One Problem, I have discovered in my own life, is the issue of ethnocentricity, when it comes to reading, comprehending, interpreting, and eventually teaching the Testimony of God to myself and others.
It is very important that we become aware of our personal biases, prejudices, and cultural blinders that we bring to the table when we begin to Study the Word of God.
It takes a sophisticated mind of self awareness to realize one has his own false value systems in place that tend to shade his understanding when learning a new subject especially one that is deeply tied to a different culture, with dramatically different philosophical, religious, and perceptual objectives.
Such is the problem of any westernized Greek mindset seeking to evaluate an Eastern Hebrew mindset and teaching.
There is a brilliant discussion below about two ways that the two cultures view the word listen.
I hope that this will be helpful material to the reader:
“Hebrew thought and language sees things differently than English or Greek thought and language. Hebrew sees a thing not just as it appears in the moment you are looking at it, but from its tiniest seed form all the way through to when it reaches full maturity. This is a critical distinction. You are looking and seeing things from God’s eternal perspective vs. man’s temporal perspective.
Hebraic thought is different from Western thought as a snapshot of you is different from a full-length movie of your life – even from the moment of your conception to your death.”
The Hebrew v. Greek World View
Pilate: “So you are a king?”
Yeshua: “Yes. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate: “What is truth?”
When Pilate asked the question, Yeshua answers his question from the Hebrew mindset. Pilate then asks a question from his Greek mindset. The two do not mix, and Yeshua answers with silence.
The two-fold problem trying to understand the “Greek Mindset”
- It is so all-pervasive that it lies below the threshold of our daily assumptions.
- The very attempt to define it is a function of the Greek mindset itself.
There is a very basic foundation that must be laid to understand Spiritual Authority. It is the Hebrew – Greek Mindset. We live in a Greek Culture and it is this culture that must be understood. It helps create the disrespect to authority for the Believer
Let’s make some comparisons:
Hebrew thinking and Greek thinking are not the same, yet it is the Greek thinking that influences today’s society and impacts many of our English translations of the Bible.
The Greek concept of truth can be divided into 2 parts:
- In the Hebrew world, reality is the Word.
- For the Greek reality is the Thing.
Allow me to explain this with the Hebrew word “Sh’ma.” The Hebrew word sh’ma, which is interpreted in the Greek as “listen”, “hear”, and/or “obey,” actually means both and much more.
Hebrew thought and language sees things differently than English or Greek thought and language. Hebrew sees a thing not just as it appears in the moment you are looking at it, but from its tiniest seed form all the way through to when it reaches full maturity. This is a critical distinction. You are looking and seeing things from God’s eternal perspective vs. man’s temporal perspective.
Hebraic thought is different from Western thought as a snapshot of you is different from a full-length movie of your life – even from the moment of your conception to your death.
The Western viewpoint has a snapshot mentality; He looks at the moment, and whatever appears before his eyes or catches the attention of his ears at that specific moment, it takes a “snapshot” and considers it to be reality.
This Greek “snapshot” is why:
- The English word “listen” means only “pay attention.”
- The English word ‘hear’ means only to recognize words.
- The English word ‘’ means only do what you are told.
However, the Hebrew word sh’ma does not just mean ‘listen’, ‘hear’, or ‘obey’. The Hebrew sh’ma lifestyle involves having an “ear to hear”
- It means to “listen, and pay full attention, as if your life depended on it, and, once you paid attention, and heard what is said,begin immediately to incorporate what has been said into your life, and adapt every aspect of your thought life, speech, and conduct to what you have heard, and begin to memorize and teach it to your children and demonstrate it to the world, until you, and the world around you, is transformed into the image of the words you hear.” It means doing whatever He says, and not doing whatever He instructs against,and doing this not to “win His favor” but out of a mixture of awe and passionate love of Him and in full faith and trust that what He says is good.
Use of Senses
The most important senses in Hebrew is hearing and feeling creating a dynamic, intensity and a mood or feeling. This is what we expect when we read the Hebrew Scriptures. For the Greek it is sight. This creates visible things, static, or images. These images have form and objectivity
How it relates to God
In the Hebrew Culture, there is only one God, one source, one measuring stick, creating a foundation for moral behavior – producing a clear right or wrong. In the Greek culture, they have many gods. This makes right and wrong unclear. It is called “relativism” today. In the Hebrew thinking God does not change and works in cycles.
