Hebrew Roots
Exploring the Hebrew Roots of the Faith 
Issue 96-1; Vol 1, No. 1   May/June, 1996

~ Featured Inside ~

The Hebrew Roots
of Our Faith

Paul the Pharisee

Food for Thought

The Feast of Weeks

Jerusalem: A Cup of Trembling

Iron Sharpens Iron


A View From
Beit Shalom
Go up in peace to your house. 
1 Sam. 25:35; 

Shalom Aleichem,

         This letter comes to you with our prayer that you might be strong in our Saviour and Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. It is our hope that you will find spiritual nourishment within these pages. If that is so, it is because our God and Father in heaven has seen fit to bless this endeavor.
         We have been discussing the possibility of a newsletter, that focuses on the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith, since the fall of 1994. Now, some eighteen months later you hold the very first issue in your hands.
         And so, our newsletter begins. We welcome your ideas, suggestions, questions and constructive comments. Our plan is to focus on Yeshua and to learn as much as possible about His person, His teachings, the community in which He lived, the customs of the times and how a fuller understanding of these things can lead us into a closer relationship with Him. Hebrew Roots has no desire to dwell or even comment on current events in church denominations or the activities or beliefs of any individuals except those mentioned in scripture. Doctrinal issues will be explored when the need arises. We do not intend to run from controversy but neither do we wish to create false controversy for the sake of argument.
         It is our sincere belief that many of the issues that currently divide brethren are being blown out of proportion. Yeshua said; “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another.” (John 13:35) Today in the Church we see too much arguing and too little love. We need to realize that what may seem like heresy today may become our own strongly held belief tomorrow.
         For example, at one time the Church of God taught that Pentecost was always on a Monday. Now it is generally accepted that Pentecost really falls on a Sunday. Yet some still cling to a Monday observance. Still others follow the Pharisaic Jewish custom of observing Pentecost always on Sivan 6 no matter on which day of the week it falls. Supporters of each of these positions can give a multitude of reasons why their view is correct. Should we condemn one another because we do not all agree? We think not. All are being faithful to God in their own understanding, while God has not yet seen fit to reveal the true day beyond a shadow of a doubt.
         It is our belief that when all of us learn to study the scriptures more effectively, then differences in interpretation will begin to disappear. Those differences that do not disappear will have to wait until Elijah, or the Messiah Himself, comes to set us straight. Remember, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (I Cor. 13:12). (By the way, the phrase ‘face to face’ is a Hebrew idiom for the Day of Atonement).
         Let us all learn to respect the honest convictions of our brethren and not be so quick to condemn. There is so much yet to learn, so much growing that must take place before we can truly say we have arrived at ‘all of the truth’. Indeed, we will never arrive at all of the truth as long as we are clothed in mortality. Although we do have the earnest payment of the Holy Spirit, we still see through the eyes of human flesh.
         Let us therefore; “...grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua HaMashiach” (II Pet. 3:18); “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15); and “receive(d) the word with all readiness of mind, and search(ed) the scriptures daily, whether those things were (are) so.” (Acts 17:11) Let us all bless God for accepting us into His very family and giving us this opportunity to grow spiritually.
         Each of us comes to the faith with our own individual perspectives based on our unique life experiences and training. It is as though we each see God and the scriptures through our own small window. The problem is that our window may only overlook one side of the entire scene. It is the goal of Hebrew Roots to make this window through which you are looking more like a picture window, so that you will be able to see the scriptures in a more complete way. It is a known fact that witnesses at an accident will give different accounts of what happened based on their position and degree of attention when the accident occurred. By taking the testimony of many witnesses, one is able to discern more correctly what actually took place. The same is true of scripture. By looking at passages from different perspectives we can gain a more complete understanding.
         It is not always easy to face the challenge of new ideas. One must proceed with caution and not run off with each new idea as though it came directly from the mouth of God. Therefore, we encourage you to test everything we, or anyone else, teach against the scriptures. Then “Prove all things; bold fast that which is good.” (I Thess. 5:24)
