶ διαιρέσεις διακονιῶν εἰσιν, καὶ ὁ αὐτὸς κύριος· 6 καὶ διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν, ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς θεός, ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν. 7 ἑκάστῳ δὲ δίδοται ἡ φανέρωσις τοῦ πνεύματος πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον.
1 Corinthians 12:1-7 (English Text – NASB)
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.2 You know that when you were pagans,you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Today’s post features the Greek and English texts of 1 Corinthians 12:1-7. The theme of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is that of God’s supernatural gifts, with 1 Corinthians 12:1-7 introducing the subject. How is it that God, by the Person of the Holy Spirit, acts as the Agent of the gifts? What are the gifts themselves? What exactly is Paul trying to convey when he states that he does not want his readers to be ignorant of them (see 1 Corinthians 12:1). Such questions are answered in these verses.
As we saw in our last post, Paul is using the spiritual gifts as an apologetic to contrast the gross paganism of his readers’ past with what ought to be their present walk with the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 12:2 the Greek text describes the idols once worshiped by the Corinthians as
“πρὸς τὰ εἴδωλα τὰ ἄφωνα” or “to the mute idols”. Anytime we are looking to translate from the Greek to English, it is helpful to compare other English translations. In this particular instance, the prepositional phrase that we have laid out in red letters contains an the attributive adjective “τὰ ἄφωνα”, which is describing a particular feature or trait of these various deities once worshipped by the Corinthians. The New Living Translation renders this adjective as “speechless”. The Holman Christian Standard Bible takes this adjective to be describing the essence of the idol. In other words, the meaning per the HCSB would be that it doesn’t merely describe a trait of the idols, but more so gets to the essence of what these idols are with its rendering: “that could not speak”. It is interesting to note that the NASB seems to had somewhat softened
“τὰ ἄφωνα” from its rendering of “dumb” in the original 1977 edition to the now different rendering of “mute” in the present 1995 Update. Point being, the idols could offer nothing for their devotees, due to the fact they had no life and thus were non-existent. No gifts. No grace. All performance. These elements characterize what Paul is bringing out about the Corinthians’ lifestyle before salvation.
When we come to 1 Corinthians 12:3, we find the contrast in Biblical Christianity of having the God-given ability to “speak” certain things. We read in that verse: “and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”
The Greek text has for the associated red letters of its text (the words behind “can say” of the NASB), “δύναται εἰπεῖν”. The phrase itself is what we call in the Greek a “complementary infinitive phrase”, entailing a present active middle third person singular verb δύναται, which speaks of possessing inherent ability or power within oneself. The verb is the kind of verb that requires an infinitive (i.e a verbal noun) to “complement” or complete its verbal idea. In other words, no one is able to do what? In this instance, the aorist active infinitive εἰπεῖν completes the thought begun by δύναται and gives us the resultant meaning of “is able to say” or, as the NASB renders it, “can say”. This phrase is included to again show the living character of Christianity, which includes the notion of the true and living God verbalizing by the Person of the Holy Spirit (who is Himself truly and fully God) through the Christian their confession of faith that Jesus is Lord.
These observations move us on to 1 Corinthians 12:4, where Paul speaks of “gifts” , or as the Greek text renders: “χαρισμάτων” (i.e charismata). Some readers may recognize this word to be very closely related to the term we use to describe particular groups of modern-day Christians we call “charismatics”. Such believers are called such due to their emphasis on the centrality of the spiritual gifts. In reality, every Christian is “charismatic” in the more strict sense of the word, since the Holy Spirit has gifted every believer with some sort of spiritual gift.
The Lexham Theological Wordbook defines this word
χαρισμάτων as follows:
“χάρισμα (charisma). n. neut. something graciously given; a gift. Something that is freely given on account of favor and kindness. This noun is related to χάρις (charis, “grace, favor”) and refers specifically to the result of gracious giving or action. In the NT, God is usually the one who gives such gifts, and his gifts include spiritual gifts for equipping the church (e.g., 1 Cor 12:4), a person’s special calling (e.g., 2 Tim 1:6), and God’s gift of salvation through Christ (e.g., Rom 5:15–16; 6:23; 11:29).”
The standard Greek dictionary (i.e lexicon) edited by Henry George Liddell is a valuable resource for tracing the meanings of Greek words not only in the New Testament literature, but also in other Greek writings outside of the New Testament. In its various articles that traces this word’s etymology (i.e its history and lineage of use back to its root meaning), Liddell offers this definition of our word in question:
“χάρισμα, ατος, τό, (χαρίζομαι) a grace, favour: a free gift, gift of Gods grace, N.T.”
