This appeared in the Summer issue of The Tree of Life Magazine

STARTLING CLAIMS

Chapter 11

by

Dr. Robert Lindsey

This is an excerpt from Jesus, Rabbi and Lord: the Hebrew Story of Jesus Behind our Gospel. Dr. Lindsey was a pioneer in the studies of Jewish roots. In 1945, Robert Lindsey from Norman, Oklahoma, found himself pastor of a small Baptist congregation in Jerusalem, Israel. With his Hebrew-speaking congregation in mind, he began a translation of the Greek texts of Matthew, Mark and Luke and soon concluded there must lie behind these gospels---even if distantly--an early Hebrew story of Jesus. To his surprise he also found that Luke almot always showed Greek texts which could easily be translated literally to Hebrew! The same was true of Matthew, wherever he was not copying Mark's gospel.

In 1960, Linsey met Professor David Flusser of Hebrew University and the two pursued the question of whether we can get back to the earliest semitic story and the words of Jesus.

"It is clear, " said Lindsey and Flusser, "that our synoptic texts originated mainly in one Greek translation of a Hebrew biography of Jesus, probably written by the Matthew of tradition. The materials are too Hebraic to have originated in Greek, as many scholars mistakenly think today. Happily, if we use the right tools we can still hear Jesus speak as His fellow Jews of the first-century heard Him."

Lindsey tells here the warm, personal account of how he and Flusser struggled over many years to discover the earliest form of Jesus' words and narratives of His life. They believe that the records, when properly analyzed and studied show us an authentic picture of Jesus interacting with the people of Jerusalem and Galilee. Jesus clearly heads a movement, the "Kingdom of Heaven" and is a Divine Figure whose actions and words are fully Messianic.

Dr. Lindsey died in 1995 but leaves a legacy of scholars, friends and students following in his footsteps. We wish to thank HaKesher, Inc. for allowing us to reproduce this chapter of this most important work. We pray that this article will allow many of our students to discover in their studies a new depth of scholarship and enhance their walk with our Messiah Jesus.

Jesus does not walk around arrogantly saying he is the Messiah, in so many words, nor does he haue to. His miracles and approach to exorcism speak for themselves. But in Nazareth he declares he is the Messiah by quoting Isaiah 61:1, 2 and applying these words as explanation of himself and his unusual ministry. Of much importance is his interpretation that with him God has inaugurated an age of healing and grace.

You cannot write of the visit of Jesus to Nazareth and the opposition he ran into in his own hometown without telling how we studied this story as found in Luke 4:16-30 in Flusser's New Testament seminar several years ago at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

You see, Flusser taught on the life of Jesus from the Gospels in an advanced seminar in the University for many years and I was present during a great many of these sessions. He and I had collaborated since 1962, the year I moved with my family back to Jerusalem after spending two years in Tiberias attempting to translate the Gospel of Mark anew.

We talked constantly both privately and in the seminar about problems we met in trying to understand Jesus, as the texts of Matthew, Mark and Luke described him. Often Flusser would choose a story, lecture on the Greek text and indicate rabbinic and Hebrew suggestions connected to it. Students would comment and ask questions. Frequently Flusser would turn to me at the end of the discussion and ask me to comment. Sometimes we disagreed, or argued this or that point vociferously, but as a rule we came to important conclusions affecting our mutual understanding of the story.

Little by little we built upon our accumulated experience and little by little many of the difficult problems encountered found their solution.

Now one of the short narratives, which is actually longer than many, is that which tells of Jesus going to Nazareth after having become more and more famous as a healer around Capernaum.

As both Flusser and I agreed there is not a more Hebrew-like Greek text in all our Gospels. The story has descended in Greek but can be easily turned back word by word to Hebrew. Nevertheless there are little points of interpretation which are of great importance to understanding Jesus as we bring this story back to Hebrew. And not a few problems.

The story begins simply enough. Jesus, who apparently is visiting his mother, Mary, and his brothers James (Yaakov), Joseph (Yossi), Judah (Yehuda), and Simon (Shimon), comes early on the Sabbath to worship at the village synagogue. After the Torah is read, it is the scroll of the Prophets which is handed to Jesus and he is asked to read from it.