         One word of warning. If anyone comes teaching ‘another gospel’ or if their words are those of anger or hatred against others, beware! (see II Pet 1:20-2:2) This is not to say that all teaching that seems to be done in love is necessarily correct. You must draw close to God though diligent study of His Word, accompanied by prayer, so that you will be able to discern truth from error. In the past many have been, and even now are being, led astray by following individuals and accepting everything they teach as though it comes directly from the mouth of God. A word of advice, if you must choose between studying the scriptures and studying other material (including this newsletter) we encourage you to choose the scriptures every time.
         A few words of explanation about our newsletter. First of all in regard to the heading in the first column; Beit Shalom. This is the name we have chosen for our home here in the north woods of Wisconsin. It is Hebrew and means House of Peace. Many of you may be familiar with the word ‘Beth’ as the first word of a name for a church perhaps. The Hebrew word that is transliterated ‘Beth’ should be pronounced like the English word ‘bait’, the ‘h’ being silent and the ‘e’ sounded as a long ‘a’. To avoid this confusion, we have chosen to use the more correct English transliteration, Beit. The second word, Shalom is the well known Hebrew word for peace. It is the standard greeting in Israel. We desire that our home be a House of Peace, not just for us as husband and wife, but for any who might visit, be they family, neighbors or friends.
         The greeting, Shalom Aleichem, means ‘Peace be unto you’ and was a common greeting among first century Jews, both Believers and non-believers. Yeshua used it as a greeting to His disciples following the resurrection.
         After much consideration we have decided to make this newsletter just what these words imply. A personal letter of peace from us to you that contains the Good News of our Jewish Saviour, Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah). We will be using the Hebrew name of Jesus (Yeshua) and we will refer to Him as the Messiah (Mashiach in Hebrew) rather than as Jesus Christ. The reason is twofold. First of all, we wish to maintain a Hebrew flavor in our newsletter so that you, our readers, begin to get the feel of the Hebrewness of our Saviour and of the scriptures. Second, it seems that many people have lost sight of the fact that the word ‘Christ’ comes from the Greek word ‘Khristos’ (Strong’s #5547) and means Messiah. We have all heard the words “Jesus Christ” used so often as a name that many probably believe that ‘Christ’ is a surname rather that a title.
         In actual fact, the word messiah literally means ‘anointed one’. If you look up the word in a good concordance you will find that there were many ‘messiahs’ mentioned in the Old Testament scriptures. King David was an ‘anointed one’ or ‘messiah’ and all of the prophets were ‘messiahs’. Even Cyrus, the gentile king of Persia, is called a ‘messiah’ or ‘anointed one’ in the scriptures. (Isa. 45:1).
         None of this, however, detracts from the fact that, from the very beginning of man’s sojourn on earth, back as far as the Garden of Eden, there have been prophecies that have pointed to THE MESSIAH, the one who was to take away the sins of the world. That Messiah or ‘anointed one’ is, of course, Yeshua of Nazareth.
         In this premier issue of Hebrew Roots we begin by exploring The Hebrew Roots of Our Faith, followed by a look at Paul the Pharisee. A collection of scriptures, that lead us through some very significant spiritual understanding, is featured in Food for Thought. Then we take a fresh look at the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). Jerusalem, a Cup of Trembling surveys the current state of affairs in Israel and the Middle East, while a sampling of letters and replies can be found in Iron Sharpens Iron.
         We have dedicated this publication to serving those of you who desire our service. Our primary objective is to give each of you, our readers, material that will cause you to draw closer to our Father, the Living God of Israel, through His son Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Christ). It is our prayer that you will find this issue both stimulating and faith enhancing. In no way do we desire to be your personal Rabbis (masters).
         This month we are offering two taped messages for those who are interested. They are; The Roots of Our Faith which deals with background information that is needed to understand the first century in which Yeshua lived, and Total Love which is designed to help each of us learn how to truly love our brethren. If you wish to receive either or both of these tapes, please fill out the enclosed form and return it to us in the envelope provided.