These word studies suggest that the spiritual gifts by their very nature are the manifestations of God’s gracious, supernatural empowering of His people by the Person and work of the Third Person of the Trinity – The Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:7 validates our observations by the phrase
“ἡ φανέρωσις τοῦ πνεύματος” = “the manifestation of the Spirit”. Other English translations give the following renderings of this illuminating phrase:
1. New Living Translation – “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.”
2. God’s Word Translation – “The evidence of the Spirit’s presence is given to each person for the common good of everyone.”
3. The NASB, ESV, KJV, NET Bible, Berean Bible, and several other English translations render this phrase as “the manifestation of the Spirit”.
Today we considered 1 Corinthians 12:1-7 in Greek and English. We discovered through our brief study of several English translation and the underlying Greek text that Paul’s chief concern is to make known the truth of God’s supernatural gifting of His people. What applications can we draw from this study? Let me suggest three:
a. Understanding one’s spiritual gifts as a Christian can increase one’s awareness of God working personally in their life, as well as how He, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, desires to use them to bless others.
b. God not only calls Christians to do His will, but also gives them the grace to carry out His will by way of the gifts.
c. It is good to be reminded of the fact that the gifts exceed the Christian in terms of what they could ever hope to achieve by themselves, while realizing that God is always greater than the gifts. The gifts point us to the Giver.
1 Corinthians 12:1 (NASB) Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
1 Corinthians 12:1 (SBL Greek Text) Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν, ἀδελφοί, οὐ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν.
Today’s post will feature the English and underlying Greek texts of 1 Corinthians 12:1. The Apostle Paul is writing his first letter to a troubled church that is in need of order, instruction and answers. Corinth was a cultural center of Greco-Roman influence in a region known as “Macedonia”. The map below highlights where Corinth is located relative to Macedonia, as seen in the center of the following picture:
The point of today’s post is to briefly study 1 Corinthians 12:1 in both English and Greek. I have color coded each text above so as to make the study accessible to all audiences. We will first make some observations about the text itself, and then conclude with some practical applications for the reader.
So what are “spiritual gifts”?
Paul clearly was writing with a pastoral heart as he points his readers to consider the subject of “spiritual gifts”. He begins 1 Corinthians 12:1 with the transitional phrase “now concerning”(Περὶ δὲ) (note: in the English text of 1 Corinthians 12:1, the reader may note above that I color coded various words – having done so to make our observations accessible to all readers). Paul is literally concerned that his readers (and by extension, us) understands what he is going to write. Throughout Paul’s letter we find Paul using this transitional phrase “now concerning” in addressing other issues, such as human relationships and marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1; 7:25; 7:37); idols and debatable issues (1 Corinthians 8:1) and closing remarks to his readers (1 Corinthians 16:1; 16:12).
By pointing his readers to the matter of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1, we then focus our attention on the two words in the text: “spiritual gifts“. Our English translations supplied “gifts” as a way of clarifying the word “spiritual”, due to the fact that in the Greek text, there is no corresponding blue word (see the above text). The underlying Greek text has the noun “τῶν πνευματικῶν“, which could be translated “the spirituals”. The noun has the definite article “τῶν“, which in our English language would be translated “the”.
In Greek, one of the main functions of the definite article is to specify or “make definite” the noun to which it is connected. Identifying the endings of nouns in the Greek is helpful since the definite article will be attached or will modify its respective noun. As we can see, the definite article “τῶν” has the same ending “ῶν” as its corresponding noun “πνευματικῶν” (pnoo-mat-i-kon). This particular ending is often times used in situations where the author is specifying his particular point.
Whenever we combine this observation about the noun’s ending with what we noted earlier about the definite article as “specifying” the noun, we can see that Paul wants to make sure that his readers and us understand “the spirituals” (i.e τῶν πνευματικῶν).
So what tells us that the noun and its attendant definite article “τῶν πνευματικῶν” is proper to translate as “spiritual gifts“? One of the most important rules when studying the Bible in Greek, Hebrew or English is this: “context is king”. Whenever we travel down a few verses to 1 Corinthians 12:4, we discover the main point that Paul is making in the chapter: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” Per the context of 1 Corinthians 12:1-4, translators have rightly concluded that it is appropriate to insert, by implication, the notion of “spiritual gifts” or what we could also render as “spiritual enablements of grace”.
