Tag Archives: Syriac

The Structure of the Psalms

A 3000-year general history on the Book of Psalms numbering and divisional systems.

The structural development of the Book of Psalms has an interesting and complex history.

The results are the examination of documents spanning a 3000 year time period. The reader will be journeying through Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin and English texts. Don’t worry. You don’t need to know the languages itself to join in this expedition. This work is designed for both the researcher and the passionate lay reader. Many pictures will be provided that will assist. One can marvel at the beauty of the handwritten text without understanding it.

The findings show that the Psalms began as an unordered list with no assigned numbers. The arrival of the Greek translation called the Septuagint brought about a numbering scheme for the Book of Psalms. The Septuagint also limited to the Book of Psalms to 151 poems, though this was not adhered to by other traditions which went up to 155. Verses were not introduced until much later. Verses were covered in a previous article titled, A History of Chapters and Verses in the Hebrew Bible.

As demonstrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, the order of the poems in the Book of Psalms was not established in the early centuries. This happened after the widespread acceptance of the Septuagint later on.

The Septuagint assignments of numbers and order were assumed by the Latin translators, which in turn had an influence on the English Bible tradition.

The headers introducing most of the Psalms are the most controversial and misunderstood. In regards to the headers only, we are not so sure today on the meaning behind the original Hebrew or even the Greek translation. This has led to a multitude of interpretations even within the English Bible translation tradition.

These are mere generalities and the readers of this blog prefer details and substantiation. The following is how the above conclusions were arrived at.

Continue reading The Structure of the Psalms

An English translation of Blessed Andrew Speaking in tongues

An English translation of Andrew the Fool speaking in tongues. As found in the Vita S. Andreae Sali by Nicephori Presbyteri.

Saint Basil the Fool
Saint Basil, a Fool for Christ by By Sergei Kirillov. Andrew the Fool followed this nonconformance tradition practiced in Eastern Orthodox circles.

Andrew the Fool, often cited as Andrew of Constantinople, or Andrew Salus, was a christian follower known for his odd lifestyle that would be classified under some form of a mental illness by today’s standards. However, many biographers believe it was a ruse purposely done by Andrew. There is a rich tradition of holy fools in Eastern Orthodox literature.

The Eastern Orthodox Church holds that holy fools voluntarily take up the guise of insanity in order to conceal their perfection from the world, and thus avoid praise.

Some characteristics that were commonly seen in holy fools were going around half-naked, being homeless, speaking in riddles, being believed to be clairvoyant and a prophet, and occasionally being disruptive and challenging to the point of seeming immoral (though always to make a point).(1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foolishness_for_Christ

The greater part of Nicephore’s narrative illustrates the tenth-century perceptions of mental illness. However, the aim of the Gift of Tongues Project is not to cover this aspect but a fourfold-purpose in pursuing the subject of speaking in tongues.

There are two small but important snippets on speaking in tongues found here. The first narrative describes both Andrew and a servant miraculously switch into the Syriac language for the purpose of conversing privately. This circumstance allowed both parties to speak freely while others in the same room did not have the ability to understand what they were talking about. The second one was where Andrew had the spiritual ability to see inside people’s lives and name their secret sins. Added to this miracle was the supernatural ability to speak to each person about their innermost secrets in their native tongue. Once again, the supernatural ability to speak in a foreign language was for the purpose of confidentiality. Whatever was spoken was strictly between Andrew and the person. Andrew’s miracle eliminated any possibility of public shame.

Andrew was a Slav by birth and an educated slave. He was released by his master due to his alleged insanity. He lived during the tenth-century in Constantinople.(2)http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/saints/andrew_foolish.htm See also http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.ca/2012/05/st-andrew-fool-for-christ.html He is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His name hardly registers in the annals of Western Christianity.

There are two brief references to him speaking in tongues. Here is a translation of the actual texts relating to his speaking or arguably the people miraculously hearing him speak in their language.

