“One Doesn’t Live by Bread Alone”

I‘ve been working with the Greek New Testament for decades — 2.5 years of college Biblical Greek, ongoing personal study since then including working through every verse in the Greek New Testament at least once, as well as working with other Greek literature from the era including the Septuagint (a translation of the Hebrew Bible from Hebrew to Greek done in Alexandria around 300 BCE).

Indeed, a (Greek) book I recently worked through is the Apocalypse of Moses — a 4th century (?) account of Adam being about to die of old age: no one had ever died before, and Adam, Eve and their extended family don’t understand what’s happening and panic! The story is quite poignant — perhaps I might share some tidbits in a future Music Box? But I digress…

Here are a couple observations from working with the Greek New Testament:

  1. The available translations are fine, but reading Scripture in the original is like seeing Star Wars at an IMAX theater with Dolby Surround Sound, while English translations are like watching it on a tiny black-and-white TV with tinny speakers. Sure, it’s the same movie, but the impact is very different!
  2. In the original languages one is reminded with every word that our Scriptures come from a very different culture — mostly ‘Palestine’, a region which two thousand years ago was a troublesome backwater of the Roman Empire. So to me the original Text of the N.T. is an opportunity to be present to a radically different and profoundly oppressed culture (the Romans weren’t very ‘nice’).

Meanwhile, with the Covid Chaos, I was at a loss what to write in the Music Box. Working through the Greek Septuagint Psalms was one idea. But another might be to share things I’ve discovered working with the Greek New Testament.

Let’s begin with the Temptation of Christ (a favorite Lenten theme), specifically:

“Man/One doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)

MAN/ONE doesn’t live…”

Older translations read “Man does not live by bread alone…”. Until recently, in English ‘man’ was used to refer both to adult males, and also to Humanity generally. Meanwhile, the Greek word here translated ‘man’ is ANThRŌPOS which is a gender neutral term for ‘humanity’ — Greek has a separate word ANĒR for adult males and/or husbands (ANThRŌPOS occurs 497 times in the N.T., ANĒR 197). The net result is that the older translation “man doesn’t live by bread alone” inaccurately portrays the New Testament as being more patriarchal than it actually is. It’s a refreshing exercise to consider each occurrence of ANThRŌPOS in order to ‘English-language gender neutralize it’. Limiting myself to just a few examples:

Matt 4:19 “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of PEOPLE.”

Matt 8:20 “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of HUMANITY has nowhere to lay his head.”

Indeed, everywhere you read “Son of Man” in the standard translations, it’s “Son of ANThRŌPOS” — “Son of HUMANITY”.

Mark 2:27 “And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for PEOPLE, not PEOPLE for the Sabbath.”

I Cor 2:9 “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of PEOPLE imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”

Rev. 21:3 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with HUMANITY. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people (LAOS), and God himself will be with them as their God.'”

‘LAOS’ is ‘tribe’, ‘community’ (e.g. the “tribe/LAOS of Israel”). That little subtle phrase — “they will be God’s TRIBE, His COMMUNITY” — is its own lovely sermon all by itself.

“Every WORD proceeding from the mouth of God…”

Two Greek words for ‘word’ appear prominently in the N.T. — one is the well known LOGOS, the other is RhĒMA. LOGOS emphasizes the aspect of a ‘word’ as a ‘concept’, whereas RhĒMA emphasizes the aspect of a ‘word’ as communication. (LOGOS occurs 317 times in the N.T. while RhĒMA occurs 65 times.)

A few examples of LOGOS:

Matt. 7:24  “Everyone then who hears these LOGOS-words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

Matt. 24:35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my LOGOS-words will not pass away.

John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone AGAPĒ-loves me, he will keep my LOGOS-word, and my Father will AGAPĒ-love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

A few examples of RhĒMA:

Matt 4:4: One doesn’t live by bread alone, but every RhĒMA-word proceeding from the mouth of God.

Luke 2:19 “But Mary treasured up all these RhĒMA-words, pondering them in her heart.”

That is, she treasured up the words just communicated to her by the angel.

Luke 5:5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and caught nothing! But at your RhĒMA-word I will let down the nets.”

Rom. 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the RhĒMA-word of Christ.”

In other words, Paul is emphasizing hearing, that is: communication.

A verse with both LOGOS and RhĒMA:

Psa. 54:10 (Greek Septuagint) In God I will praise with a RhĒMA-word;
in the Lord I will praise with a LOGOS-word.

That certainly covers all the bases!