Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Commentary on the Gospel of John According to the Aramaic Peshitta: Chapter 1

In the beginning was the Miltha, and that Miltha was with God, and God was that Miltha. This was in the Beginning with God. - John 1:1-2
          
     John’s opens his Gospel in a way like no other. He does not open with a genealogy, with the Virgin Birth, or with John the Baptist preaching. John starts back in Genesis 1:1 when God created the heavens and the earth. John opens his Gospel with the same Aramaic word that Moses used when beginning the Book of Genesis: b’reshit (“In the beginning” or “In the origin”). This doesn’t mean that the Miltha had a beginning, but that He was around before the beginning.
            
    The key word in this verse is Miltha, which is translated in the Greek manuscripts as logos and here as “Word”. Miltha is a word of such great depth that it cannot be adequately put into English. Native Aramaic speaker and scholar Paul Younan states, “Miltha has no direct English equivalent. It can mean ‘Word’, ‘Manifestation’, ‘Instance’, or ‘Substance’ among other things. In this context, it may best be left untranslated.” Another Aramaic speaker, Victor Alexander, frequently translates Miltha as “manifestation”. All of these definitions (especially “word”, “manifestation”, and “substance”) fit what John was trying to tell us.
            The Miltha is obviously Jesus the Messiah (Yeshua Meshikha) before the incarnation. Notice He is not referred to as the Son of God, but the Miltha of God, as the title “Son of God” relates to the incarnation (Luke 1:35). Jesus existed from eternity as the manifestation, word, and substance of YHWH God, the Father of all creation. These are not distinct or separate persons, but a poetic way of describing Jesus’s state of existence before the incarnation. The Miltha is the very God. Another bit of evidence for John describing the deity of Christ is the fact that the Targumim, which are Aramaic paraphrases of the Tanakh (Old Testament), always replaces the Tetragrammaton with Memra, which means “word”. The Word is God!

Everything through His hands existed, and without Him not even one [thing] existed [of] the things which have existed. – John 1:3

            John is again taking us back to Genesis by telling us that this Miltha is the Creator. Nothing could have possibly been brought into existence without Him. Through this Miltha, God created all things. If you read the creation account in Genesis, you will notice that Moses tells us that God spoke things into existence. This is the first appearance of the Miltha. Again, the Miltha is clearly not a separate Person from God if you understand this verse in its proper context.

In Him life was, and the life was the light of men. And that light in the darkness shines, and the darkness did not overtake it. - John 1:4-5

            Life here is plural (khaye), therefore describing eternal life, not merely the natural life of which even the unredeemed get to take part of. When describing spiritual things, Semitic people usually use plural nouns (such as the Hebrew Elohim, which is a plural noun being used to describe a singular being, which is evidenced by the fact that this word always occurs with singular verbs and such when referring to YHWH). Aramaic for “light” is nohra. In Jewish though, “light” is anything that brings spiritual revelation and guidance. The temple is also referred to as the light of the world by Jewish people and in rabbinical literature. Several times in this Gospel, Jesus refers to Himself as the Light of the world. Jesus reveals to us God the Father, and He brings us the Truth that brings eternal life to those who believe in His name. 

There was a man who was sent from God, [whose] name was Yukhanan. This [man] came for a witness that he might testify concerning the light, that all might believe through his hand.– John 1:6-8
            
This is John the Baptist, not the apostle and author of this Gospel. John the Baptist was not the Messiah, but he came to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and vice-verse (Malachi 4:6). He came to prepare the people for the coming Messiah.

For the light of truth, that which shines on all who come into the world. In the world He was, and the world by His hand existed, and the world did not know Him. To His own He came, and His own did not receive Him. But those who did receive Him, He gave to them authority that they might be the sons of God, those who have believed in His name. Those who neither by blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of a man, rather by God were begotten.  – John 1:9-13
            
“Light of truth” in Aramaic is nohra d’shrara. This can also be translated as "the true light". Jesus of Nazareth is contrasted with John the Baptist, who many thought to be the Messiah, and with all the other Messiah claimants. Jesus is the true light, but all who came before Him were thieves and robbers (John 10:8). Jesus is stated of have come into the world (become flesh) and rejected by his own creation (this is what the first “own” is referring to). The second “own”, refers to His own people (the Jewish people). Those who did receive Him as the Messiah and Son of God were blessed and given that right (authority) to become God’s children. We are begotten spiritually of God through the new birth. This salvation is obtained through faith in Jesus the Messiah and Him alone, it isn't our heritage or by our own will and power that we become God’s children, but by faith in Christ so that none of us can boast (Ephesians 2:9).