Life practical applications
Paul did not want to fill his reader’s heads with information. He was aiming for transformation. He clearly was concerned that they “get” what he was writing. The urgency with which he writes concerning the spiritual gifts ought to prompt us to gain a better understanding of them. This entails understanding how the Lord has gifted or “graced” us as Christians. Every person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and Treasure has the responsibility to find out how it is the Spirit of God has so gifted them. Christians are given supernatural abilities by God to be a blessing to others. There is no such thing as “plain vanilla Christians” or “some having gifts and other not having them”. Every Christian needs to know what their role is in God’s overall purpose for their lives and the life of His church in this 21st century world.
Ruth 1:22 (NASB) “So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter–in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.”
Ruth 1:22 (Hebrew) וַתָּ֣שָׁב נָעֳמִ֗י וְר֨וּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּ֤ה כַלָּתָהּ֙ עִמָּ֔הּ הַשָּׁ֖בָה מִשְּׂדֵ֣י מוֹאָ֑ב וְהֵ֗מָּה בָּ֚אוּ בֵּ֣ית לֶ֔חֶם בִּתְחִלַּ֖ת קְצִ֥יר שְׂעֹרִֽים׃
The last several posts have featured observations from the English and Hebrew underlying texts of Ruth 1. We’ve labored to introduce readers to some of the workings of the Hebrew text, observations from both the Hebrew and English translations and various life-practical observations for spiritual enrichment. Today we close out our study of Ruth 1. We have journeyed with Naomi, Ruth and Orpah in their emotionally wrenching journey from Moab to Bethlehem. Orpah by this point in Ruth has returned to her native land of Moab, leaving a loyal Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi to conclude their journey to Bethlehem. For readers who prefer to skip ahead to the life-practical section of this post, please see the final section where we bring to bear practical applications and final thoughts from analysis of the Hebrew and English text of Ruth 1:22.
Studying the Hebrew and English text of Ruth 1:22
In this final verse we find the emphasis of Ruth’s final decision to turn her back on her former life underscored by the opening verb “returned”, describing Naomi’s choice and a second verbal form “who returned”, describing Ruth’s agreement with Naomi. The first verb is a continuation of the narrative, indicating the ongoing journey that Naomi has undertaken from Moab to Bethlehem. The form for this first verb
(וַתָּ֣שָׁב = “returned”) is what is called a waw consecutive third person feminine singular, which simply indicates the continuation of the journey.
The second verbal form is translated by the NASB as “who returned” (Hebrew = הַשָּׁ֖בָה ), which rightly indicates the identity of Ruth. The Hebrew letter “heh” ( ה) to the far left (which would be the last letter of הַשָּׁ֖בָה, since Hebrew is read right to left) is the tell-tale sign of the feminine singular, pointing us back to Ruth. The other “heh” at the beginning of the word (that is, the one on the furthest-most right) is the definite article in Hebrew, or the word translated “the”. This occurrence of the definite article with הַשָּׁ֖בָה (“who returned”) is grammatically functioning as a relative pronoun (which in our English language is normally translated “who”). Whenever we see a relative pronoun or a word functioning as one, we look for a noun to which it indicates (called “the antecedent”) – which in this instance would be the noun before it, “Ruth”. This sort of grammatical gymnastics is intended to emphasize the identity of Ruth as “the one who returned”.
Practical Applications and final thoughts
I’m laboring these points to underscore the fact that Naomi and Ruth each had to individually make a decision to go to Bethlehem, and thus leave behind Moab. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I cannot base my spiritual life on what others may or may not do. I have to follow the Lord as a matter of personal commitment. Moreover, leaving behind what was formerly dear to us is part of the “denial of self” that Jesus speaks of as the criteria for discipleship in Luke 9:23-24. There will be those times in our walk with God where we’re not certain of the details of the current situation, nor why God is leading us in a certain direction. Ruth and Naomi were not able to see God’s purpose yet, which is why Ruth 2-4 is given to reveal and unfold that plan and purpose.
As a final note, God’s timing in this text is amazing. As they arrive in Bethlehem, we are told it was at the beginning of the Barley harvest. This harvest would had been around the time of the season of Passover (which is spoken of in Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23). Whether the Jews at this point in their history were celebrating the festival, the text doesn’t say. What’s important to realize is that in Bethlehem would be born centuries later, from the bloodline which God planned to continue on through Ruth and her future husband Boaz, the Messiah – Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Passover was right around the time Jesus began His public ministry (based on the chronology of John 2) and the same season that Jesus would be crucified as the Lamb of God for our sins.