First reference to speaking in tongues

Translated by Charles A. Sullivan from the Greek as found in Nicephori Presbyteri. Vita S. Andreae Sali. MPG. Vol. 111. Col. 699-702

While these were chatting about things, one of the slaves of Epiphanius, who was appointed for his father’s catering, recognized with spiritual insight the Venerable One’s calling (how he knew such things, God only knows). This one sat at his feet, entreating God with tears that he would be imparted such works himself. The righteous man knew what it is, the very thing the servant was earnestly pleading provision for. Wishing to converse with him alone, he was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit along with the speech of the servant to a language between them, and the Venerable One remained seated, and was speaking to him in Syriac in everything that he wanted. The servant furthermore said “except that I am not worthy nor should I entreat to you such things that would beget equality.” Then the Venerable One replied to him that “you cannot bear the sweatings and the digging of ditches in regards to this fame, seeing that the way is of oppression and of infinite toil and distress. Remain rather as one with godliness and dignity being trained under your lord Epiphanius the great things for you and the matters respectful of salvation,(3)Hebrews 6:9 fleeing fornications, grudges, and the list of the other remaining passions. What is the need for you to subject yourself with such punishments?” Then the servant said to him, “If you therefore wish to give ear to me about my misery, say to me you cannot do this.” Then these matters were heard, the Venerable One fell silent.

61. Epiphanius, seeing the sudden(4)ὰνθραν cannot find the Greek definition, depending on the Latin translator for this one change of language by his servant which he never learned to speak, he reckoned in his heart these things and spoke, “Blessed of a miracle! The Holy Saints can do so great a work! The Blessed One beseeched of the Lord for the servant, a grace on behalf of this person’s request, what then he was going to become, and a voice came to him saying: “This is not helpful, back off from this undertaking! Show him how great a matter it is, he should not aspire such things like your low stature.” Therefore, the Blessed One spoke to the Angel standing nearby. “Fill the cup of pleasure, from which the grace upon grace has flourished for me.” Thus, the angel of the Lord completed the task. And the Blessed One said to him, “Υοu will drink this resting on my feet.” Then immediately, he was given to drink the thing unable by normal people to see(5)Ὁ δὲ εὐθέως ἀοράτω and the servant began to do a similar appearance to the divinely inspired father Andrew, which upon seeing this, brings a smile to the joyful one. On the other hand, Epiphanius, seeing the matter unfolding, was disturbed, fearing lest he should bring any kind of indignation by his father, so he said to the Blessed One, “I require of you, servant of God, not to do this thing inside the house of my father, lest at some point he would regard you with contempt[ref]ἐξουδενωθείσῃ cannot be found in most popular Greek dictionaries, is it a regional variation of ἐξουθενωθείσῃ? This is how it is translated here. and God shall be blamed instead of goodness, and you can witness him hating and cursing me to the ancestry, and after that moment never bring you again. I therefore beseech and request that you do not dismiss my trivial request. Remember one day my love of your household servant.”

His second reference to speaking in tongues

Translated by Charles A. Sullivan from the Greek as found in Nicephori Presbyteri. Vita S. Andreae Sali. MPG. Vol. 111. Col. 703-704.

As they seated around him, the Blessed Andrew saw with a keen eye of understanding the work of each one, and with what kind of error each one had committed. And wishing that he could help them, having turned around, he began to give a speech, uttering a certain parable. So these people were listening and feeling shame regarding the words of the Venerable One, as if they carried a flame with reverence, these were numb from shuddering, some were confused and fearful, others who felt ashamed were withdrawing. For indeed, in the simplicity of the Righteous one, the speech sharply named the sins of everyone — both in what manner and how they committed them. And then this occurred: he identified the sins in each person’s language. The people who are captivated by this event said, “This man is acquainted with the things about me.”

A few technical notes

This text is based on the Greek found in Migne Patrologia Graeca. I am sure there are other better versions available, but finding those versions so far has eluded me. So, the MPG copy will have to suffice. An English translation is already available, The life of St. Andrew the Fool : edited by Lennart Rydén but only a few select libraries carry this item throughout the world. Rather than attempting the cumbersome and time-consuming task of interlibrary loan, I translated the pertinent sections about tongues myself.

Nicephori Presbyteri’s writing style has very many similarities to another local writer during that period, Michael Psellos. Both incorporate a wide vocabulary of Greek languages, Attic, Doric and Ionic and like to write in a Greek faux-renaissance fashion. Nicephori’s writing style is B grade because the author is not always clear with his subjects and predicates. There are points in the writing where the reader/translator is forced to fill in some missing thoughts.

The idea of speaking in tongues being for the purpose of private, confidential instruction is unique among the shifting tides of the christian doctrine of tongues throughout the centuries.

