The Great Commission and its Relationship to Judaism

In the article “Evangelism, Historically and Hysterically,” we discussed our methods of gaining vocabulary and learning definitions to our words. This learning starts in the sub-conscious by us hearing and imitating our parents. Our skills develop in more complex methods later as we learn the need for a dictionary and how to use it. Our development for understanding words should not cease with an English dictionary if we desire to be good Bible students. The Bible is not a plain English document written a few days prior to our present time. We must learn to consider that the book originally was written in a language dramatically different from our own in a time period that few of us can even understand.

We might even have a difficult time agreeing on the original language of a particular passage. We have several options for the specific passage in Matthew that this article will address. A good number of Christian pastors assume that it was written in Greek because that is the source text for most of our Bibles. Digging further we might discover that historical evidence states that Matthew was written in the language of the Hebrews, 1 indicating to us that the original was Hebrew, but later translated into Greek for the surrounding Greek speaking culture. And then there is the third option. Matthew could have been written in Aramaic since many Jews spoke Aramaic at the time and Aramaic could have been known as the language of the Jews. 2

Some of you may wonder why time has been spent in discussing the language of origin. There are various nuances of a language that hint at the meaning of certain phrases. Depending on how the document was translated, those nuances may become a determining factor on what was meant by the passage. The following discussion will be based on the belief that the book of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, not Greek or Aramaic. While I acknowledge that Aramaic was a language of the Galilee region, there are a few lines in Matthew that seem to indicate a Hebrew origin over that of Aramaic. The naming of Yeshua is a classic example and an article “The Use of the Messiah’s Name” concerning that explanation and to why this indicates Hebrew rather than Aramaic can be read in full at http://drybonesrestorationcompany.com/articles/Individual/Messiahs_Name.pdf. The article is an explanation as to why I will often use Yehoshua rather than the shortened form Yeshua.

Language is not the only clarifying topic we should consider when reviewing a passage. The context including the prevalent culture, grammatical nuances, time period in which it was written, to whom it was written and what purpose was the focus of the author are just a few of the additional tidbits of information that will help give a clearer understanding of this ancient and very important document.

With expanding our analysis in considering more things than just the English translation of the Bible, we need to reevaluate the meaning of a passage that is believed by many to be a command. It is the instigator that caused us to head in the direction of making all conform to a particular belief. This passage is referred to as the Great Commission. Here a portion of Matthew 28:19 is quoted from the New King James Version, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,…” For now, we will examine the source language of this translation. The New King James was translated from the Textus Receptus, a Greek text of the New Testament. Reviewing the first word “go” starts our journey to discover a clearer understanding of the text in its ancient framework.

“Go” is the Greek word, πορευθέντες (poreuthentes), meaning to transfer or go. 3 This particular usage has some grammatical nuances that may confuse the English speaking reader since we truly do not have an equivalent English form of the word. The Greek word is a participle. 4 To clarify this grammatical analysis for those of us who speak English but are not skilled in grammar, a participle in English often but not always ends in “ing.” 5 It has the characteristics of both a verb and an adjective. Hence it is a verb describing what the noun is doing. Clarity would not be increased on this subject by just inserting a participle form of go, “Going therefore and make disciples…,” doesn’t make much sense. To further complicate this, the Greek word is passive, not active. 6 This means that it is an action in process that is referring to the subject of the sentence. In this case, the subject is not even mentioned but assumed. The noun in question is the person to which the sentence addresses. So maybe a better way to indicate its passive participle nature would be to say, ‘As you are going….” It is a state of being. You are in the process of going as a part of your daily routine. You are being assumed to be a going person.