How it relates to the Nature of Man
To the Hebrew, man has three parts – it is a unity of spirit, soul, and body. He tries to be righteous, redeemed, and sanctified. The Hebrew will search God’s word to find out how to live the righteous life. What a man trusts and follows determines what he does. He searches for instructions for the heart, guidance for his soul, and directions for his body.
His #1 question is “HOW DO I…?”
In Greek thinking the gods are always changing. Because of this, life in their view is seen as linear. To the Greek, man has two parts, the flesh and the soul. The soul is considered eternal.
It is knowledge and what the Greek believes that is the most important reflection of how he is.
- Knowledge and right thinkingor doctrine feeds the soul.
- Morals and ethics are concepts that are for the soul.
This is why the commandments and laws from scripture, which deal with the physical man, are irrelevant to the spiritual man.
His # 1 question is “WHAT DO I…?
Concrete thought expresses concepts and ideas in ways that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or heard. All five of these senses are used when speaking, hearing, writing, and reading the Hebrew language. In Psalm 1:3, it reads: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither.” The writer is expressing his thoughts in concrete terms such as: tree, streams of water, fruit, and leaf
Abstract thought expresses concepts and ideas that cannot be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, of heard. In Psalm 103:8, it reads: “The LORD is compassionate, and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” The words compassion, grace, anger, and love are abstract words that cannot be experienced by the senses. This forces a question: Why are there abstract words in a passage of concrete thinking Hebrews?
These are English words used to translate original Hebrew concrete words. If the translators used the original Hebrew words, it would make no sense when translated into English. Example: Anger(alp): literally means “nose”, a concrete word. When a person is very angry, he begins to breathe hard and the nostrils begin to flare. A Hebrew sees anger as “the flaring of the nos (nostrils).” If a translator literally translated the above passage, it would read “slow to nose”. The English reader would not understand this
Function verses Appearance:
Hebrew thought describes objects in the relation to its functions, using verbs and nouns (Dynamic). Greek thought describes objects in the relation to its appearance, using adjectives (Static). Remember the Hebrew word “Sh’ma” explained earlier?
Another example would be a pencil. Hebrew thought would say “I write words with it.” Greek thought would say “it is yellow and about 8 inches long”
Congregating a Verb:
I Am …. You Are … He is ….
He is … You are …. I Am ….
The “Greek” mindset imagines a tattoo or something similar on the thigh of Y’shua (Jesus) when he returns as “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:11-13,16). They do not connect this with Leviticus 19:28 which reads “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD”
The Hebrew mindset sees something more realistic: The tzit-tzits (braid/knots/tassels) of Yeshua’s tallit (prayer shawl) falling across his thighs when He returns to earth atop a white horse! Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. The knots of the tassels on the four corners of a tallit spell out words.
- The Sephardics tie the knots in windings of 10, 5, 6, 5 which spells out the numeric values of “YHWH”
- The Ashkenazics use windings of 7, 8, 11, 13 which, adds up to 39, which is the numerical equivalent of Deuteronomy 6:4 which cites the Shema
- Day – “Midnight to Midnight”
- Week – named after Pagan Gods
- Day– “Sunset to Sunset” (Genesis 1:5)
- Week– “first day”. “second day”, “third day”, “fourth day”, “fifth day”, “sixth day”. “The Sabbath”.