References   [ + ]

The Language of Instruction in the Corinthian Church

The role of Hebrew, Aramaic, or both as the language of religious instruction in the earliest Corinthian Church.

This is a discussion based on a text supplied by Epiphanius, who believed the Corinthian conflict was because of the arrogance of the Greek rhetorics, who specialized in the various nuances of the Greek languages, did not recognize the Hebrew tongue as a sacerdotal language.

Paul presents a serious literary difficulty when addressing the use of tongues in the first century Corinthian Church. He assumed the reader understood the context which is lost to us today. The problem generally was about a person or persons speaking in a language which was not in the common vernacular of the audience. He mandated that any person speaking in a foreign language must have it immediately communicated in the local tongue. If there was no one available to interpret or the speaker(s) were incapable of interpreting their speech themselves, then the speaker was not allowed to speak. For example if a Rabbinic lecturer from Yavneh, Israel, stood up and gave a powerful speech on redemption in Hebrew, but did not have the ability to later translate it into the local Greek dialect, then he must not speak. It was of no benefit to the audience except for the speaker himself.

Paul also legislated that only one person can speak at a time and that each one must have a turn. This type of legislation parallels very much with ancient Jewish customs on reading, speaking and interpreting as outlined earlier in this series.

Why didn’t Paul name the Hebrew language, or the Greek languages that Epiphanius outlined as sources of the conflict? Paul was confronted with ethnic, linguistic and political forces in his writing that persuaded him not to name the specific language or languages that were in dispute. The Church could have disintegrated into factions by him naming them.

If Paul was emphasizing this to be a problem of liturgical reading, his word choice selection would have been different. The noun reader or the verb read can’t be found anywhere in the key-text. Paul wouldn’t have used the verb to speak such as λαλῶν found in I Corinthians 14:1 ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ, the one who speaks in a language in reference to a reader. He would have used something similar to ἀναγιγνώσκων anaginôskôn instead. Therefore the Corinthian problem being that of liturgical reading of the text in Hebrew was not the problem — at least according to the Epiphanius’ text anyways.

This is a difficult obstacle to overcome, and because of this, the Hebrew reader/interpreter theory cannot be held as a viable solution. However the Epiphanius text should be understood differently. The Epiphanius text was asserting Hebrew as an instructional language; a Messianic Jewish sage would speak in the religious tongue of Hebrew concerning the Christian life and an interpretation would be supplied in the local vernacular. This practice was adopted from a Jewish custom contemporary at that time.

Talmud Babli Yoma 20b demonstrates this Jewish rite of teaching in Hebrew and a simultaneous translation in the local tongue. This passage reflects a teaching session given by R. Shila. His instruction was performed in Hebrew, which was demonstrated here as the language of Jewish religion and polity — a sacerdotal tongue. An interpreter was required for the common people to understand the speech. The text makes this out to be standard procedure during this time.

Rab(1)Abba Areka came to the place of R. Shila, when there happened to be no interpreter to stand next to R. Shila, so Rab took the stand next to him and interpreted, ‘keriath hageber’ as ‘the call fo the man’. R. Shila said to him” Would you, Sir, interpret it as: Cockrow! Rab replied: ‘A flute is musical to nobles, but give it to weavers, they will not accept it’.(2)Talmud Babli Yoma 20b. As found as a pdf at halakhah.com There are no page numbers. The pdf is attributed to Tarmo Jeskanen as the author. See also Yoma 20b in the original

The eleventh century Rashi chose to explain further the mechanics between the teacher and the interpreter:

The one who interprets stands beside a sage who gives the homily and the sage whispers the Hebrew language to him and he translates to the common language they hear in.(3)My translation Yoma 20b

Where Rashi got the idea of the Sage whispering to the translator is not known. This may be a much later tradition than Paul’s time.

This passage used two different words to define the concept of interpreter. The first one was אמורא Amora. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that this term had two functions. The first one represented all the Rabbinic teachers that flourished during a period of about three hundred years, from the time of the death of the patriarch R. Judah I. (219) to the completion of the Babylonian Talmud (about 500)(4)Amora as found in the Jewish Encylopedia. The second definition applies here. While the lecturer generally pronounced his sentences in the academic language, which was chiefly Hebrew, the Amora gave his explanations in Aramaic…”(5)Amora as found in the Jewish Encylopedia.. The article states that the term Amora as an interpreter or translator was a later usage to that of the word meturgeman and often was interchanged with it.