Let’s hold that thought for a moment and combine it with a second phrase that will begin to reveal the intent of this passage, “make Disciples.” Maybe the word disciple will be too foreign for most people, so a more common term in English would be, students. This phrase, “make Disciples.” is taken from one Greek word µαθητεύσατε (mathateyusate). 7 It’s grammatical analysis is as follows; a verb, imperative, active 2nd person plural. This means among other things that it is in the command form. This nuance is problematic, because we cannot make students. We can become a student and sit under a teacher to learn, but we cannot force an individual to sit under our teaching. They are free to go where ever they like and if they are being treated in a manner they do not like, then they are sure to leave. Making a disciple would require force, so I think we are misunderstanding the intent of the text to assume such. The force used in new movements to gain adherents is usually their downfall. Force indicates what today is called “cultish behavior.”

The teachings of Messiah tend to remove force from the picture. We cannot force anyone to sit under our teaching. Forced conversion does not work either since force can only cause compliance of action, not submission of the mind. You can have a compliant individual, but not a sincere one. Our history has been full of us using force to gain our desired end. History indicates that we truly believe the end justifies the means. Force takes on different forms in different centuries. During the Holy Roman Empire, we used Roman Law to influence people to follow Christ. Certain national laws were made to change Jewish behavior in regards to keeping Torah. Constantine, made a Roman law indicating that the Sabbath was Sunday, the first day of the week. While this actually was a change in Roman practice as well since prior to that time the seventh day was Friday (Venus Day) in the Roman count according to the Planetary week, 8 it effectively shows how Roman law was used to counteract Jewish teaching. Many other such laws were made to force Jews to follow Christian tenets. In the middle ages we participated in the crusades. It was mainly a dispute between Christians and Muslims, but the Jews often got the brunt of our dispute. The carnage of force colored the deserts. So, the actions of Isis in this day were common in Christian and Muslims communities in that day. Youthful zeal often causes much harm and gives birth to uncontrolled use of force. Youthful zeal does not always dissipate with age. Proper aging will distill zeal into contemplated resolve. Without proper aging, it manifests as militaristic force over the will of an unprepared people.

But the question remains, did Yeshua incite the passion to teach people who did not want to be taught? Does this one word, translated as, “make disciples” demand that His followers stop a person on the street or at their front door to demand they hear the saving message? I do not believe that Yeshua was that ignorant of human nature. Did He not know about personal boundaries? 9 Did he not say, “seek and ye shall find?” 10 I suspect He did know about human nature and personal boundaries. So his command to teach is only in the context of the first phrase. Please allow me to paraphrase a bit to give a more clear intent of the Great Commission. “As you are going … live in such a manner that people come to you and ask about why you act the way you do.” That was a lot of paraphrasing, and without some additional textual support, I could be taking it way too far. This concept is echoed in 1 Peter.

NKJV 1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
(emphasis added to clarify the conditions under which this is done)

Our life is suppose to cause someone to ask about the hope we exude. Our response is to be one of meekness and fear, not of arrogance and causing others to fear God’s damnation. I would like to propose, the model of conversion that we have been given in the church is one of failure. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken the church model and perfected it. If that method worked, every person in America would either be a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness. Instead, the Jehovah’s Witnesses usually only have a very small congregation similar in size to most Hebrew Roots Congregations. We have taken a modern evangelism method and incorporated it into the Hebrew Roots/Messianic movement. It has failed to produce any large change in the Jewish world toward Christianity and I suspect it will continue to fail for all those who persist to use it. The reason it will fail is that it is not the meaning of the texts. We are following failed methodologies rather than Scripture’s instructions.

Consider Deuteronomy and how God planned on His word going out to the nations.

NKJV Deuteronomy 4:6 “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say,`Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?
(emphasis added to clarify the methods under which this is done)

The way the message gets out is to carefully keep the commandments. It is to impress the people as to how wise we are shown by our actions. It says nothing about going to the people and claiming they should be keeping them. It is “live and do” rather than, “go and demand.” There is no manipulation, verbal coercion or condemnation. Just plan proper behavior and letting those around recognize it. Pride contains the message, “see how holy I am.” Only humility without the “see how holy I am” message can reveal the truth of God. This Deuteronomy passage is comparable to the Great Commission, “As you are going, make students…”