                  May the shalom of God
                  be with you always,

                  Dean & Susan Wheelock

      Hebrew Roots is supported entirely by the prayers and freewill donations of it’s subscribers. It is published several times a year by Dean & Susan Wheelock. Subscriptions are free (based on availability of funds) to anyone who sincerely desires to "...grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ..."
(II Pet. 3:18)

      Those wishing to assist financially in this teaching ministry can do so by sending a check or money order, payable in US funds, to:

Hebrew Roots
P0 Box 98
Lakewood, WI 54138

Copyright May, 1996
All rights reserved.



The Hebrew Roots
of Our Faith

(Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are quoted from the King James Version.)

         For a long time I thought there was little to be learned from Judaism. After all, were not the Jews the ones that had rejected Yeshua as their Messiah and been responsible for His being put to death on the stake? What could I possibly learn from these people?
         My change in view took place slowly over a period of several years. One step forward was when I obtained a book entitled The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, by Leo Trepp, pub. by Behrman House, Inc./Summit Books, New York, 1980. I cannot even remember the circumstances that led me to obtain the book, whether I found it in a bookstore or ordered it from somewhere. What matters is that I began to use it occasionally in the preparation of Holyday sermons. There were some important ideas presented about the meanings that Jews put onto certain aspects of the Festivals.
         Sometime later, about 1989 or so, I found two interesting books in a Christian bookstore. They were; The Fall Feasts of Israel, by Mitch and Zhava Glaser, pub. by Moody Press, Chicago, 1987; and Celebrate the Feasts (Of the Old Testament in Your Own Home or Church), by Martha Zimmerman, pub. by Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, 1981. At the time it seemed quite amazing to me that Christian bookstores would carry books that dealt with the Festivals. After all, were not the Festivals the private domain of the Church of God? What could these “Christian” authors possibly know about the Holydays?

         Quite a bit, I found out.

         Then in 1991 a friend gave me a book entitled Rosh HaShanah and the Messianic Kingdom to Come. (A Messianic Jewish Interpretation of the Feast of Trumpets) written by a man named Joseph Good, pub. by Hatikva Ministries, P0 Box 3125, Port Arthur, TX 77643. What a revelation. Here was a man who, I later learned, had never heard of the ‘Church of God, had formerly been an evangelical, charismatic, first-day Christian, and he knew more about many aspects of the holydays than I did after some twenty plus years of observing them in the Church of God.
         Learning about the Hebrew roots of our faith was like a return to first love. The early spirit of Ephesus returned. (Rev. 2:4). I could not get enough of understanding, of study, or insight into the scriptures. To learn that, humanly, Yeshua really was a Jew, and to understand that Judaism (as it was practiced in the first century) was a key to unlocking many of the scriptures, was a great revelation to me.
         Books were purchased, hours of reading took place, intense Bible study was accompanied by discussions with friends who were also back into their first love. Gradually, the big picture began to come into focus. I began teaching more and more on the Hebrew roots of our faith.
         Later I learned that a similar phenomena was taking place among people all over the North American continent. Many others were becoming aware of the Jewishness of Yeshua and of the early Church.
         Then came another revelation. There are thousands of believers out there who call themselves “Messianic Jews”; Jews who have accepted Yeshua as their personal Saviour, just like you and I have done, but they have not given up their Jewish heritage. In fact, it was out of their movement that much of this new literature was being written. Yes, it is true that I, and probably you too, do not agree with everything the Messianic Jews teach. To be fair, let us also admit that the Messianic Jews probably do not agree with everything we teach either. Did not Yeshua himself say:

         “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, one shepherd.”
(John 10:16)

         “For he that is not against us is on our part.”
(Mark 9:40)

Who Constitutes the Family of God?

         Brethren, it is time for us to rethink who is a part of the Family of God. The true Church, the Bride of Messiah, is not one organization or a small group of organizations that have received their doctrines through one particular man. The Church of God, the Bride of Messiah, the eklesia, is composed of those whom God has called and chosen to be His own and who have accepted the blood of Yeshua HaMashiach in payment for their sins. The ‘wheat’ and the ‘tares’ grow up together in various congregations. They will be harvested together; the ‘wheat’ to be gathered into the barn and the ‘tares’ to be burned. (Matt. 13:30). The Bride is veiled until after the wedding. Only then will the world know who she is.

         Maybe you, in times past, felt that certain individuals in your local congregation night be ‘tares’ who “crept in unawares”. Maybe you have had the not so unique experience of learning that someone in the congregation thought you were a ‘tare’.

         It is time we put this type of thinking behind us. We are to love both the ‘wheat’ and the ‘tares’, for Yeshua said:

         “...Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you: That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans the same? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
(Matt. 5:44-48)

         Let us not be too quick to judge others as to their relationship with God. How can we really know what that relationship is? In truth, we cannot.

         “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.
(Matt. 7:1-2)

         I am more than willing to let our Father make the judgment as to who is a member of His royal family. My belief is, that all who truly profess that Yeshua is the Messiah, and remain obedient to His will, are going to be a part of that family.