The second word used for interpreter is פרש peresh — to interpret, expound, clarify.

Understanding the word interpret in I Corinthians 14 is one of the keys to unlocking what Paul meant. The Syriac version of this passage is especially helpful which is ܦܫܩ pashek. J. Payne Smith’s Dictionary describes at as to explain, expound, to write commentaries, to translate. The dictionary demonstrated how the word ܦܫܩ was used in the Syrian Church: “he expounds the Six Days of Creation to the congregation,” which exemplifies the fact that Paul wasn’t meaning interpreter to be a literal word for word translation from one language to another but it could be dynamic, or amplified.(6)J. Payne Smith’s (Mrs. Margoliouth) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Pg 468 as found at Dukhrana’s website.

This passage from the Talmud also exhibits that it was Jewish tradition for the teacher to speak in Hebrew while an interpreter translated it into the common tongue of the audience. The Epiphanius text believed this practice was still being performed in the earliest Corinthian Church. Yet there is one difference between Paul’s exhortation and two hundred years or so later to the time of R. Shila — during Paul’s time a teacher instructing in Hebrew could provide his own translation. Rabbinic tradition during R. Shila’s time did not allow this. Someone else was obligated to do the translation.

If one takes face-value the information provided so far, Paul was referencing the the one who speaks in tongues as one teaching or lecturing in Hebrew. The interpreter was the speaker or another person familiar with both Hebrew and the target language, translating it on the fly. Paul mentioned in I Corinthians 14:13 that a person who speaks in a foreign unnamed tongue should himself interpret it. Later on in 14:28 he exhorts those who speak in a tongue should not speak at all if a third party interpreter is not available. In the context of what has been discussed so far, Paul was stating a rule about instruction and translation. If the teacher who taught in Hebrew had no knowledge of the local vernacular and there was no one available to translate who knew both Hebrew and the local language, the teacher was to remain silent.

The Epiphanius text stated that there was a conflict between three different Greek ethnic groups. This tension was likely over the translation or elucidation of the original speech done in Hebrew or Aramaic. Doric, Attic and Aeolic interpreters were simultaneously translating in their own mother tongue. This would be very confusing for those not familiar with Jewish customs, especially non-Jews. It would seem like mayhem and would be an obstacle to natural growth. It could also have been a dispute over what the standardized Greek language ought to be in the Corinthian Church. None of the Greek ethnic groups would cede their language to the authority of another Greek dialect.

This renders a difficult section of Paul’s writing to simplicity. This may not entirely be the case. The fourth century or later Latin based Ambrosiaster text on I Corinthians wrote that the Corinthian problem wasn’t about the Hebrew language but Aramaic — a language which surpassed Hebrew as the common language of the Jewish community by Paul’s time. The Ambrosiaster text outlined the conflict being Jewish members (specifically women) of the Corinthian congregation speaking Aramaic as a form of religious superiority above the non-Jewish Greeks in the Corinthian Church. This does not come as a surprise. As outlined in an earlier article, Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church, there were tensions between Hebrew and Aramaic in the Jewish religious life. This could also had been reflected in the earliest Corinthian Church over the proper language of instruction. There could have been Hebrew and Aramaic factions competing for preeminence.

This idea of Hebrew and Aramaic competing as the language of instruction fits in better with Paul’s admonition on tongues because on a number of occasions he refers to tongues in the plural, not in the singular.

The Greek community has so far been left of the equation within the formative Corinthian Church. It may have not been Hebrew, as the Epiphanius text states, but which Greek language ought to be the language of instruction and translated into the local vernacular. Doric Greek for example, was the language connected to the historical Corinthian city — whether the people during the first century still spoke Doric locally as the daily tongue or Attic had overcome it is not known. Doric was also the language used for composing choral lyric poetry in the international Greek world.(7) See Choral Doric for more information. Doric could have possibly been wanted as the language of instruction and certain sects within the initial Corinthian community were pressing for this. Since other Greek members of the Church did not know Doric, a translator was required to interpret it into the local vernacular. The Greeks thought their language to be superior to anyone else and would have had a hard time submitting to a foreign language such as Hebrew or Aramaic as the definitive one for religious devotion.(8) See Liturgy, Race and Language in the Corinthian Church for more information.