Another nuance in the Great Commission that should be considered is that it makes a distinction of who or where these disciples should be found. The phrase, τὰ ἔθνη (ta ethno), 11 “the nations” is translated somewhat randomly by the translators depending on the paradigm to which they hold. In the New King James it is translated as, all nations, the nations, or the gentiles. It is a good equivalent to hagoyim in Hebrew. If a Jew read this verse and it used hagoyim in Hebrew, 12 he would immediately feel relieved. Hagoyim would be recognized as the heathen by a Jew because that is the way it was used in the first century and the Tanakh. 13 A Jew would never consider himself a heathen. When considering the Greek in this passage, the form of ethnos used, is in a plural form with a definite article in front of it. This pattern is usually exclusive of the Jews. 14 Yes, goy is a Hebrew word that means nation and in a singular form could refer to the nation of Israel. But when used in a plural sense and especially when combined with the definite article i.e. hagoyim or ta ethno, it is typically exclusive of self or the Jews. Hence this would likely read, in a New Testament reflecting its Hebrew nature, “As you are going, make disciples of all the heathen….”

I agree that Israel is a nation. So if the nations, in context, is discussing every nation on earth, all nations might be an appropriate translation. However, I’m not too certain we should take that liberty with its general usage. Ha goyim and ta ethno both are pre-dominantly used to designate a group exclusive of those Jews using the term. The Great Commission was spoken by a Jew. His native tongue was likely Aramaic or Hebrew, but it seems he was fluent in each. Therefore the idiomatic usage of hagoyim being exclusive is likely the cultural norm in Yeshua’s surrounding society. Therefore in absence of any clear distinguishing context to the contrary, it would be appropriate to translate it as common usage. Historically, Christianity has considered their mission to be to anyone who moves, so in context of our current society, this has been translated as it is. This is a bias introduced by our modern culture, not a historical analysis of the text. Considering this, it is probable that the Great commission is not even suggesting that one should evangelize a Jewish believer in YHWH. 15 It may not be a command to convince anyone of who Messiah is, rather to introduce them to the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. Notice what is to be taught,“Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you….” This connects right back to Deuteronomy 4, where the wisdom that “the nations” were to understand was the commandments.

In closing, the mistaken notion that has been taught over several centuries is that it is our responsibility to explain everything we know concerning Yeshua to everybody we meet and that the complete Gospel message must be preached to all by us. Instead it seems that Yeshua was teaching us to behave properly and was saying that our behavior was the proper method of spreading the news about His work in our lives. There are further terms that we need to explore in order to fully understand Scripture versus dealing with this topic. Each of us may have received from our youth a definition to many of these words and now impose that understanding each time we read the passage. In following papers we will discuss other terminology and false methodologies. Hopefully this will give us a clearer understanding of the will of our Messiah. Israel has had a partial blindness put upon them. We cannot be certain that the term Israel here includes the Jews, but from our present paradigm we can be sure that it includes us. So we must look at the manner in which this blindness has been put on us and recognize that it was the plan of God. We now have the job of removing the blindness because the times of the nations has come to an end.

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Footnotes

1 Eusebiusʼ Ecclesiastical History, translated by C. F. Cruse, Hendrickson Publishers second printing Jan 2000, p 164 (quote from Irenaeus) “Matthew, indeed,” said he, “produced his gospel written among the Hebrews in their own dialect,…”, p166 quote from Pantaenus indicates that the Gospel of Matthew had traveled as far as the Indies and “Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached and had left them the Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, which was also preserved until this time.” p 106 (quote from Papias) “Matthew composed his history in the Hebrew dialect, and everyone translated it as he was able.” p215 (Origen is quoted speaking about the gospels) “The first is written according to Matthew, the same that was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who having published it for the Jewish converts, wrote it in Hebrew.” p89 (Clement is quoted) Matthew also having first proclaimed the gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going also to other nations, committed it to writing in his native tongue and thus supplied the want of his presence to them by his writings.”