And the Miltha became flesh and dwelt among us. And we saw His glory, the glory as the Only-Begotten who is from the Father, who is full of grace and truth.  – John 1:14
      
If there was any doubt in your mind that the Miltha d’Alaha (Word/Manifestation/Instance/Substance of God) is the Messiah Jesus, then I hope this put your doubt to rest. The Miltha is again showing that He is the manifestation of God in the flesh. He is glorious, being the unique Son of God. Aramaic for “only begotten” is ekhadaya (Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew yachid, which is a term for uniqueness). Paul Younan tells us that it literally means “THE ONE”. I would personally prefer to translate is simply as "the one" or "the only" instead of "only begotten". 

Yukhanan witnessed concerning him and cried out, and said, "This is he whom I said after me would come and yet be before me, because he was earlier than me."– John 1:15
            
John clearly directed the attention off of himself and toward the Messiah who was coming after him. When Mary received news that she was going to give birth to Jesus as a virgin, Elizabeth (John’s mother) was already six months pregnant (Luke 1:26). Jesus, according to the flesh, was not before or prior to John. This is more proof of the full deity of Jesus Christ.

And from his fullness we all have received grace on account of grace. Because the Law through Moshe was given, but truth and grace was through Yeshua the Messiah. – John 1:16-17
           
 John is telling us that Jesus has plenty of grace to give to all who will take hold of it. There is a distinction made here between Moses and Jesus, and Jesus is shown to be the superior. What the Law (Aramaic: Namusa, an Aramaic loanword from the Greek nomos) could not do (give grace, or divine ability to resist sin, and the truth that could bring salvation) was done by Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Law.

God has not man seen ever. The Only-Begotten [of] God, He who is in the bosom of His Father, He has declared Him. – John 1:18

   This reading shows the antiquity of the Peshitta. Many manuscripts read “the only begotten Son”, but the older reading is “the only God” (Aramaic: Ekhadaya Alaha). This could also be translated as “the only God” or “the unique God”. While Paul Younan translates as "Only-Begotten [of] God", I think "the only God" is better both theologically and linguistically. What John means when he says “No man hath ever seen God”, is that no human being has laid on God in His spiritual essence (John 4:24 tells us that God is Spirit, therefore invisible). Jesus Christ (the Manifestation of the one true God) reveals God to us because He is Himself God. He is the exact representation of YHWH (Colossians 1:15). Jesus Christ is a true human being (like us in every way except for sin; Hebrews 2:17 and II Corinthians 5:21), and like all mankind, He needs and desires a relationship with God. Because Jesus is God’s only Son, He has a relationship with God like no other human being can have or has ever had. Therefore Jesus, being God Himself as to His deity, and in close communion with God as to His humanity, is the only one with the qualifications to reveal God to us adequately.

And this is the witness of Yukhanan when the Yehudeans sent to him from Urishlim priests and Levites to inquire of him, "Who are you?" And he confessed and did not deny, and declared, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him again, "Who therefore? [Are] you Eliyah?" And he said, "I am not." "[Are] you the Prophet?" And he said, "No." And they said to him, "And who then [are] you, that we might give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say concerning yourself?"  – John 1:19-28
  
Luke 3:15 tells us that some Jews wondered if John was the Messiah. All of the Gospels tells us that John confessed that he was not the Messiah, but that the Messiah would come after him. John was so humble that he didn’t see the need to take the spotlight from the Son of God. When the Jews asked him if he was Elijah, they wondered if he was literally the prophet Elijah (who was prophesied to come before the Messiah in Malachi 4:5). John is said to have come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), so he did fulfill the prophecy (Matthew 11:13-14), but the real Elijah is still to come in the end-times to bring the literal fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. John is not denying to have come in the spirit and power of Elijah, but to be the real Elijah who was carried up into heaven.
     
