The Hebrew Origins of the Bible

A big part of the reason we do not understand the kingdom of God is that Christian doctrine has long since been divorced from its Hebrew roots. The Bible is a Jewish book, written by Jews (mainly) and written with Jewish terminology. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the doctrines of the New Testament are built on those of the Hebrew scriptures. Many of the terms used in the New Testament are not defined there, because they'd been defined in the Hebrew Scriptures, which the believers in Jesus' day were expected to know.

Since then, Christians for centuries have interpreted them in light of understanding that came from other sources, often including Greek philosophy, and without even realizing it we have bought into it because we'd "always heard it that way." To our shame we didn't know the Hebrew Scriptures well enough to say otherwise. Part of the goal of this website is to show how the Scriptures themselves define terms that Christians use frequently and how the Biblical definitions are often vastly different from the commonly held understanding.

Many of the words and concepts as given and understood in the Hebrew Scriptures and subsequent teachings of Jesus and the Apostles have lost their original meaning to most churchgoers. As a result the overall message of "orthodox" Christianity is unclear and therefore the faith of most Christians is unclear regarding basic questions such as: Who is God and what is His nature? Who is Jesus and what is his relationship to God? What is the ultimate destiny of mankind? What is the central message, or "gospel" that we as Christians are to preach?

We are to get our doctrine, which is the foundation of our hope, from the Scriptures that were written aforetime, which are elaborated on in the New Testament. Most Christians read the New Testament, and read into it the doctrines that have sprung up since it was written, rather than understanding it in light of the Hebrew foundation on which it was built.

"Old Testament," in fact, is an unfortunate and misleading name for that part of the Bible. Calling it the "Old" Testament implies to some people that it is done away with and no longer relevant. It should better be referred to as the Hebrew Scriptures, because there is more than the old covenant (i.e. the Mosaic Law) in the Hebrew Scriptures.

For many years I believed that the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Book of Revelation were addressed to Israel and did not concern me except as interesting information. I mentioned before how Romans 15:4 was interpreted as "for our learning only" and not addressed to us. Another verse that was used to prove that idea was Romans 15:8, which says that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision. We assumed it meant "of the circumcision only." However the word "and" in the very next verse indicates that he also had another purpose.

Romans 15:
8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
[see NASB]

What Jesus said and did confirmed the promises to the fathers (how many Christians know what those promises were?) and also how the Gentiles would become involved. Paul, in his epistles, goes on to elaborate how the Gentiles have been included, and how anyone can partake of the marvelous promises God made to Abraham and the other fathers, concerning His kingdom on a renewed earth, to be perfectly ruled by Messiah. This is the overall scope of the Bible, which will enable you to see it as a whole message, rather than a fragmented collection of different messages to different people.

"Old Testament and New Testament... stand together as the two acts of a single drama. Act I points to its conclusion in Act II, and without it the play is an incomplete, unsatisfying thing. But Act II must be read in light of Act I, else its meaning will be missed. For the play is organically one. The Bible is one book. Had we to give that book a title, we might with justice call it 'The Book of the Coming Kingdom of God.' That is, indeed, its central theme everywhere."

John Bright
The Coming Kingdom of God, p.197, 1953


"The 'kingdom of God' was without a doubt at the heart of Jesus' historic message... The phrase 'kingdom of God' is introduced without explanatory comment. For Jesus' first hearers, as presumably for Mark's readers, it was not the empty or nebulous term it often is today. The concept had a long history and an extensive background in the Old Testament."

Hugh Anderson
The Gospel of Mark, pp.83,84, 1976

How did the Kingdom of God become the "empty, nebulous term" it is today? Toward the end of the first century, after the original apostles died, there was a gradual shift from Hebrew/Jewish thought to Greek/Gentile thought. As more and more Gentiles became part of the Church, pagan ideas and concepts gradually became associated with the concepts of the New Testament, and their meanings became muddled. Ultimately, Biblical Christianity was replaced by a pagan imitation of the true gospel.

"As the Christian movement expanded beyond its original Jewish nucleus into the Greco-Roman world, it had to understand, explain, and defend itself in terms that were intelligible in an intellectual milieu largely structured by Greek philosophical thought. By the 2nd century AD several competing streams of Greek and Roman philosophy … had to a great extent flowed together into a common worldview that was basically Neoplatonic … The early Christian Apologists were at home in this thought-world, and many of them used its ideas and assumptions both in propagating the Gospel and in defending it as a coherent and intellectually tenable system of belief. Their most common attitude was to accept the prevailing Neoplatonic worldview as basically valid and to present Christianity as its fulfillment, correcting and completing rather than replacing it. Philosophy, they thought, was to the Greeks what the Law was to the Jews- a preparation for the Gospel; and several Apologists agreed with the Jewish writer Philo that Greek philosophy must have received much of its wisdom from Moses … Greek philosophy, then, provided the organizing principles by which the central Christian doctrines were formulated."

