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It’s All Greek to Me: Exploring Biblical Idioms

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Sometimes you have to admit that Jesus’ words are a puzzle. Why does he warn against having a “bad eye”? Why pray about “hallowing God’s name”? When you know the Jewish idioms he used and the ideas that he built on, you can discover fresh, practical insights for living as his disciples today.

Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus (pg. 67)

I think one of the biggest light bulb moments ๐Ÿ’ก for me when I began studying the Bible through a Middle Eastern Lens was the concept of the use of Jewish idioms throughout Scripture.

It’s funny thinking back, that as I was studying American Sign Language, I took an entire course on transliteration, which focused on translating English idioms into sign language. But it wasn’t until I read Kristi McLelland’s book, Jesus and Women, that I ever considered the Bible to include these kinds of phrases.

It’s All Greek to Me!

Bear with me as I take you back to middle school English class for a moment. The definition of an idiom is —

idiom โ–ช๏ธ ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ
A phrase or sentence that is used to express a thought, but cannot be understood from the meaning of its individual words of the sentence but must be understood as a whole.

Just a few examples of English (American) idioms:

  1. Under the weather
    Feeling ill or unwell
  2. Hang in there
    Encouragement to be patient
  3. Spill the beans
    Sharing or telling secrets to others
  4. Take it with a grain of salt
    Regard something as being exaggerated
  5. It’s all Greek to me
    Hard to understand or make sense of

Another example of an English idiom is to say youโ€™re โ€œpulling my legโ€ when talking about someone joking with you or exaggerating the truth.  The person is not actually pulling your leg, so you cannot understand the sentence in the literal sense.

No wonder we exclaim that “it’s all Greek to me” when we open up our Bibles! English alone is challenging enough to read. Then we add two thousand years, a different society, environment, religion, political structure, and geography from when those ancient words were written and it’s amazing we can make sense of any of it!

Biblical Idioms

When we consider how our English language is littered with idioms, these nonsensical phrases, in the literal sense, it’s crazy that we expect to read our Bibles and take what we read there at face value!

The Bible is FULL of these kinds of phrases. But as Lois says, when we begin to learn the meaning behind these Jewish idioms – the text will open up before us with so much more meaning and understanding!

Walking in the Dust
of Rabbi Jesus

Fall 2022 Online Biblical Study

And that is why I’m sooo excited to share this book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, with our community this fall (register for our study that kicks off on September 18th)! Being able to look at Scripture and see that not everything we read on the page is literal, is really eye-opening. In this book, Lois will help us to explore several idioms, to help us change the way we read the Bible.

Is the concept of Biblical idioms new to you? If not, what idioms have you learned about that helped to open up a new understanding for you?

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on Biblical Idioms

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