Jesus the Jew

         Just who was the man known to the English speaking world as Jesus of Nazareth? What was He like’? What were His parents like? What was the town called Nazareth like? Just what did it mean to be a Jewish boy two thousand years ago living in the Galilee? Was he reared like other children of His time and place? Did, He attend synagogue with His parents and later on His own? What might He have been discussing with the learned men of Judea when He stayed behind at the Temple one Passover? Is it possible to guess who He might have been talking with on that occasion’?
         These (and many more like them) are questions that might be asked if we really want to understand what our Saviour was like and what He taught. Well over one billion people in this present world claim that Jesus is their Saviour and that He is the Christ (Messiah). The Roman Catholic Church alone claims over 900 million people as members. Yet the Jesus they portray in their art and literature is that of a man who looks more like the pagan god Zeus than like a Jew of the first century. Is this important or not?
         You might say; “Well, that’s not really important, I don’t need to know what Jesus looked like or what His habits were to be saved.” That may be true. But does not something within you desire to know Him as intimately as possible? What sort of visual image comes to your mind when you think of Jesus? Is it not the picture of either the Catholic or Protestant Jesus with long brown hair, blue eyes and the facial features of a European? Most likely. I have a difficult time removing that image from my mind, because I have seen Him portrayed that way so many times. Yet I know it is not a proper picture of the real Yeshua who is the Saviour of all mankind.

         Some years ago a book was published that had three men depicted on the cover. One was the Catholic version of Jesus, the second was the Protestant form of Jesus, and the third was a Jewish rabbi. A question also appeared on the cover, it said; “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” Now I do not believe Yeshua dressed in the black clothes and black hat of modern day Orthodox Judaism any more than I believe that He looked like the Christian depictions. Yet the impact of this book cover drives home a very real and important point: Jesus was a first century Jew! He dressed like a Jew of His time, He acted like a Jew of His time, and He was, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from any other Jew from the Galilee. Judas had to kiss Yeshua so that the Roman soldiers would know which of the men present in the garden was the one they sought. Only when Yeshua began to teach, heal and cast out demons, were people able to see the profound difference between Him and all other men.
         Our Father sent Yeshua to this earth in the human form of a first century Jew. If we do not like that fact, then we need to take it up with our Father, in prayer, and not take out our anger on those who are searching for a more complete understanding of Yeshua and His time period.

We are not teaching Judaism!

         Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Susan and I are not teaching Judaism. We believe there is only ‘one way in which we can be saved and that is; “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
(Eph. 2:8-9)

         We are not Jews by either race or conversion, however, as Believers, we have been grafted into the commonwealth of Israel and have become a part of Israel, while some of the natural branches (Jews) have been temporarily cut out. (Study Romans 9, 10 and 11). Acts chapter 15 makes it very clear that circumcision of the flesh is not a requirement for Gentiles to be accepted into the fellowship of the Messiah, Yeshua. however, there is an even more profound circumcision that must take place, and that is of the heart. (God willing, these topics will be taken up in detail in future issues.
         The whole objective of Hebrew Roots is to bring us into a closer relationship with our Saviour by learning as much about Him as we can, through the people and time period in which He lived.
         We see the world through twentieth century, western world, eyes. Unfortunately, our view is skewed by our own life experiences, the form of government under which we live, the values of society (or lack thereof), our news media, television, movies and novels which we watch and read, and by our personal relationships with family, friends and brethren.
         Also important is the fact that our western democracies were based, not on scripture, but upon the models of the Greek and Roman Republics. All one needs to do is visit Washington D.C. and see the style of architecture that was chosen for our federal buildings. It is derived from Greece and Rome and was chosen because that was where the founding fathers believed the republican form of government and the principles of democracy sprang. This is not to imply that our form of government is bad. Considering the fact that the vast majority of our people would absolutely refuse to live under a government ruled by God, what we have is undoubtedly the best of human governmental forms currently possible, because it grants us great individual freedom. I do believe God’s hand was in the forming of our western democracies so that people would be free to worship Him in safety. (If you ever wondered what it would be like not to have freedom of religion, may I suggest you read the history of the Jews in Europe during the middle ages.)
         However, do not expect that King Messiah will set up His government like a Western democracy. Yeshua will not run for office every four or six years. He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords over the entire earth. A one world government ruled by God, not by man.

         “And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
(Rev. 19:16)

Who Was and Is Yeshua?

