Lost in translation… 18 Jan 2015

Three times, today, John indicates the translation of certain Aramaic words. Remember, he wrote his Gospel for everyone, many of whom do not know Aramaic, and so offers a translation of what he must consider to be three key words. Let’s explore these three Aramaic words, Rabbi, Messiah, Cephas and try to appreciate their depth as John would have known them.

Rabbi – it appears often in Hebrew scripture. Besides the simple translation of “teacher” it was used, at times, to mean “master” or “lord.” It can also be found used as an adjective to mean “great.”

Messiah – we regularly see this capitalized as a title for Jesus, “the anointed one,” but it was a common word in Jewish scripture meaning “to smear,” as when David was anointed king by Samuel.

Cephas or Kepha – this word is much more interesting to explore as it is used only twice in Old Testament scripture.   There is another word for “rock” more commonly used in the OT scripture but Jesus chooses this one to rename Simon. It means solid, foundation, and was not used as a formal name until Jesus uses it. Here are the two instances.

“At the shout of horseman and bowman each city takes to flight; they shrink into the thickets, they scale the rocks(Jeremiah 4:29).

“In the gullies of the torrents they must dwell, in holes of the earth or in clefts of rock (Job 30:6).

Notice how the “rocks” are also a place of refuge, safety and protection. I leave it to you to ponder what Jesus had in mind when he chose to rename Simon, Kepha; Petras in Greek, Peter in English.

Deacon Richard

Resources for this word background research are:

The Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance of the New Testament, by George Wigram

The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, by Brown, Driver and Briggs


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