       The Greek mistranslates the Aramaic word newiya as “a prophet” instead of “the prophet”. The “a” at the end of the word signifies the Aramaic letter Alap, which shows that this is in the emphatic state. The Jewish authorities were asking if John was the prophet that Moses prophesied about in Deuteronomy 18:15, but this prophet that Moses spoke of is actually Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19-26). The Jewish authorities were apparently unaware of this, as they distinguished “the prophet” from the Messiah.
            
     John’s reply is a quote from Isaiah 40:3 (translation from Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible): “A voice of one crying!—In the desert, prepare ye the way of Yahweh,—Make smooth, in the waste plain, a highway for our God…” The Aramaic word that John uses for “Lord” here, when quoting the verse, is the Aramaic cognate of YHWH, MarYa (Mar=Lord, Ya=Yah/YHWH; Lord YHWH). This word is used of Jesus several times in the Peshitta (such as in this particular verse) and is a clear testimony of His divinity that is completely missed in the Greek New Testament.

            The Greek New Testament manuscripts are divided as to whether these things occurred in “Bethabara” and “Bethany”. The Aramaic Peshitta shows itself to be the source of these readings. This reading is likely the result of a scribe’s eyes accidentally skipping over Anya (as in Beth-Anya, or Bethany) and reaching the word b’ebra (“at the crossing”), resulting in the word Beth-Ebra  (Bethabara).

And on the day that followed saw Yukhanan Yeshua, who was coming towards him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God! He who takes [away] the sins of the world. This is he concerning whom I spoke that after me will come a man, yet he was  before me because earlier he [is] than me. And I did not know him, except that he be made known [first] to Yisrael. Because of this I have come, that with water I might baptize," and Yukhanan bore witness and said, "I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove and it rested upon him. And I did not know HIm, but He who sent me to baptize with water, He saw to me that, 'The one whom you see the Spirit descend and rest upon him, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit,' and I saw and I testified that he is the Son of God."– John 1:29-34
           
    John is referencing the sacrificial lamb used for atonement under the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus 1:10). Jesus is that final sin offering, and He offered Himself of His own free will to save us. There is no greater love than the love that Christ showed us on the cross. John and Jesus were related (Luke 1:36), but it is very likely that they never met each other in person (as John grew up in Judea, while Jesus grew up in Galilee). Another possibility is that John means that he didn’t know Him in the sense that he didn’t realize that Jesus was the Messiah before the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and anointed Him for ministry. John also tells us that his baptism with water is inferior to the Holy Spirit baptism that Jesus gives us.

And on another day, Yukhanan and two of his disciples were standing and he stared at Yeshua while walking. And he said, "Behold! The Lamb of God!" And both of his disciples heard when he spoke and they went after Yeshua. – John 1:35-37

The two disciples that were standing with John are Andrew (Aramaic: Andreos, a name of Greek origin), the brother of Simon Peter (Aramaic: Shimon Kepha; John 1:40) and John, son of Zebedee (Aramaic: Yochanan bar Zawdee), the author of this Gospel. I believe that John was telling them to go follow Jesus, as John’s time was ending while Jesus’ ministry was just beginning.

And Yeshua turned and saw those who were coming after him and he said to them, "What do you want?" They said to him, "Our Master, where are you?" He said to them, "Come and you will see." And they came and saw where he was and with him remained that day, and it was about the tenth hour. - John 1:38-39
            
   The Aramaic word that Murdock translates as “Our Rabbi” is rabban, which would more accurately be translated as “Our Rab” or “Our great one”. Rabbi is Aramaic for “my great one”. It has been traditionally translated as “Rabbi” or “Teacher”. When they asked Jesus where He was staying, they said, “Rabban, aica hwe ant?” which is translated literally as “Our Great One, where are You?” The tenth hour in Jewish time reckoning would be around 4 PM, as the Jews reckoned the daytime as twelve hours long. They stayed with him at least until 6 PM or possibly the whole night (which is divided into “watches” instead of “hours”). Jesus didn’t live in Judah (or Judea) where John was baptizing at that time, but was still living in Nazareth. He was most likely just lodging in some temporary place before heading back to Galilee, after which He moved to Capernaum (Matthew 4:13).