There is not enough information to substantiate Doric but it does show a potential state for conflict. It could also have been Aeolic or Attic pushed as the premier language of instruction. More research is required in this area.

The probability of the Greeks pressing for a Greek language to be the one for instruction is not as strong as that of Hebrew, Aramaic, or both being the initial language of instruction in the Church with an accompanying interpretation into the local tongue. The Epiphanius text should be understood that the instruction was done in Hebrew and the conflict was in which Greek language should be the primary base tongue in the Corinthian Church.

This was the environment Paul was up against in writing his letter to the Corinthians. It was a church composed of Jewish-Hebrew, Jewish-Aramaic, Jewish-Greek, and non-Jewish Greek members. It was a time where all things of religious faith were allowed to be reexamined, especially in context of Jewish tradition; what rituals were to be included from previous liturgical traditions, what were to be removed, and what new traditions should be started. The Jewish tradition was the underlying base. The Church was both restorative to the ancient Jewish identity but forward looking at the same time. It was more inclusive of many different ethnic groups and practices. Paul seemed unconcerned about the language issue itself but wanted to maintain some type of order so that all these different language speaking groups could operate cohesively together.

One must be aware that there is a lack of complete information on the use of Hebrew in first century Israel and the diaspora. It has been asserted here that it is a religious language used by by the leaders and teachers on matters of Jewish religious and civil matters while most of the Israeli public spoke Aramaic while the diaspora Jews spoke whatever local language they lived in. This is a controversial point. The publication, The Language Environment of First Century Judaea edited by Randall Buth and Steven R. Notley, strongly argue that Hebrew was the common language of communication in first century Judaea.(9) Jerusalem Studies in the Synoptic Gospels—Volume Two The Language Environment of First Century Judaea Randall Buth, Steven R. Notley ed..

If one reads the Pauline passage with the idea of Hebrew/Aramaic as the language of instruction and understands the Jewish structure of speaking and interpretation in Jewish tradition as outlined in this series, the text is clearly understood. It is not a mystical out-of-this-world experience but the re-imaging of Jewish structure in a newly formed Church.

This also answers the question of why the language problems of Corinth existed. If there was no Jewish antecedent forcing the use of a sacerdotal language, the Greek audience simply would have performed all the liturgical rites in their native tongue, and consequently there would have never been a mysterious tongues controversy.■

References   [ + ]

What it Means to be Saved

A look at the important religious word saved from a historical literary perspective.

Saved in the English contemporary language has many nuances and evokes powerful emotions. In evangelical circles, this word is the basis for religious conversion. It is a required act to get into heaven while others see it as an archaic and outdated term that religious people fervently force on contemporary society. Many more have taken religion right out of the definition and use it for referring to the saving of data.

There are many accounts of the word saved throughout the New Testament. In this case, I have restricted the word saved as it relates to when Jesus often said, “Your faith has made you well.” The word saved doesn’t seem apparent here, but it exists in the original Greek. The Greek here, σέσωκέν sesōken can mean saved or made well. This difference between selecting made well and saved by the translator shows that the meaning has a much wider semantic range than supposed and begs a re-evaluation. What did the Greek verb, σῴζω sōzō, historically mean to the ancient writers and how can we apply it today?

Sōzō is a core religious word for the Evangelical religious system. This makes the study even more interesting.

The phrase “Your faith has made you well” is an idiom and found in a number of places:

  • Mark 5:34, Matthew 9:22 and Luke 8:48 which recounts the story of a woman suffering years of persistent blood loss
  • Luke 18:42 is about Jesus healing a man of blindness
  • Luke 17:19 narrates His healing a man with leprosy
  • Luke 7:50 tells about Jesus who absolved a woman of her sins and thus freed her mind from shame.

The Greek phrase for this idiom is: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε which is unchanged in every place it is found. The English translations vary and prompts one to understand how saved fits within this context.

Since all these passages above have a similar connection, I randomly chose two to look at for doing a comparative historical literary analysis. Here is a sampling of the important English translations and the Greek, Latin and Syriac source works of Mark 5:34 and Luke 7:50.

