I.  Introduction

You may be wondering just what exactly is this article about.  What do I mean by Hebrew Matthew?  If you have been trained as I have, and most of us have, we were taught to understand that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic, while the New Testament was originally written in Greek.  That has been held as truth until somewhat recently.  There have been copies unveiled of the book of Matthew which were written in the old Hebrew language.  Once one copy was discovered, there seemed to be several that have surfaced.  As of the writing of Nehemia Gordon’s book entitled: “A Prayer To Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the LORD’s Prayer,” there are now 28 known Hebrew Matthew manuscripts known to exist, either portions of or complete texts.

II.  Brief History

My Tour Guide – Nehemia Gordon – A Karaite Jew

Since I do not have a knowledge or understanding of the Hebrew language, I felt it necessary to incorporate someone who does own these qualifications.  No, Nehemia Gordon and I have not met, but as I studied his material, I knew that I was able to trust him as a man who both honors and fears God.  He is American born, but now makes his home in Jerusalem, Israel.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies and Archaeology, along with a Master’s Degree in Biblical Studies.  Nehemia has served as a translator for the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Another reason, the most important one for me, for selecting Nehemia Gordon as a trusted source is his approach to life in the Scriptures.  He is considered a Karaite Jew, or otherwise known as a Jewish Scripturalist.  A Karaite Jew does not hold the oral traditions (Talmud, Mishnah, Midrash, etc.) as authoritative or sacred, just the Tanakh (Old Testament).  Their approach to the Bible is known as ‘peshat,’ meaning “plain meaning.”  This comes from the account written in Deuteronomy 31:13, which refers to a mandatory public reading of the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) every 7 years.  In those days, not everyone was privileged to have a copy of the Torah for themselves, so it was read aloud for all to hear.  The Jews believe that the Torah was written so that it could be easily understood by a child during the first hearing.

Why study the Hebrew rendering?

Translation involves moving not just words, but meaning and depth, from one language to another.  This is not an easily accomplished feat.  Even the smallest of interpretive errors can change the context of what is being communicated in the original language.  For accuracy of the Scriptures, or anything for that matter, the best source is always the original.  There is always quality and definition that is lost in reproduction, regardless of the process used.  Now that we have documentation that the book of Matthew was originally written in Hebrew, why not go to the original.  As you will soon see, there are some definite changes that appear in the translation from Hebrew to what we now have in the English language.  Most of the differences are in the depth of what is being conveyed, but there is at least one instance where the entire context has been changed.

Martin Luther (founder of the Protestant Reformation) wrote this 16th century quote:

“The Hebrew language is the best language of all . . . If I were younger, I would want to learn this language, because no one can really understand the Scriptures without it.  For although the New Testament is written in Greek, it is full of hebraisms, and Hebrew expressions.  It is therefore been aptly said that the Hebrews drink from the spring, the Greeks from the stream that flows from it, and the Latins from a downstream puddle.”

III.  The Avinu Prayer  (Hebrew) – The LORD’s Prayer  (KVJ)

Our Father in heaven  (Hebrew) – Our Father, which art in heaven  (KJV)

Yes, He is our Father.  The Christian religion is the only one that makes an effort to comfortably call Yehovah our Father.  We have favor to approach His throne of grace with confidence.  He loves us, cares for us, and welcomes us into fellowship with Him.  He longs to be intimate with us daily.  He knows what we have need of, even before we ask Him.  Who better knows us, for He created us from the dust of the earth.  He knew us before we entered our mother’s womb.

But, have you grasped the realization that He is everyone’s Father?  If we believe that He created the heavens and the earth, all of the creatures that roam the earth, all of the vegetation and landscape, and mankind in His image, then we must also believe that He is everyone’s Father.  However, what separates the sheep from the goats is a decision from us (His children) to return the Father’s love through following His instruction, which is found in the initial 39 books of the Bible and renewed in the final 27 books of the Bible.

May Your name be sanctified  (Hebrew) – Hallowed by Thy name  (KJV)

The 1828 Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language defines ‘hallowed’ as ” consecrated to a sacred use, or to religious exercises; treated as sacred; reverenced.”  This is well and good, for we are commanded to honor the name of Yehovah.  But the Hebrew brings a much deeper understanding to this.  The word ‘sanctified’ means to be set apart and used for sacred service.  Again, the English translation ends up being a little short of the depth provided by the Hebrew rendering.  The Hebrew definition invokes not only a statement of fact, but an adjoining call to action.

Names are of great importance.  When someone calls us by name, it captures our attention.  It is how we know others are speaking specifically to us.  Our greatest concern in the prayers we offer up AND in through the actions of our lives should always be to honor and reverence the name of Yehovah.

His name is not Yahweh, nor is it Adonai.  It is not even the tetragrammaton YHWH.  His name is Yehovah!  The Anchor Bible Dictionary reports that Yahweh was just a scholarly guess.  Adonai is the Hebrew word for Lord.  Yehovah is found 6,828 times in the Hebrew Bible.  It is only found 8 times in the 1611 Authorized Version of the King James Bible.  All but one time, the Greek rendering of Jehovah is used.  Only on the title page, at the very top, in the woodcut, is the Hebrew rendering of Yehovah used.