         He would have been know as Yeshua ben Yoseif (Jesus son of Joseph). His mother’s name was Miriam (Meer-ee-ahm’), known as Mary in English. Yeshua was born of a fleshly mother, but Yoseif (Yo-safe’) was actually his stepfather. You all know the story so it need not be recounted here. Just let it be said that He was the Son of Man and the Son of God. Of this we must not doubt if we wish to be counted among His Believers.
         Yeshua was born in Beit-Lechem (Bethlehem) the previously mentioned ‘House of Bread’.

         “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
(John 6:35)

         Beit-Lechem is a very interesting town. It lies about five miles south of Jerusalem in the hill country that was assigned to the tribe of Judah. It was prophesied to be the birthplace of the Messiah.

         “Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek. But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (margin = the days of eternity.) Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.”
(Micah 5:1-3)

         This is a rather complicated prophecy concerning not just the birth of the Messiah, but also an allusion to His fate (“...they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod...”) and to the final outcome of God’s plan of salvation (“...the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.”).
         Today, when one enters Beit-Lechem from the north they find that it and the city of Jerusalem are run together. It is difficult to know where one city ends and the other begins were it not for the Israeli and Palestinian guards that check you at the border.
         In the first century there was open land between the two communities on which the shepherds pastured their flocks. The interesting thing about this area is that it is within the domain where animals were raised for sacrifice at the Temple, especially the lambs offered at Passover. If one goes into Bethlehem proper, where the so-called Church of the Nativity is located, they are outside the area permissible for the raising of sacrificial lambs. From this information we can deduce that Yeshua (our Passover Lamb) was probably born at the northern edge of Bethlehem in a area known as Ephratah, for He needed to be qualified as the ultimate and final Passover sacrifice.

         One might ask; “What difference does it make, whether He was born within a certain area of Bethlehem or not? Could not God have designated Him as the ultimate Passover sacrifice anyway?”
         Of course, God is God and He can do whatever He pleases. However, that is not how lie reveals Himself in scripture. God is certainly the author of all things. By being the author of authority, He has chosen to set limits and abide by them in order to show that He is God and knows all things in advance of their happening. In other words. God plays by the rules that He, Himself, previously set down. He does not change things on a whim like you and I might do.

         “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
(Mal. 3:6)

         It was God, by the oral traditions handed down from Moses through the sages, that determined what area was legal to be used for the raising of sacrificial animals. Since Yeshua is the ultimate sacrifice, it is evident that God had preordained that Yeshua be born within that prescribed area. Yeshua met all of the physical, as well as the spiritual requirements to fulfill His role as our Passover sacrifice. Praise God!
         Another interesting aspect is learned when we conic to understand that the raising of the sacrificial animals was not left to just any ordinary shepherds. The shepherds watching over their flocks by night in the area of Bethlehem Ephratah, would, in all probability, have been none other than members of the tribe of Levi. They were part of the Levites who were dedicated to Temple service. The ordinary Levites were not permitted to function as priests, only those directly descended from Aaron could work in that capacity. The Levites, however, assisted the priests by performing many duties connected with the Temple. These included singing, acting as doorkeepers, and taking care of the treasury. Another Levitical duty was to raise the animals to be used for sacrifice according to the prescribed standards.

         “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ (Messiah) the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger .. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
(Luke 2:8-12,20)

         The birth of Yeshua did not take place in a corner, out of the way, where no one would notice. Members of the Levitical Temple servants (the previously mentioned shepherds) were among the very first to know, and they undoubtedly announced it in Jerusalem so that all who came to worship at the Temple would hear that the Messiah had been born. Thirty years later, when Yeshua began His ministry, the facts of His birth had probably been forgotten by all but a handful of people. The reason being that during those intervening years many dozens of so called ‘messiahs’ had come and gone in the land of Judea.

         Following are several scriptures confirming that Yeshua was a Jew (that is, of the tribe of Judah):

         “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.”
(Heb. 7:14)

         “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and, in, in the midst of the throne ... stood a Lamb as it had been slain ... And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation...”
(Rev. 5:5-6,9)

         “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, ... and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”
(Isa. 11:1-5)

         Jesse is the father of King David from whom Yeshua was physically descended both through His natural mother Miriam (Mary) and His stepfather Yoseif(Joseph). (See Matt. 1 for Yoseif’s genealogy and Luke 3 for Miriam’s genealogy.)