Mark 5:34:

  • The 14th century Wycliffe version, “thi feith hath maad thee saaf”(1)http://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/wycliffe/Mar.txt
  • Tyndale Bible: “thy fayth hath made the whoale.”(2)http://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/tyndale/mar.txt
  • The 1611 King James: “thy faith hath made thee whole”(3)http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611_Mark-Chapter-5/
  • The New King James Version and the New American Standard: “Your faith has made you well.”
  • Douay-Rheims (English translation for a Catholic audience): “thy faith hath made thee whole.”
  • New International Version: “your faith has healed you”
  • The Greek: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε(4)SBLGNT
  • Latin: “fides tua te salvam fecit”(5)http://www.latinvulgate.com/lv/verse.aspx?t=1&b=2&c=5
  • and the Syriac:* ܗܰܝܡܳܢܽܘܬ݂ܶܟ݂ܝ ܐܰܚܝܰܬ݂ܶܟ݂ܝ

Luke 7:50:

  • The Wycliffe version: “Thi feith hath maad thee saaf.”(6)http://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/wycliffe/Luk.txt
  • Tyndale Bible: “ Thy faith hath saved thee.”(7)http://www.faithofgod.net/WTNT/luke_7.html
  • The 1611 King James Version: “Thy faith hath saued thee.”(8)http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611_Luke-7-50/
  • The New King James Version, the New American Standard, and the New International Version: “Your faith has saved you.”
  • Douay-Rheims “Thy faith hath made thee safe.”
  • The Greek: Ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε(9)SBLGNT
  • Latin: “fides tua te salvam fecit”(10)Vulgate http://www.latinvulgate.com/verse.aspx?t=1&b=3&c=7
  • and the Syriac:* ܗܰܝܡܳܢܽܘܬ݂ܶܟ݂ܝ ܐܰܚܝܰܬ݂ܶܟ݂ܝ

The statements are almost identical in both passages. The circumstances prompting this phrase are different.

The traditional Protestant English mind immediately connects the word saved with this passage as momentary but necessary ritualized confession. However, it does not take into account that this may be shaped by centuries of English Bible literary tradition. It may not exist with the same understanding in earlier times or different Church traditions.

The first result of this investigation reveals that the idea of saved was not present in the 14th century Wycliffe version, which is the oldest English Bible. This Bible concentrated on the word saaf instead, which means the person is safe and secure from any spiritual or physical harm.

The earliest that the actual word saved can be found in Luke 7:50 is in the Tyndale Bible printed in 1525. The Tyndale version used whoale (whole) for Mark 5:34. The Geneva Bible in 1587 and the King James in 1611 followed the tradition set by Tyndale while the Bishop’s Bible in 1568 used saved for both. Tyndale’s Bible is the standard by which all English Bibles have followed. The use of well for Mark 5:34 and saved for Luke 7:50 became entrenched. English Bibles have maintained this tradition since then.

It is funny how both the Mark and Luke passages are the same in the Greek, but English translation tradition brings them on separate paths.

What did earlier works have?

The Greek keyword for saved in Luke 7:50 and Mark 5:34 is σέσωκέν, which comes from σῴζω, sôzô is described by the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament as:

  • to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
  • to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
  • to save in the technical biblical sense
  • to deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment
  • to save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance.(11) Originally taken from the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Lexicon.show/ID/g4982/page/3 I have slightly modified the original version

The definition above demonstrates that sôzô has a wide semantic range. It is not simply for the world to come, but also has a present meaning.

The Latin gives a slightly different read with the keyword. The Latin word is salvam, which is the accusative of salvus. It is not a verb, as it is in the Greek, but rather a noun, which emphasizes a state rather than an action. The emphasis is on the external and internal condition of the person, not an act seized upon them.

Salvus, doesn’t necessarily mean saved in this context either. The meaning of salvus extends its meaning to be well, unhurt, safe, sound, or uninjured.(12)http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=salvam&la=la#lexicon So the verse can three combinations of meanings: the person is saved in the religious metaphysical sense only, made well physically or emotionally, or a combination of the two. It is hard to distinguish.

There is a tension here where the Greek and Latin texts are colliding on a crucial word. The reader may invariably think the oldest text, which is the Greek, would be the most accurate. Such an assumption is correct, but modern perceptions of how the Greeks used or understood this word may be a problem that clouds judgment. A third party must be consulted to find out where the truth is.

This is where the Syriac text comes in and gives a very powerful clue.

