When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the place of his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? - Matthew 3:7 HCSB

For many Christians who were raised on King James English, our church can be quite a shock. They may be used to culturally irrelevant sermons preached in rancidly sweet tones. They are used to (at best) heated discussions over whether women should wear pants or (at worst) smooth, silver-tongued addresses on daisies, puppy dogs and butterflies.

In contrast, we use blunt language to discuss issues that sometimes require that we ask the children to leave. When was the last sermon you heard that had a PG-13 rating at YOUR church?

Why do we do this? Are we simply trying to be crass in order to appeal to the lower moral standards of our modern society? Are we using language purely for its shock value, like popular shock jocks in the media?

First and foremost, we are trying to emulate our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Though Hebrew was the language of faith and religious education, Jesus purposefully stuck to Aramaic, the common market language of the people. For instance, when He healed a little girl, He said “Talitha cumi”[1] which in Aramaic means “little girl, get up.” As He healed a deaf man with the words “be opened”, He used the Aramaic “ephphatha”.[2] Under the duress of pain, Jesus cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!” which in Aramaic means “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”[3]

In Jesus’ time, Hebrew was pretty well relegated to formal and/or religious settings. It was on its way to achieving the same status as Latin reached in the Middle Ages: a dead language most of the people did not understand but that the religious elite used in order to maintain their status. By the third century, one rabbi[4] insisted his people pray only in Hebrew saying, “Angels do not understand Aramaic”. This ludicrous statement illustrates the height of idiocy humans can achieve when they fully yield to their pride.

Jesus was well-versed in Hebrew. Even after His ascension, when Christ later called Saul (the future Apostle Paul) who was an educated rabbi, He used Hebrew.[5] We can tell that He understood Hebrew in His use of the Hebrew expression “head of the corner” when He told the parable of the wicked tenant farmers.[6] His use of Hebrew let the Pharisees positively know that He was addressing them. As a matter of fact, whenever the Lord quoted Scripture,[7] He very likely used Hebrew. In both Matthew 9,21, Jesus was talking to Pharisees privately and thus, matched His language to His audience.

The Pharisees and Saducees would have liked to use Hebrew in their public debates, both to illustrate their religious superiority and to keep some of the Messiah’s finer points out of the reach of the common people. At first, they probably used Hebrew with the Lord in attempts to stump Him since they considered Him an illiterate bumpkin from Nazareth. However, our Lord gave simple, direct, frank and yet profound responses that demonstrated His clear mastery of the Hebrew language.

[1] Mark 5:41

[2] Mark 7:34

[3] Mark 15:34

[4] Rabbi Johanan

[5] Acts 26:14

[6] Matthew 21:42-45

[7] Matthew 9:13 cp Hosea 6:6