In Exodus 3:15, Yehovah first introduces His name to Moses.  He said: “this is my name forever, this is my memorial for every generation.”  It is still important today, as ‘forever’ and ‘every generation’ is a scope of time that never expires.  To do something that brings scandal on the Father’s name and character is a hideous sin that puts Yehovah to open shame.

There are three ways to sancify the name of Yehovah:  1) proclaim His name to the world (evangelism);  2) exalt His name with words;  3) through our deeds/actions.

May Your kingdom be blessed  (Hebrew) – Thy kingdom come  (KJV)

At first notice, the English translation seems to be indicating that the kingdom of Yehovah has yet to come.  This is, of course, in direct conflict with what Yeshua was speaking throughout the Gospels.  But, regardless of what the intended meaning was through this phrasing, it still misses the mark.  The Hebrew speaks more about the kingdom of Yehovah being blessed.  This phrase reflects an entirely different concept of the kingdom than the English translation.  There Hebrew version is not speaking about a future kingdom but of a present-day kingdom that is here, right now.

Our prayers must be concerned with the advancement of Yehovah’s kingdom now, as well as its ultimate fulfillment in the future.  We should concern ourselves with prayer for His spiritual presence in all saints (Ephesians 6:18) and the manifestation of His kingdom and principles now.  Prayer should include, but not limited to, destroying the works of the enemy, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, cleansing the lepers, saving the lost, promoting righteousness, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His people and over all the earth.

The phrase “may your kingdom be blessed” is an invitation to bow our hearts and knees before Him, with our hands raised, while blessing His present and eternal kingdom.  Isaiah 45:23 states:  “To Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear (confess).”

Your will shall be done in heaven and on earth  (Hebrew) – Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  (KJV)

Yehovah’s will shall be done.  The question that remains is, “Will we be active participants in bringing it to the earth?”  We must have a desire to see the Father’s will perfected in our lives, as well as in the lives of others.  The Father’s will is accomplished when we ask for “His kingdom and His righteousness” to come among us.  The message that Yehovah loves each and every one of us in incomplete until there is an inclusion of a required response on our behalf.  We we respond to His love, we are then ready to become part of the solution to advancing the Father’s will on this earth.

Give us our bread continually  (Hebrew) – Give us this day our daily bread.  (KJV)

Our bread is not just the sustenance that we ingest.  It involves satisfying our daily needs as well (Phil 4:19; Luke 11:3).  As we meet daily with the Father, we already know through His Word, that He is aware of our needs.  Again, we must seek first the kingdom of Yehovah and His righteousness, then all these things will be added to us.  He will provide our daily manna when all else appears hopeless or lost.  He will give comfort to the afflicted, grace to the humble, freedom to the prisoners, food to the hungry, understanding to the simple, light to blind eyes, and so much more.  He gives us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; so that we may be called trees of righteousness; a planting of Yehovah, that He may be glorified!  Through His divine power, He has made available to us all thing pertaining to life and godliness.  Yehovah has given us every spiritual blessing in heavenly places through Yeshua Hamashiach (Jesus the Messiah).

Forgive us the debt of our sins as we forgive the debt of those who sin against us  (Hebrew) – And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  (KJV)

Have you ever wondered why the King James Version used the word ‘debt’ instead of ‘sin?’  Again, the answer is found in the depth of the Hebrew rendering of this verse.  Sin carries with it a debt.  We must be aware that there are consequences to our wrong actions and words.  We cannot take this lightly!  These consequences come in the form of hurt feelings; thoughts of retribution; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual trauma; just to name a few.  We must be willing to let go of these heavy burdens and set ourselves free.

If we refuse to forgive the debt of others who sin against us, the Father will not forgive our sins (Matt. 6:14).  The Hebrew rendering calls this ‘reciprocal justice,’ which is rooted in Ezekiel 16:59: “For thus says Yehovah: ‘I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant.'”  According to the principle of reciprocal justice, Yehovah treats us the way we treat our fellow man, and if we stubbornly refuse to forgive our brothers, then He will refuse to forgive us.  “Vengeance and retribution belong to the Father.  Never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says Yehovah.”  (Romans 12:19)  Simply put, our job is to forgive.

The Jews have a name for the Father, “El Nose” – the forgiving God.  When the Father forgives us, our sin is erased from the heavenly ledgers.  We no longer have to bear the guilt or pay the debt incurred by our sins.  We are washed clean, made white as snow.  Our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west; cast into the Sea of Forgetfulness, to be forever remembered no more.

Do not bring us into the hands of a test  (Hebrew) – And lead us not into temptation  (KJV)

As you can see, there is quite a difference between the Hebrew and the English translations.  The Hebrew rendering says nothing about temptation, but only speaks of tests.  The Greek version reads as ‘temptation.’  Because most every English New Testament translation is taken from the the Greek, they too read as ‘temptation.’  Hebrew Matthew is translated as ‘test.’  This is exactly what is found in the Peshitta, which is the Aramaic version of the New Testament, used by the Church of the East.