It is found in the Syriac version of Luke 7:50. The important piece is found in how they translated the Greek word σέσωκέν. They used ܐܰܚܝܰܬܼܶܟܼܝ܂ with the feminine pronoun singular attached at the end, which is pronounced ‘aḥyaṯeḵ(y). Its root is from the word chai, which in the ancient Hebrew vernacular, is full of religious symbolism.(13)Payne-Smith Lexicon, and Jennings Lexicon as found at http://dukhrana.com/peshitta/index.php

Chai means life. Although the Syriac Dictionaries gives the translator the option to use the English word saved when encountering this verb, it also suggests “given to life” or “restored to life”.(14)William Jenning’s Lexicon to the Syriac New Testament. Pg. 74 as found at http://dukhrana.com/peshitta/index.php

This is the same root that was used in Genesis 2:7 “and the man became a living being,” The living part here is where the chai noun is used — an authoritative statement on the meaning and definition of man. It is the life-giving force that distinguishes between living and non-living things.

Life, according to the ancient Hebrews, is unending and cannot be eradicated. Death is considered the most powerful weakening of the life-force but cannot destroy life entirely. Illness, poverty, and environment also deprecate the ability of life to work at its fullest.

If one can extrapolate further on this subject, Jesus did not come to destroy death, but to bring life, and offer everyone its fullest capacity without hindrance. A disposition evidenced when the Apostle John quoted Christ saying, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 NKJV)

When the woman was healed, the Syriac says that her life-force was restored to a full state. She didn’t have to worry about her physical malady anymore; it didn’t dominate her life, finances, or relationships. She learned what it meant to be alive and complete on every level.

When Christ spoke to the sinful woman in Mark 5:34, the stress is on the woman’s mental state. She was not mentally, emotionally or socially at peace and needed a cathartic episode to be whole. Unable to do it herself, Christ afforded her the opportunity.

After He spoke to each one, He then added, “go in peace”. The word for peace in the Syriac is shalom. If one uses a Hebrew dictionary to look up this word, and in this instance Marcus Jastrow’s Talmud Dictionary, the root of this term means to be whole, complete, perfection, soundness, health, peace. It is a synonym with the word saved. These women had no more crushing worries. They were content — free from the forces of life and circumstances that controlled their thoughts and bodies.

The Syriac agrees with the Latin, the emphasis is not merely an action, or a prepared emotional or mental state for the world to come, it is about improvement of the overall person’s mental, physical and spiritual condition to what it ought to be, both now and in the hereafter.

The idiom refers to a practice and authority that Jesus and few others can ever achieve, but there is an application for the followers of Jesus. It means that whatever a person is lacking, Christians are to meet that particular need in an individual’s life.

If a person has a physical disability, we are to pray for a miracle. If this does not occur, we are to support people through the potential economic deprivations caused by their limitations so that they can lead a whole life.

If a person has an emotional disability, symbolized by the sinful woman, what path will lead her to a whole state? We are to provide an environment of encouragement and acceptance. In some cases, it may require financial or social assistance. Preaching the Gospel or implying repentance on someone who already feels shame increases the emotional turmoil. It may be counter-productive. They need to feel love for who they are as-is. The sense of unconditional love from others is one of the gateways for many to enter into a state of peace.

On the other hand, if God has blessed a person with perfect health and all abundance and lacked a place in eternity, we are to assist that one in becoming complete.

If someone is terminally ill and is need of spiritual direction for eternal life, bringing foodstuffs, gifts, hugs or encouragement, will not entirely satisfy his or her soul. It would be a travesty to deny any person information on how to get to heaven in such a situation.

However, one must realize that we are not God, nor have the immediate powers of Christ to call people out of wheelchairs, restore blindness, or reverse genetic problems. Being whole often requires the ability to accept the limitations imposed on us or others and necessitates to adapt to the circumstances.

We also have to be whole ourselves, content with our own identity, at peace with any physical limitations, emotional histories or difficult realities before one can encourage others to be complete.

This is a much more complicated definition to fulfill than just evangelism. It involves intensely and intentionally loving people in the little things and the big ones too. It requires commitment to others everyday lives and self-sacrifice for their betterment.

This article is restricted only to two Bible passages and cannot entirely speak for the religious meaning of the word saved in the New Testament. However, it does show that the ancient writers understood this word more comprehensively than the current definition.


References to the Syriac text can be found at http://dukhrana.com/peshitta/index.php

See also Evangelicals on the Problem of Being Saved.

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