Each ancient synagogue, no matter how small, tried hard to come by at least a good copy of the Torah and one of the Prophets (which included the books of Joshua, Judges, I and 11 Samuel and I and 11 Kings as well as the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the so-called minor prophets). It was a precious scroll which Jesus opened. He found the place in the Prophets from which he would read, Isaiah chapter 61, the first two verses. Like Christians later, Jews popularly believed that the coming Son of David would one day say these words:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because the Lord has anointed me

To preach good tidings to the poor.

At this point Jesus made a change in the ancient reading. Where the original said,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because the Lord has anointed me

To preach good tidings to the poor.

 

At this point Jesus made a change in the ancient reading. Where the original said,

 

He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted

 

Jesus dropped the expression "to heal the brokenhearted" and went on to read,

 

To proclaim liberty to the captives,

And the opening of the prison

 

But even here he seems to have read in such a way that the people understood this last phrase as,

 

And the opening of the eyes of the blind, which is a possible reading of the Hebrew.

 

So instead of reading

 

And the opening of the prison to those who are bound he reads, apparently,

 

And the opening of the eyes of the blind and adds

 

To set the oppressed free,

which is a phrase he lifts out of an earlier portion of Isaiah (58:6) and inserts here.

 

Finally, Jesus returns to Isaiah 61:2 and ends the quotation,

 

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,

dropping, as he does so, a further sentence from Isaiah 61:2:

And the day of vengeance of our God.

 

Although it may seem strange to us today, this special way of reading a passage from the Prophets - dropping one phrase to insert another biblical phrase - was a common practice among Jewish rabbis and teachers. In the sectarian documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which comment on many biblical texts and constantly refer them to people and events happening at Qumran or Jerusalem, the writers make small changes in the biblical material as interpretations flow from their pens. The reason is that in making a deliberate change or insertion the writer is bringing out some special point he desires to make and some interpretation which may not have been exactly that of the prophet himself but suggests some contemporary matter or event.

The passage in the original context of Isaiah obviously had to do with the Judeans who were being promised deliverance from captivity but Jesus is talking about a quite different kind of deliverance.

The Enemy, Satan, has brought sickness and disease on the people and Jesus has come to heal them physically and deliver them from the power of the devil. By making changes suitable to what he wants to put across he is able to quote a famous Scripture yet apply it not as meant originally but to explain himself and his mission.

Christian ministers and sermon-makers often misunderstand both this Jewish method of interpreting a Bible passage and what Jesus meant by saying the Lord had sent him to "preach good tidings to the poor," or, as good tidings is often translated, "the Gospel." Very often the calling of the minister is said to be largely that of "preaching the

Gospel" and the supposition is that this means that the Christian minister's main task is to stand behind a pulpit and preach two or three sermons weekly.

But, of course, this is not what Jesus means by saying he had come to preach the Gospel (good tidings) to the poor. He is really saying that he has good news for the oppressed . Through him they can find healing and deliverance from the Enemy. It may very well be that the Christian evangelist who calls men to make a decision for Christ and his kingdom is engaged in helping a person to the source of blessing and power by calling on him to follow Jesus but Jesus certainly meant much more. He had come to touch the bodies of people and make them physically and spiritually whole.

We read that after Jesus had finished his interpretive reading of Isaiah 61:1, 2 he closed the book and gave it to the attendant (chazan), sat down and - after a pause in which every eye was upon him - said,

"Today your ears have heard the fulfillment of this Scripture."

 

It is sometimes said that in view of the fact that Jesus did not go around saying loudly, "I am the Messiah," he may not have thought of himself as the Messiah. In fact this idea has been advanced by so many people that it has become a kind of clich6 in the mouths of many who should read these stories in the Gospels more carefully.

The people who came to the synagogue in Nazareth that day so long ago clearly had no doubt that in this very Jewish way of referring to Isaiah 61 Jesus was claiming messiahship.

Without saying it in so many words Jesus is declaring that he is the expected Messiah. "This Scripture is talking about me. The Lord has anointed (mashach) me. I am the Messiah (mashiach)."