"Christianity" in the Encyclopedia Britannica CD Version


"The earliest disciples were Jewish … Nevertheless, even in Palestine the Christian group had common ground with the Hellenistic world. In language and its accompanying contacts the wider world was with the Primitive Church from the first, and while the contacts were certainly meager at first, they grew as the movement expanded. This was natural and necessary; no religious group can grow without sharing the media of communication and the framework of life with those to whom they go. They dare not surrender to that framework in all its phases; but they cannot work if they are totally alien to it. The common ground with the Hellenistic world was inevitable, and it was not long before the prevailing environment of the Christian Church was Gentile. What does the New Testament indicate of the Christian way of dealing with that non-Christian environment, especially in regard to faith in God and teaching concerning him? One general observation ought to be made at the outset. The primary kinship of the New Testament is not with this Gentile environment, but rather with the Jewish heritage and environment … We often are led by our traditional creeds and theology to think in terms dictated by Gentile and especially Greek concepts. We know that not later than the second century there began the systematic effort of the Apologists to show that the Christian faith perfected the best in Greek philosophy. We are aware, too, that scholars have pointed out aspects of New Testament thought which are akin to Greek thinking. The recovery of a better understanding of first-century Judaism, however, and a more careful study of the New Testament must block any trend to regard the New Testament as a group of documents expressive of the Gentile mind. This book's kinship is primarily and overwhelmingly with Judaism and the Old Testament … We may make the mistake of thinking that the Church was at home in the Gentile world, but both the Early Church and its opponents knew better. The New Testament speaks always with disapproval and usually with blunt denunciation of Gentile cults and philosophies. It agrees essentially with the Jewish indictment of the pagan world … Moreover the modern Church often misunderstands its relation to the Old Testament and Israel, and often inclines to prefer the Greek attitude to the New Testament view."

George W. Knox
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, Volume 6, p.284, 1910


"The New Testament remains basically Jewish, not Greek - though Greek in language … and it can be understood only from the historical vantage point of the modified Judaism which provided the early church with its terminology and its whole frame of thought."

Frederick C. Grant
Ancient Judaism and the New Testament, p. 133, 1959


"The whole Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old Testament, is based on the Hebrew attitude and approach … This ought to be recognized on all hands to a greater extent... There is often a great difference between Christian theology and Biblical theology. Throughout the centuries the Bible has been interpreted in a Greek context, and even the New Testament has been interpreted on the basis of Plato and Aristotle … Those who adopt this method of interpretation should realize what it is that they are doing, and should cease to maintain that they are basing their theology on the Bible … This tendency to interpret the New Testament in Greek terms [is] almost everywhere."

Norman H. Snaith
The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, p. 185, 1944


"[The Jews] were soon the least adequately represented in the Catholic Church. That was a disaster to the Church itself. It meant that the Church as a whole failed to understand the Old Testament and that the Greek mind and the Roman mind in turn, instead of the Hebrew mind, came to dominate its outlook: from that disaster the Church has never recovered either in doctrine or in practice ... Christians would gravely delude themselves if they were to imagine that the Jews on any major scale could subscribe to the tenets of the Christian religion, which owe so much to the legacy of polytheism. Because Christians have not become Israelites, but have remained essentially Gentiles, their spiritual inclinations are towards doctrines for which they have been prepared by inheritance from the pagan past."

Canon H. Goudge
quoted in The Politics of God, p.98, 1970


"The re-interpretation of Biblical theology in terms of the ideas of the Greek philosophers has been both widespread throughout the centuries and everywhere destructive to the essence of the Christian faith … neither Catholic nor Protestant theology is based on Biblical theology. In each case we have a domination of Christian theology by Greek thought.

Norman H. Snaith
The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, pp. 187,188, 1944


"Christianity is a hybrid faith compounded of the Semitic as to its origin, and non-Semitic as to its development. It therefore carries within itself a problem, which indeed it is not correctly aware ... due to the extraordinary manner in which the Semitism in Christianity has been sublimated."

T.E. Lawrence
quoted in The Politics of God, p.99, 1970


"Even before Jerome [342-420AD] the 'language of the Jews' had come to be regarded increasingly by theologians as a symbol of the alien, the sinister, and the hostile … A student of the history of magic from antiquity to the medieval period has pointed out that 'it was not at all rare to find Hebraic equated with satanic' ... Who could possibly have been interested in learning the language of a people so morally depraved, theologically condemned and intellectually sterile!"

Pinchas E. Lapide
Hebrew in the Church, pp.3,4, 1976

This forsaking of the language, culture, and thought patterns of the Jews led to a forsaking of the Hebrew Scriptures. As a result, the Greek-influenced thought patterns that infiltrated Christian thinking radically changed the understanding of the terms and concepts in the New Testament writings. Most Christians read the New Testament in light of these preconceived notions, and completely miss their intended meaning. This has led to a number of theological systems that eclipse the greatness of the gospel of the kingdom.

One of these is "covenantal theology" which proposes that the promises to Israel are fulfilled in a spiritual sense for the Christian Church which replaces Israel. Therefore the prophecies of the kingdom of God are actually fulfilled NOW in the form of God's reign in the hearts of believers, rather than a literal fulfillment in the future. This was the most common way of viewing the Scriptures for many years. Other Biblical scholars in the last two centuries have endeavored to resolve apparent contradictions by segmenting the Bible according to the system known as Dispensationalism, which I addressed in a previous article.

Both of these theological systems have found it necessary to resolve "contradictions" because they have not understood the concepts presented in the Bible in light of their Hebrew origins. In order to get back to the original understanding of the Bible as a whole, it is necessary to recognize that this shift has taken place, and then to examine the Bible in light of its Hebrew roots. I contend that the understanding of the Kingdom of God is the key to unlocking all that is misunderstood in the Bible, for when you come to an understanding of this topic, especially from its original Hebrew perspective, you begin to see how the whole Bible fits together.

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Mark Clarke