Using the word ‘temptation’ actually contradicts another New Testament passage which states: “for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He anyone.”  (James 1:13  KJV)  While ‘temptation’ and ‘test’ do have some overlap in meaning, they are not semantically identical.  Every temptation is a test, while not every test is a temptation.

To be brought into the have of a test means to not successfully pass the test.  The Hebrew rendering of this simply says “do not bring me into the hands of a test, or into the hands of shame.”  The purpose of a divine test is to see whether or not a person will remain faithful to the Father.  Job was a perfect example of this.  We have digressed in the USA to where we incorrectly assume that righteous people never suffer and sinners never prosper.  True faithfulness means remaining loyal to Yehovah whether on enjoys prosperity or suffers loss.

And protect us from all evil  (Hebrew) – but deliver us from evil.  (KJV)

The Greek rendering for this passage is ambiguous and can legitimately be translated as either “deliver us from evil” or “deliver us from the evil one.”  The King James Version says ‘evil,’ while the New King James says ‘evil one.’  The Revised Standard Version says ‘evil,’ while the New Revised Standard Version says ‘evil one.’  Because Hebrew Matthew speak about ‘all evil,’ it is clear that it is not just referring to a personified Satan, but to all forms of evil.  Let’s be clear that the Bible does make clear reference to Satan.  However, he is not the source of evil in the world.  Yehovah is the source of all things, both good and evil.  Isaiah 45:5-7 states: “I am Yehovah and besides Me there are no other gods; I girded you even though you did not acknowledge Me, in order that they would know from the rising of the sun to the setting that there is none but Me.  I am Yehovah and there is no other; I form light and create darkness, make peace and create evil; I, Yehovah, do all of these things.”

Yehovah creates all things, including evil, but He gives us the freedom to choose between good and evil.  In other words, we can bring evil upon ourselves based upon our choices.  A central concept in the Hebrew Bible, and throughout the New Testament, is that we are responsible for our own actions, and cannot blame anyone else for the evil that we do.  Blaming someone else for our evil choices is as old as the original sin in the Garden of Eden.

The words ‘protect us from all evil’ are so much more powerful than asking Yehovah to protect us from the evil one.  The Father is the only one who can answer this prayer.  He is not limited by time or space.  He is not intimidated by evil spirits or angels.  He is the only one not bound by heaven or earth, and the only one who controls both light and darkness.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

Amen  (Hebrew) – Amen  (KJV)

The word ‘amen’ is one word that is used commonly, and not just in the confines of the church.  When being used by non-Jews or non-Christians, it is usually spoken as a confirmation or agreement with what has previously been stated.  In fact, the word ‘amen’ may be the most recognized word ever, being used by countries all around the earth.  Hebrew custom was, and still is, to end all prayers with shouting ‘Amen!’  This is often the case in Christian circles as well.  The Hebrew definition of ‘amen’ means ‘truth.’  It is related to the Hebrew word ‘emunah,’ meaning ‘faith’ and ‘belief.’  Amen implies “true faith” and “true belief.”  Amen also means ‘trust.’  So by ending a prayer by saying amen, a person is expressing their true faith, their true belief, and their trust in the Father, Yehovah.

An obvious omission – For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.  (KJV)

If you have grown up reciting this prayer, you are no doubt wondering where the end of the prayer has gone in the Hebrew rendering.  The answer is quite simple.  It was never part of the original prayer recorded by Matthew.  Not only does this ending phrase not exist in the original Hebrew manuscripts, but it also does not exist in the Greek manuscripts.  Scholars surmise that this ending “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever,” was added by a Christian scribe at a later date, and is based on a blessing offered by King David in 1 Chronicles 29:10 – 11.

IV.  Closing Thoughts

The prayer is written in the plural form, not the singular.

Really, a person bears both an individual responsibility for his/her own actions, as well as a collective responsibility for the society in which they live.  This is a central concept in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) that finds clear expression in the New Testament.  One example of this is found in Matthew 5:45, where Yeshua states: “Yehovah makes His sun rise on both the evil and on the good, and send rain on both the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  Through our collective responsibility, we can influence the type of society in which we live.  Edmund Burke, an 18th century philosopher, once said: “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  Amen and amen!

Why Christians should embrace the Hebrew roots of the Avinu Prayer.

This prayer was taught to the disciples by Yeshua Himself, the Messiah.  For Christians, this is ‘red letter’ wording in our Bibles.  We cannot truly believe in Him without following His teachings.  Whether He was the originator of the thoughts of this prayer, or if He was reintroducing solid, foundational teaching from the Tanach (Old Testament), the fact that He taught His disciples to pray in this manner is worthy of understanding.  As stated in the beginning of this study, the value of researching the original language is due to the depth of meaning that gets lost in any translation, especially when the material readily available to us has gone through two or three translations.  Go to the original, for it will always provide the best understanding for what is being conveyed!

 

*****All material for this article has been taken from Nehemia Gordon; either from his new book entitled “A Prayer To Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the LORD’s Prayer,” his website www.NehemiasWall.com or the Holy Scriptures.*****