Should our pre-suppositional approach to the New Testament be Hebraic or Hellenistic?

Almost all of Christian scholarship approaches the NT from a Western and Hellenistic (Greek) mindset, and for most they are not even aware of their pre-suppositions. This may be in part because so many historical and cultural understandings over the centuries re-enforced this approach.

But since as early as the 1950’s these false understandings began to be questioned and re-evaluated. Sadly though the new evidence and understandings have for the most part not been reflected in new  editions of our Bible translations or even in much recent scholarship (with very notable exceptions being scholarly groups such as the Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research[1], and some Bible translators such as Ann Nyland[2] and Uriel ben Mordechai).

I have written and presented a number of articles on the Hebraisms in the NT as well as discussing the evidence is some depth in my book ‘The New Testament: The Hebrew Behind the Greek’[3].

But a question that was raised recently is how to open the minds and hearts of Bible scholars and students to at least consider that their inherent pre-suppositional understandings may need to be re-evaluated.

The approach of have used in the past is to look at some of the apparent contradictions between different accounts of the same event and try to demonstrate that a Hebraic approach seems to best resolve the apparent conflict and contradiction.

I have detailed many of these in my articles, but I raise just one here to highlight this issue.

Yeshua is asked who might sit next to him in the Kingdom. Mark gives us the impression that Yaa’cov (James) and Yochanan (John) themselves personally asked whether they might sit next to Yeshua in places of royal authority (Mk. 10:35-40).

Matthew though tells us that in fact it was the mother of Zebedee’s children who actually made the request to Yeshua (Mt. 20:20-23). Here we see the Hebraic principle of agency at play. The agent fully represents the principal in any transaction. All the Gospels, as well as other books of the NT make use of this Hebraism and many others.

Many have argued that these Hebraisms are not evident in John’s Gospel. I have addressed this question in depth here:’s%20Gospel.pdf

I would also like to highlight how easy it is to totally miss these Hebraisms and the strong Hebraic Mindset and perspective used throughout the NT. Some of the examples are staring us in the face, yet we can not see them without an indepth knowledge of the historical and cultural context.

Just one example for now comes from ‘Non-Septuagintal Hebraisms in the Third Gospel: An Inconvenient Truth’by R. Steven Notley (of the Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research).

“Luke’s terminology reflects Post-biblical Hebrew idioms that he has not adopted from the Septuagint, the other Gospels or any other known Jewish Greek literature of the period. The problem is that scholarship is often looking for the obscure, enigmatic idiom when the examples are right in front of the reader. Their sense is so obvious and the reading so familiar that we simply over-look their Hebraic character. [My emphasis] For example, Luke refers to the work of Isaiah as βιβλίον τοῦ προφήτου Ἠσαΐου (Luke 4:17). Yet, nowhere else in the corpus of Jewish Greek literature (i.e., Septuagint, Greek Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Philo, etc.) in late antiquity is this prophetic work designated a βιβλίον (or βίβλος). It is likewise not designated by the Hebrew equivalent (ֵסֶפר) [sefer == book] in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Yet, the work of Isaiah is called exactly that in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Indeed, at Qumran the Lukan phrase—the book of the prophet Isaiah—appears in its precise Hebrew equivalent on four occasions (ספר ישעיה הנביא: 4Q174 f1.2i.15; 4Q176 f1.2i.4; 4Q265 f1.3; 4Q285 f7.1).”[4]

As I document in my ‘Hebrew Behind the Greek’ text, Luke and all the authors of the NT were very much Hebraists in their perspective, though having been translated into Greek their Hebraic mindset is not as easy to distinguish. Further, I discuss some of the serious damage that has resulted from the failure to view the NT through Hebraic eyes in my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellenism[5].






‘Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead’

I have argued a great many times, and in many forums, articles and books that the Bible can not be understood and interpreted at all well unless you understand the context, the culture and historical setting, and most especialy the Hebraic Mindset involved.

The Hebraic Mindset is seriously at odds with the Hellenistic Mindset that the Christian church has used to arrive at a great many doctrines that are more pagan than Biblical.

On my main website you will find a number of articles on the Hebraic Mindset and an article ‘Understanding the Bible 101’ that argues for a more appropriate methodology for approaching Bible study than the way most Christians approach it from their churches Hellenistic leanings.

While I have worked at this for some 20+ years now, only today I found a great example that highlights so vividly the need for a cultural (Hebraic) understanding, and it is the passage in Matthew 8:21-22 where we have the statement by Yeshua ‘Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead’.

This statement has troubled Bible scholars for many years and I have not seen any really satisfactory interpretations of it until now. And the solution is found in understanding the tradition of a second burial that existed in Israel in the first century CE.

Without a good grasp of this tradition, I would argue that a deep study and reflection on this statement by Yeshua will not lead to a coherent and fully satisfying resolution.

I have raised this specific quote to highlight the value of an Hebraic approach to Bible study, but if you are interested in this specific issue then please check out “’Let the Dead Bury Their Own Dead’: Secondary Burial and Matt 8:21-22’ by Byron R. McCane (

Once you understand the second burial issue and that this disciple may have needed to wait some weeks and even up to 11 months to perform this traditional practice for his father, you might also appreciate that Yeshua saw a real urgency to preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and if this man was really serious, then there was no time to waste. This also seems to imply that Yeshua, at this stage of his ministry, expected the Kingdom of God to dawn in the very near future (as did the Apostle Paul after Yeshua’s death and resurrection). Sadly, we are still waiting, praying and waiting! Come Yeshua ben David, come quickly!!

So a possible paraphrase of Yeshua’s call is:

“Now, as we have no time to waste, instead of waiting for the flesh of your father to decompose, and then reburying his bones with his ancestors, come and preach the Kingdom of God! Let the bones of your dead father’s ancestors gather his bones and place them in an ossuary. You follow me!”