This Chart gives a good explanation between the Greek and Hebrew structures:
Greek (Western) Approach Hebrew Approach
|Life analyzed in precise categories.||Everything blurs into everything else.|
|A split between natural & supernatural||Supernatural affects everything.|
|Linear logic||Contextual or “block” logic|
|“Rugged Individualism”||Importance of being part of group|
|Equality of persons||Value comes from place in hierarchies|
|Freedom orientation||Security orientation|
|Competition is good||Competition is evil (cooperation better)|
|Man-centered universe||God/tribe/family-centered universe|
|Worth of person based on money/material possessions/power||Worth derived from family relationships|
|Biological life sacred||Social life supremely important|
|Chance + cause & effect limit what can happen||God causes everything in his universe|
|Man rules nature through understanding and applying laws of science||God rules everything, so relationship with God determines how things turn out|
|Power over others achieved through business, politics and human organizations||Power over others is structured by social patterns ordained by God.|
|All that exists is the material||The universe is filled with powerful spirit beings|
|Linear time divided into neat segments. Each event is new||Cyclical or spiraling time. Similar events constantly reoccur.|
|Oriented to the near future||Oriented to lessons of history|
|History is recording facts objectively and chronologically.||History is an attempt to preserve significant truths in meaningful or memorable ways whether or not details are objective facts.|
|Change is good = progress||Change is bad = destruction of traditions|
|Universe evolved by chance||Universe created by God|
|Universe dominated and controlled by science and technology||God gave man stewardship over his earthly creation. Accountability to God.|
|Material goods = measure of personal achievement||Material goods = measure of God’s blessing|
|Blind faith||Knowledge-based faith|
|Time as points on straight line (“at this point in time…”||Time determined by content (“In the day that the Lord did…”)|
|What Do I …||“How Do I…|
The distinction comes from the difference between doing and knowing.
- The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge.
- Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, Right thinking that of theGreek.
- Duty and strictness of conscience are the paramount things in life for the Hebrew;
For the Greek, the spontaneous and luminous play of the intelligence.
- The Hebrew extols the moral virtues as the substance and meaning of life; TheGreek subordinates them to the intellectual virtues
The contrast is between practice and theory, between the moral man and the theoretical or intellectual man.
History of Greek Influence:
Plato (428-348): His University became the model of the modern University
– To the Greek world, “Truth” is understood as “justified true belief.”
– The everyday world of particulars is always in a state of flux.
– Inferences regarding its objects are really opinions based on sensations.
– If there’s truth about the physical world, that world exists, then it is truth about the ideal world, which also exists. This led to a dualism in both nature and in man — there is the real and the ideal; the “is” and the “ought,”
Aristotle (384-322 BC): He ‘redirected” the thinking of Plato teaching the forms and ideas are not found in some abstract realm, but in the particulars things themselves.
– By “abstracting” from the particulars (ideas) you form a general understanding of the thing’s nature
– The mind understood things in terms of their (static) generalized essences.
– This increased the use of Logic
Aristotle created systems of logical argument. He taught that truth was discovered by systematic arguments based on “premise to conclusion” concepts. You first begin with a premise and then sets down a system of steps to come to an ultimate conclusion.
- Problem #1 – It still relied on human reasoning which was limited by human experience
- Problem #2 – The block logic of Hebrew was considerably different than this type of thinking, and it was Hebrew logic that the Scriptures were written in, not Greek(this includes the Brit Hadashah(New Testament)
He was the teacher to Alexander the Great, who spread this thinking over the then known world. Alexander’s strategy was for Greece to dominate the world by conforming the world to Greek thinking. This could only be accomplished by language.
He knew that if you change a people’s language, you change their whole view of life.
- Language shapes, molds, and defines a culture.
- Hate can turn into loyalty if you can change the meaning and purpose of words and traditions.
- Fate was responsible for everything that happened, denying “Free Will.”
What did Alexander do?
- He educated his future leaders in Greek letters and weaponry.
- He established schools throughout his conquered regions.
- He organized traditional Greek festivals to honor the gods in the most lavish fashion.
- He trained his successors in the Greek language.
- He taught that the deities made their wishes known through natural phenomena, through omens and oracles, which were interpreted through great speakers in the theaters and arenas. This is why Paul and Barnabas were called Jupiter (Zeus) and Mercury (Hermes). These were the Roman names for the Greek gods.
Although Rome conquered Greece, they took upon the same system of philosophy, only the names were changed.
Consider this: Most of western thought — including ideas about language and logic,natural science, mathematics, mathematics, ethics, jurisprudence, politics,aesthetics, and theology,draws from this tradition. Much has been subconsciously adopted into the educational technologies of the west for thousands of years.
POINT: Since the early Roman church was led by orators and others schooled in classical Greek thought (i.e., Hellenism), many of the basic assumptions of the Greeks were implicitly integrated into the earliest forms of Christian theology.
Two of the greatest theologians of the Christian world – Augustine and Thomas Aquinas – attempting to synthesizeGreek philosophy with the Scriptures
- Augustine followed Plato.
- Aquinas followed Aristotle.