New Testament Writers Were Jewish

         Most scholars agree that all of the New Testament writers were Jewish with the possible exception of Luke, who may have been a Jewish proselyte.
         Matthew in Hebrew is Mattityahu (Maht’-tee-tee-yah’-hoo). The name means “gift of YHVH” and is believed to have been given by Yeshua to Levi. (See Luke 5:27-32). He was a Jewish tax collector, much hated by the general public because most tax collectors added extra, to the already heavy, taxes for their own personal use. Yeshua was condemned for being “...a friend of publicans and sinners.” (Matt. 11:19). The publicans were the tax collectors.
         Mark’s full name was John (Heb. Yochanan) Mark. Yochanan (Yo’-chah-non) was a Jewish name but Mark was a Roman name and was probably added. In all likelihood John Mark was a Hellenistic Jew. They were roundly denounced by the Pharisees, who were the orthodox Jews of their day The Hellenists could be likened to the reform Jews of today. They were more liberal, and liked the Greek lifestyle. The art, literature, music, etc., of Greece was the cultural apex of the time. We probably first see Mark on the night of Yeshua’s betrayal. “And there followed him (Yeshua) a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: and he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.” (Mark 14:51-52). This account has led some to speculate that the Last Supper was held at the home of the parents of Mark although others believe John Mark’s mother was a widow. (We can ask him which is true after the resurrection takes place.)
         John’s name in Hebrew is Yochanan (there is no J sound in Hebrew). He, and his older brother James, were surnamed “Boanerges” which is translated as ‘sons of thunder’. We know that Yochanan is the youngest of the disciples because he leaned on Yeshua’s bosom at the last Passover. This indicates that he was silting to Yeshua’s right, the place where the youngest would sit according to Jewish custom.
         James does not even carry the correct English name. It should be Jacob in English and is derived from the Hebrew Ya’akov (Yah’-ah’-kov) which means “supplanter”. He was the eldest (we believe) half-brother of Yeshua. He is remembered in Judaism as ‘The Pious One’ and is considered to be one of the sages of first century Judaism. He is mentioned by Josephus (the first century Jewish general who fled to the Romans rather than commit suicide with his troops) who also recounts Ya’akov’s tragic death at the hands of a wicked high Priest who had him stoned and then thrown off the highest pinnacle of the Temple Mount.
         The story of how Ya’akov came to be known in the English speaking world as James, instead of Jacob, is quite remarkable. It seems that a group of English clergymen wanted a new translation of the scriptures into the English language. They needed money to do it, so they went to the king of England and petitioned him for the funds. He refused. They then concocted a story and went back to him. They told the king that Jesus’ own half-brother had the same name as the king and that he had written an entire book in the Bible which carried the king’s name. When the king heard this, he was more that happy to supply the funds needed for the new translation. As a result we have the King James Bible and ever since, we have called Ya’akov (or Jacob) by that English king’s name, James.
         Peter’s Hebrew name was Shim’on (‘She-moan’). It is actually Simeon in English, and means “God hears”. Simon is the Greek form. Yeshua gave him a surname, that of Kefa (in Hebrew) or Petros (in Greek.) Both words mean a ‘piece of stone’. In Hebrew the complete name would be Shim’on Kefa, in Greek it would be Simon Petros, while in English we call him Simon Peter. He was another Jewish, Galileean fisherman.
         Jude is another half-brother of Yeshua. We also see another English form of his name as Judah. In Hebrew it is Y’hudah (Yuh’-hoo’-dah) and means ‘praise’. Judas Iscariot carries the same name. The difference in spellings and pronunciations can be attributed to derivations of the basic name Y’hudah. We have similar forms today. For example, someone named John might be called John, Johnny or Jack.
         Finally we come to the most prolific writer of the New Testament, Paul. His name in Hebrew is Sha’ul (Shahool’). We know him as Saul before Yeshua changed his name to Paul. Sha’ul in Hebrew means ‘to demand’, and the name Paul in Greek means ‘little’.
         It is almost a certainty that the gospel of Matthew (Mattityahu) was originally written in Hebrew, not in Aramaic as long believed. Some fragments of a Hebrew version have apparently been discovered, but the age of the document is in question. Some recent scholarship holds that almost all of the original manuscripts of the New Testament were composed in Hebrew and then translated into Greek. Whether this is true or not I cannot discern since I am neither a Greek nor Hebrew scholar. It is interesting to note that the gospel of Mattityahu is the most Hebraic of all the gospels. There are many examples in this book where distinctly Jewish idioms are used. God willing, we will be discussing many of these idioms in future issues of Hebrew Roots for they are a key to a more full understanding of what Yeshua was teaching.