Why these details? Again, even though the immediate context of Ruth 1 looked bleak, nonetheless – God had Ruth and Naomi right where He had ordained them. There placement in the history of Israel would not only impact their immediate situation, but ultimately the whole of history. God’s purposes for His people are amazing to think about. May we chew on these thoughts as we ponder on what God has done through Christ and His word for us.
Today’s post is about alerting people to two outstanding online resources for studying or maintaining competency in the Biblical languages. The first site is for the study of Biblical Hebrew and is based upon Dr. Mark Futato’s teaching. The site is called “Daily Dose of Hebrew” (link: http://dailydoseofhebrew.com/) and is an incredible online resource produced by reputable scholarship.
Dr. Futato is the Robert L. Maclelland Professor of OT at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida (see his bio here: http://dailydoseofhebrew.com/about/meet-mark/ ). Each video is approximately 2-3 minutes in length and deals with an aspect of Hebrew Grammar and syntax, translation and site reading. Additionally, links to site and listings of resources are given. The premium part of the site includes 40 lessons that summarize the contents of Dr. Futato’s Hebrew Grammar (link here: https://www.amazon.com/Beginning-Biblical-Hebrew-David-Futato/dp/1575060221/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1470102695&sr=8-3&keywords=mark+futato ). Quite literally, one can learn the rudiments of first year Hebrew at the click of a button. The convenient feature about “Daily Dose of Hebrew” is the ability to subscribe and receive daily emails with links to the daily videos produced by Dr. Futato. This blogger recently began receiving these videos and have found them to be invaluable in maintaining the study of Biblical Hebrew in a busy family and ministry life.
A second equally valuable website is available for those studying or wanting to maintain their competency in Biblical Koine Greek. The name of this second site is similar to the first: “Daily Dose of Greek”. Dr. Robert Plummer is the featured scholar on “Daily Dose of Greek” and is a New Testament professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. His rank as an expert in the Greek New Testament is demonstrated by his recent collaboration with Benjamin Merkle and Andreas J. Kostenberger in the publication of the Greek grammar “Going Deeper with New Testament Greek: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the New Testament” (see link here: https://www.amazon.com/Going-Deeper-New-Testament-Greek/dp/1433679086/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&qid=1470103911&sr=8-14&keywords=Greek+New+Testament ).
In similitude to its sister site “Daily Dose of Hebrew”, “Daily Dose of Greek” offers 2-3 minute daily videos by Dr. Plummer, special extended videos and instructional lessons that take students through the rudiments of first-year Greek. This blogger has benefited greatly from the “Daily Dose of Greek” videos delivered daily in personal email links.
For those busy in life, family or ministry, the “Daily Dose of Greek” and “Daily Dose of Hebrew” sites make it feasible to “keep-up” with one’s Biblical languages or to begin learning them.
Ruth 1:19-21 (Hebrew Text) וַתֵּלַ֣כְנָה שְׁתֵּיהֶ֔ם עַד־בֹּאָ֖נָה בֵּ֣ית לָ֑חֶם וַיְהִ֗י כְּבֹאָ֙נָה֙ בֵּ֣ית לֶ֔חֶם וַתֵּהֹ֤ם כָּל־הָעִיר֙ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ן וַתֹּאמַ֖רְנָה הֲזֹ֥את נָעֳמִֽי׃ 20 וַתֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֔ן אַל־תִּקְרֶ֥אנָה לִ֖י נָעֳמִ֑י קְרֶ֤אןָ לִי֙ מָרָ֔א כִּי־הֵמַ֥ר שַׁדַּ֛י לִ֖י מְאֹֽד׃ 21 אֲנִי֙ מְלֵאָ֣ה הָלַ֔כְתִּי וְרֵיקָ֖ם הֱשִׁיבַ֣נִי יְהוָ֑ה לָ֣מָּה תִקְרֶ֤אנָה לִי֙ נָעֳמִ֔י וַֽיהוָה֙ עָ֣נָה בִ֔י וְשַׁדַּ֖י הֵ֥רַֽע לִֽי׃
Ruth 1:19-21 (NASB) “So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
James-Fausett-Brown note in their commentary on today’s passage: “all the city was moved about them—The present condition of Naomi, a forlorn and desolate widow, presented so painful a contrast to the flourishing state of prosperity and domestic bliss in which she had been at her departure.”(1)
The last several blogposts have been dedicated to understanding the English and underlying Hebrew text of Ruth 1. We have witnessed how Ruth’s journey from Moab to Bethlehem unfolded as she traveled with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth’s fellow Moabitess, Orpah, has journeyed back to Moab. Both Ruth and Naomi are tired, broken-hearted and ready for a change in life. Ruth has just made her full confession of faith in Yahweh – the God of Israel. The immediate lesson we find in following God is that it is far from easy.