The Hebrew Mindset:
It is not concerned with these abstract ideas of the ancient Greeks. WHY? Because of the direct revelation of YHVH, reality was regarded in terms of divine encounter, dialog, antinomy, paradox, and mystery. Hebrew thinking is more dynamic, more poetic, more dramatic, more based on appearances, and more impassioned than that of the ancient Greeks.
They do not ask “What is time?” To the Hebrew mind, time is rooted in historical experiences such as the Exodus from Egypt and other “appointed events” (moedim). Time is linked not so much to chronology as it is to spiritual significance.
Time in Greek and Hebrew:
- Greek – a substance or medium or “dimension,“
- Hebrew– The events are the focus, not the supposed bedrock for these events.
Since the Hebrews dealt with the Divine revelation that was eventually committed to writing (i.e., the Torah), hermeneutics and interpretation became important in their overall perspective. The study of narrative, the layered sense of meanings, the focus on action (rather than static), the application Divine law to particular cases, etc., were the result of interpreting the divine within everyday life.
Jewish Theology has been conditioned by debate, discussion, and dialog — all within a shared sense of communal tradition. To the Hebrew mind, reality is the handiwork of a single all-knowing, all-powerful, and Supreme Creator who has personally revealed Himself to key individuals in human history. Reality is intensely, overwhelmingly, and personal. Truth therefore is a matter of trust — not abstract knowledge.
“Knowledge” is primarily about practical ethics, moral obligation, and cult practices (i.e., Temple worship). Truth is more connected to moral fidelity than it is to a propositional correspondence; It is a matter of the heart than of the head.
From its earliest days in Rome, the Greek mindset has been hugely influential in shaping the vision of the “church” — its structure, mission, “theology,” and its ways of doing business. The roles of the earliest “Church fathers” and apologists is a study of Greek oratory and dialectic, not Hebrew structure
Though the “Reformation” of the church in the 16th century tried to restore a primitive Christian expression, it failed because it went back to ancient Greek humanism rather than to the Hebrew Jewish roots of the Christian faith. The Sabbath still remained on Sunday (Council of Trent – 1545 – 1563). The ideal of Zion as a real, physical future continued to be allegorized, just as the Church continued to mistakenly regard itself as “Israel.” The greatest exegetical fallacy was the respect of absolutist forms of theology — a Greek legacy that comes more from the Academy of Plato than it does from Moses.
This is the hub of “Greek philosophical theology” and explains why the various disagreements among Christian “denominations” still persist to this day. Hellenization affected the Jews as much as other people groups. Example: Hellenistic Judaism, sought to syncretize Hebraic-Jewish religious tradition with the culture and language of the Greeks.
The major literary product of the contact of Judaism and Hellenistic culture was the Septuagint (LXX).
- The Jewish theologian Philo of Alexandria() attempted to synthesize Plato with Moses.
- Maimonides (1135-1204) later attempted to synthesize Aristotle with traditional Jewish dogma.
When Pilate asked “What is truth?” Yeshua replied with silence. Yeshua did not come to speculate like Socrates and to dialog about abstractions… He came to reveal the Face of God. But, when Yeshua spoke to His disciples – just before his impending death as the Passover Lamb of God – he said, “I am the way, the truth, the life…”
He did not mean this in the Greek sense, since that would have been absurd, but he presupposed a Jewish mindset regarding His identity and the salvation purposes of God (i.e., Zion). The way to God is the way of faith… Since truth is based on faithfulness, trusting in Yeshua’s sacrificial death is the only way to God — He (alone) is our intercessor, High Priest, Mediator and Savior. Yeshua is derech ha-chaim- the way of life.The truth of God is revealed in the Person and sacrifice of Yeshua. The sacrifice of the Messiah is the truth of God — it perfectly reveals both God’s love and justice, His faithfulness and holiness.
The execution stake demonstrates the truth of our depravity and our need for salvation. The words “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” = the Word of the LORD which is truth incarnate. The truth he embodied was God’s passionate love for us.
Yeshua is the life. He is both the one who sustains all things and mediates all things through His infinite glory. For those who trust in him, he offers abundant life, eternal life, inexpressible joy, unsurpassed peace, love that passes understanding, and a glorious future in the world to come.
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach the Messiah crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, the Messiah the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ (1 Corinthians 1:20-24)