Before a Jewish audience all kinds of messianic pretenders had come and gone and would do so for years after the time of Jesus. The sophisticated pretender would avoid saying directly, "I am the Messiah." Bar Cochba a hundred years later would call himself "Nasi" (Prince) rather than Messiah and inscribe this messianic name on the coins he issued. It would remain for Rabbi Akiva to call him the Messiah. To have said blatantly "I am the Messiah" to a Jewish audience in the first century would perhaps not technically have been considered blasphemy (since the claimant would not actually have called himself God) but it would have been thought of as extremely bold and near blasphemy.

Jesus is thus doing two things in reading and making Isaiah 61:1, 2 a central text that can explain what he wants to say to those in the synagogue. He is saying that he is the expected Son of David, Messiah, and that his ministry or method as Messiah is to heal the sick, dispel demonic forces, give eyes to the blind, make the lame walk, and in this way bring "good news to the poor."

He will emphasize this special method of ministry again when in Matt. 11:2, 3 John the Baptist sends messengers to ask him, 'Are you the one we wait for or do we have to wait for someone else?" Jesus will reply by asking the messengers to inform John that

 

"The blind receive their sight

And the lame are walking.

The lepers are cleansed

And the deaf are hearing,

And blessed is he not offended in me." (Matthew 11:5, 6).

 

We will see later that John's mistake was that he thought the coming Messiah would on appearance fulfill ancient Scriptures promising the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all people and the setting up of thrones of judgment. Jesus made it clear that his first task as Messiah was to heal and that meant that before there would be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the Messianic judgment there would be a period of Messianic healing.

 

It was, of course, promised in Isaiah that the Messianic period yet to come would be a time of great physical blessing for the people.

 

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.

Then the lame shall leap like a deer,

And the tongue of the dumb sing (Isaiah 35:5, 6).

 

Jesus was saying, "The time has come. The Messianic period is here.

Healing and deliverance is the program for the hour."

 

He is saying even more. As we noticed, he quoted the first phrase in Isaiah 61:2: He was

 

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,

 

but deliberately dropped the next sentence. He was not to proclaim

The day of vengeance of the Lord!

 

The day of judgment, in which the Messiah would sit as the great and final judge, would not come for - who knows? - a long time. Meantime Jesus would walk from village to village visiting the synagogues and healing all he would find who wanted healing. It is the acceptable year of the Lord.

 

As the Gospel of John sums it up in Jesus' words:

I have not come to judge the world but to save the world (John 12:47).

To emphasize once again how Jesus used Isaiah 61, let me put down side by side the passage in Isaiah and the words of Jesus as he quoted and interpreted it.

 

ISAIAH 61:1, 2

The Spirit of the Lord

is upon me,

because the Lord

has anointed me

to bring good tidings

to the poor;

 

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty

to the captives, and the opening of the prison (or the eyes);

 

to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God.

LUKE 4:18,19

The Spirit of the Lord

is upon me,

because he

has anointed me

to bring good tidings

to the poor;

 

he has sent me

to proclaim liberty

to the captives,

and the opening of the eyes

of the blind;

 

to set free those

who are oppressed (Isaiah 58:6)

to proclaim the acceptable

year of the Lord.

 

So far as I can see Jesus never varied from this understanding of his mission and clearly left it as a heritage for the mission of his followers. Jesus would send out his disciples later to heal and deliver people from the powers of evil. The book of the Acts of the Apostles describes the first post-resurrection followers as praying for the sick and possessed as well. Have we modern followers largely missed the way Jesus interpreted bringing the good tidings to the poor for our emphasis on "preaching the Gospel" with many good words but no cleansing of the leper or raising of the dead?

JESUS, RABBI AND LORD

is available from our catalog or from:

HaKesher, Inc.

Ken & Lenore Mullican

9939 South 71st East Ave.

Tulsa, OK 74133-5338

E-mail: hakesher@aol.com

http://www.hakesher.org

Lenore Mullican teaches Hebrew at Oral Roberts University. Lenore is Dr. Robert Lindsey's daughter. Ken and Lenore are available to speak. There are other tapes and books available on their website by Dr. Lindsey and through their catalog. They both spoke at our Passover Teaching Weekend in 1997.

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