Ruth 1:19-21 presents to us some very interesting textual details that also provide ample points for practical application. The textual details mainly have to do with a verb, a couple of names, their meanings and the understanding of the circumstances.
In Ruth 1:19 we find that upon Ruth and Naomi’s entry-way into Bethlehem, the NASB describes the city’s response as: “was stirred”. The Hebrew verb וַתֵּהֹ֤ם is in a verbal form that can be translated generally as a passive (as in “was stirred”). All the standard English translations render this verb (which in the Hebrew is the form “Niphal”, third person feminine singular) as follows: KJV “was moved”; ESV “was stirred” and HCSB “was excited”. One lesser known version, the International Standard Version, translates the verb with more of the idea that the people’s excitement came as a result of their watching one another get excited over Ruth and Naomi’s arrival in the rendering: “got excited”. Such a translation is feasible, since the Hebrew verb form (Niphal) includes the idea of people responding to one another and producing a given result.
At any rate, we know that Naomi and Ruth’s arrival caused a great deal of excitement, stirring and undoubted whispering. Naomi’s graven face and the addition of a Moabittess (Moabites were generally looked down) to the return must had certainly sent ripples throughout Bethlehem. The reader ought to recognize the significance of Bethlehem as the eventual birthplace of Jesus as predicted in Micah 5:3 and fulfilled in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke.
We then come to Ruth 1:20 and find some word-plays on the name of Naomi. The people address Naomi by her birth name “Naomi” (נָעֳמִ֑י), which according to Halloday’s Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament is traceable to a verbal root that refers to God’s kindness. Naomi’s name itself means “beautiful” or “lovely”. We must be reminded of the fact that names in the Bible held great significance. A name was given in connection with certain events, peoples or perceived activities of God in a person’s life.
In Ruth 1:21, Naomi’s perceptions were rubbed raw by the loss of her husband and her conclusions that God had turned against her. She responds to the well-wishers of Bethlehem by saying not to call her Naomi (a name indicating a sign of God’s kindness), but rather “mara” (
מָרָ֔א). Mara comes from a root meaning “bitterness”. As seen in the purple-colored words above in the Hebrew and English, the full meaning of “Mara” is given:
Ruth 1:21 (NASB)
for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
Ruth 1:20-21 (Hebrew)
קְרֶ֤אןָ לִי֙ מָרָ֔א כִּי־הֵמַ֥ר שַׁדַּ֛י לִ֖י מְאֹֽד׃ 21 אֲנִי֙ מְלֵאָ֣ה הָלַ֔כְתִּי וְרֵיקָ֖ם הֱשִׁיבַ֣נִי יְהוָ֑ה לָ֣מָּה תִקְרֶ֤אנָה לִי֙ נָעֳמִ֔י וַֽיהוָה֙ עָ֣נָה בִ֔י וְשַׁדַּ֖י הֵ֥רַֽע לִֽי
This particular section of Ruth 1 brings us face to face with the problem of suffering. The problem of evil and suffering impacts everyone. As a Christian, I have had my share of experiences that have left me broken-hearted, disappointed and grieved. Naomi’s words reflect what many a saint feels in dealing with personal struggles in the seasons of faith. Naomi could not see the pattern of circumstances God was working forth on her and Ruth’s behalf. Often our own finite limitations of being creatures and living our lives within a relatively small span of time in comparison to the wider circumstances can bring us to conclude that the wheels of God’s handi-work are against us. Theologian and Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig notes:
“We are not in a good position to assess the probability of whether God has morally sufficient reasons for the evils that occur. As finite persons, we are limited in time, space, intelligence, and insight. But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end from the beginning and providentially orders history so that His purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions. In order to achieve His ends, God may have to put up with certain evils along the way. Evils which appear pointless to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework.” (2)
Though we may not comprehend what is happening, God has morally-sufficient reasons. Romans 8:28 reminds us that “all things work together for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Genesis 50:20 has Joseph saying to his formerly treacherous brothers “what you meant for evil, God meant for good”. We know God would work forth events in Ruth 2-3 that would result in Ruth meeting Boaz, they in turn getting married and continuing the bloodline of the Messiah that would lead through the lineage of King David down to Jesus. May we trust God and remember that although we may at times miss seeing His face in every situation, His hand is ever upon the saint.