2 (Possible alternative understanding of “Hebrew”) The above quotes of many early Christians all use the term Hebrew, but each could have been speaking of Aramaic a close sister language. The Clement quote illustrates this best because he claims to be writing in his native tongue. Judging from an assumption that Matthewʼs origin was in the Galilee region since he was a tax collector in Capernaum, Aramaic is believed to have been the lingua franco of that area.

3 πορευθέντες from poreuomai to lead over, carry over, transfer.

4 πορευθέντες verb, participle, aorist, passive, nominative, masculine, plural form of poreuomai

5 (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, second edition) Participle: an adjective or complement to certain auxiliaries that is regularly derived from the verb in many languages and refers to participation in the action or state of the verb; a verbal form used as an adjective.

6 πορευθέντες verb, participle, aorist, passive, nominative, masculine, plural form of poreuomai Passive denotes the form or voice of the verb whose subject is the receiver of the action. it is carried is an example where the action is upon the subject, rather than an active form, “he carried the ball” where the subject does the action.

7 μαθητεύσατε verb imperative aorist active 2nd person plural from μαθητεύω
[GING] μαθητεύω – 1. intrans. act. and pass. deponent be or become a pupil or disciple Mt 13:52; 27:57 (both pass.); 27:57 v.i. (act.) – 2. trans. act. make a disciple of, teach Mt 28:19; Ac 14:21.*[Cf. μάνθανω, μαθείω.] [pg121]

8 For studies on the planetary week Oxford Companion to the Year is a wonderful source.

9 I recommend Barry Phillips teaching on this subject given at the Bney Yosef North American summit in Tampa 2016. Video footage of this teaching will be available soon.

10 Matthew 7:7-8

11 1484 εθνος ethnos (eth-nos) Meaning; 1) a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together 1a) a company, troop, swarm 2) a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus 2a) the human race 3) a race, nation people group 4) in the OT, foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentiles
Usage: Gentiles 93, nation 64, heathen 5, people 2 total 164

12 In the Hebrew New Testament the translators saw fit to translate this as haamim, “the people” rather than hagoyim, the Gentiles. The translation into Hebrew most likely used an English source and translated it with a modern evangelical bias.

13 1471 גוי gowy {goʼ-ee} rarely (shortened) גי Meaning: n m 1) nation, people 1a) nation, people 1a1) usually of non-Hebrew people 1a2) of descendant of Abraham 1a3) of Israel 1b) of swarm of locusts, other animals (fig.) n pr m 1c) Goyim? = “nations”
Usage: AV nation 374, heathen 143, Gentiles 30, people 11: total 558

14 τα ετηνο is used in 44 verses in the New Testament. Luke 24:47 is one of the few times that τα ετηνο might be considered to include the nation of Israel because of its translation as, “all nations” instead of “the gentiles.” Luke 24:47 “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” The word ἀρξάμενοι (beginning) in this verse is a form of αρχω meaning to rule. The word “at” would more accurately be translated as “from.” It seems this phrase would better be translated as, “beginning from Jerusalem” as a source not as a subject. Here the English seems to uses τα ετηνο as referring to Israel, but a closer look reveals that the source is from Israel rather than being to Israel. The American Standard Version, Youngʼs Literal Version both agree with this interpretation and the Peshitta clearly indicates it by using מן as the Aramaic word indicating “from.” Matthew 25:32, Acts 14:16, Romans 16:26, Galatians 3:8, in the NKJV translates the phrase as all nations, but again would be better understood as exclusive of Israel, rather than inclusive. Revelation constantly translates the phrase as all nations. The massive usage of all nations in Revelation stems from an ignorance that Israel rules with Messiah during the Millennial kingdom. So of the 44 verses only 5 in the NKJV attempts to be inclusive of Israel outside of the book of Revelation. I think every time it is used, it should be exclusive including the book of Revelation because it is based on a false paradigm from eschatology.

15 NKJV Mark 2:17 When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”