And one of them who had heard from Yukhanan and went after Yeshua was Andraus, the brother of Shimon. This [one] saw first Shimon his brother and said to him, "I have found the Messiah!" And he brought him to Yeshua, and Yeshua gazed at him and said, "You are Shimon, the son of Yonah. You will be called Keepa."- John 1:40-42
         
   The Aramaic word for “Messiah” or “Christ” is Meshikha. While most people know this is false, some people think that “Christ” was a last name to our Lord. This was simply a title that meant “the Anointed One”. Jesus is the one man to whom God gave an unlimited anointing for the ministry (John 3:34). Jesus is God, but He relinquished His divine prerogatives when He became flesh (Philippians 2:6-8), this humbled state of existence (referred to as the Kenosis, which is the Greek word for “emptied” in Philippians 2:7, which is inaccurately translated in the King James Version as “made himself of no reputation”), Jesus relied upon God for strength. Jesus healed people, raised the dead, and cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38) and not by His own divine power. Because of this humbled state, Jesus can be spoken of as distinct from God. The Father cannot be said to be the Son and in vice-versa, as these are two distinct modes of existence in which God subsists (not two distinct and co-eternal, co-equal, Persons). The term “Father” (Aramaic: Abba) refers to God’s existence beyond the incarnation in relation to His incarnate mode of existence (the Son of God, or Breh d’Alaha).
        
    In his book Idioms in the Bible Explained with A Key to the Original Gospel, native Aramaic-speaking scholar and Bible translator Dr. George M. Lamsa tells us that Keepa is not a name that any native Aramaic speaker would want to have. It means “rock”. Lamsa theorizes that Jesus called him by this affectionate nickname out of sympathy for him while he was being called “stone-headed”. I think Jesus saw that Peter (the English version of Keepa, which comes from the Greek Petros) would eventually become “steady as a rock” in the faith.

And on another day, Yeshua wanted to depart to Galeela and found Peleepos, and said to him, "Come after me." Now Peleepos was from Beth-Saida, fromt he city of Andraus and of Shimon. And Peleepos found Nathaniel and said to him, "He whom concerning Moshe wrote in the law and the prophets, we have found him. Yeshua he is, the son of Yosip of Nasrath. Said to him Nathaniel, "Is it possible that [anything] that is good to be from Nasrath?" And said to him Peleepos, "Come and you will see." - John 1:43-46
        
    Jewish rabbis frequently recruited their disciples in the manner in which Jesus did with Phillip (Aramaic: Pilippos). Bethsaida was very close to Capernaum, where Jesus officially recruited Andrew, Peter, John, and James (Aramaic: Yacob). I always found it interesting that Phillip witnessed to the skeptical Nathaniel (who is likely the same person as Bar-Tolmay, or Bartholomew). He referred to Jesus as the son of Joseph (Aramaic: Bar Yoseph) because he was unaware of the Virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-23), like most of the public. Nathaniel also makes it clear that Nazareth has a bad reputation (why he was so indignant about the idea of the Messiah coming from Nazareth, I don’t know), but he went ahead and went with Phillip out of curiosity.

And Yeshua saw [him], Nathaniel, while coming toward him and said concerning him, "Behold! Truly a son of Yisrael in whom there is no guile!" Said to him Nathaniel, "From where do you know me?" Said to him Yeshua, "While you were under the fig tree I saw you." Answered Nathaniel and said to him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Yisrael!" Said to him Yeshua, "Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree have you believed? For even greater than these things you will see.  Truly, truly, say I to you: that from now [on] you will see the heavens that are opened, and the angels of God while ascending and descending to the Son of man. - John 1:47-51


  Jesus was likely doing some wordplay on Israel’s birth name Ya’akov (Jacob), which means “supplanter” or “trickster”, which carries the implication of dishonesty. I don’t know if Jesus saw Nathaniel in a vision or simply passing by, I personally think the latter based on Jesus being surprised at Nathaniel being so willing to believe just because Jesus saw him under a fig tree. Jesus clearly knew what he was thinking about though, as he references Jacob again, more specifically when Jacob saw angels ascending and descending to God (Genesis 28:10-19). Jesus was saying here that He is the mediator between God and man. It is also interesting that He said “Ascending and descending unto the Son of man”, as this is more proof-text for the deity of Christ, showing that He is God in heaven and the Son of man (Aramaic: Breh d'Nasha) on earth.