Ever since I started learning about the Jewish roots of Christianity, my faith has grown by leaps and bounds. If you’ve been on the journey that I have, you’ll find that you’ll quickly enter a world that has an entirely new vocabulary. Hebrew words and biblical phrases and Jewish ideas are everywhere. It can be complete gibberish to the unenlightened:
“Baruch haShem! You’re so full of the Ruach Hakodesh. Let’s drash more about the parasha later. Shalom!”
People have noticed that I don’t put much of this in my writing. I could easily be using all sorts of Hebraic terminology. Instead, I usually use very traditional terms like “Jesus” rather than “Yeshua,” “Old Testament” instead of “Hebrew Bible,” “AD” not “CE,” etc. I deliberately use a more widely-known vocabulary, and for a reason. It’s because I’m trying to speak to traditional Christians and respect their level of understanding.
I meet a lot of people who learn wonderful, rich new things about their Bibles, and instead of eagerly sharing them, they start using a new lingo that makes others shy away. That in turn makes them irritated, and often they respond by withdrawing from others who don’t “get it.”
People forget that you simply can’t start speaking in a different language and instantly bring others along with you. Acquiring a new “accent” grates on the ears of the people who need most to learn, even if it might be more sensitive to Jesus’ Jewishness.
My priority is to communicate, and for a reason. Our great commission is to be disciples of Jesus who raise up yet more disciples, teaching others what we’ve learned ourselves. As I see it, if you’ve learned something good, you’re obligated to share it, not to talk over people’s heads with it.
I consider myself a translator who needs to keep one foot in one world and one foot in another. It’s not always very comfortable to communicate between two different worlds. There will always be some tension. But that’s the struggle that disciple-makers have lived with for thousands of years — how do you share what you know with someone who doesn’t know it yet?
I have a motto: Be a bridge, not an island.
That means, always think in terms of sharing what you’ve learned with others, not about setting up barriers to keep them away.
(Photos: Doug Wheller & Duncan Rawlinson)
Nancy Johnsen says
I have found that I alienate people with my Hebrew roots talk. But it doesn’t make sense to me why, for example, our choir members don’t seem to even care what the word “Sabaoth” actually means?!!! But I guess church people can feel put off by something they don’t know, or don’t want to take the time to explore. But what riches they are missing out on in the depth of understanding the Wonderful God they claim to serve!! oh well…thanks for letting me vent. I want to be a bridge, too, but some “island” people don’t want a bridge built on them.
sue cooper says
I think there were a lot more comments on this article. I think I wrote one infact. What happened.
Lois Tverberg says
Yes, in mid-December the website had a glitch that deleted all comments going back about 3 months. I’ve asked my web person about restoring them, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, unfortunately. My apologies.
Susan Cooper says
Just reading a comment that came as a notification today in 4 October 2021. So good op to reread your article and it still is one that stands well the test of time. The richness of the Hebrew text has expanded my understanding of the scriptures but I find so many don’t want to know. But I prayer we are all bridges not islands. Thanks Lois.
I found this article very interesting because I have been on both sides of this. There are many times I do not know what some people are talking about or referring to in the Bible because I have not learned about that story/lesson yet. This makes me feel almost inferior to those people. Other times I am the person who is talking about something that the people around me do not know, and sometimes it pushes them away. I liked the expression “Be a Bridge, not an island” because it is a good reminder to try and live in community with others for our similarities rather than separating ourselves for our differences.
I completely agree with you! As Christians, we have to be the bridges so that people can start to believe what the Bible teaches us. If someone is going to use a Hebrew word, I think that they should use it to help explain their teaching and use it to help people understand the context, instead of simply trying to show off. I’ve been to a few churches where the pastor would say a sentence, and then after he said one of those words, he would say the Hebrew word for that word or sentence. I take that as he or she is just trying to show off. When the preacher says the Hebrew word, then explains why knowing that word can help us understand the context, then I think that that person is being the bridge to help people understand the Bible, they are taking people to their level so that they can get a better understanding of what the Bible is teaching, instead of acting all smart and being an island.
Ange Rosendahl says
I completely agree with the idea of always think in terms of sharing what you’ve learned with others, not about setting up barriers to keep them away. It makes sense that people who hear people using a new lingo shy away because they don’t understand it. One of our main priorities as Disciples are raising up other disciples and teaching them what you have learned. I want to apply this concept of being a bridge, not an island to my own life.
I sometimes struggle with opening up and letting my personal insight out. I feel that sometimes I just hate the fact of thinking about the embarrassment of being wrong. However, I completely agree when you say that when we find out or know something good we should be obligated to share it and to share the good news that we have found. I also completely agree in the metaphor that you shared about being a bridge and not an island. I completely agree that when we learn something good and are aware of something good that we should not totally enclose that within ourselves, but however, once again share that goodness that we have found and let others hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Jess B. says
I have found that this is very true, and not just in Hebrew. I think that this can be relatable in any language- and each one is important. I really liked the idea of being a bridge, not an island. That fits really well with Jon Donne’s ‘No Man is an Island’. If we choose to use our knowledge to intimidate others, and put them down, we aren’t using it in the right way. Using knowledge such as Hebrew root words is something that should be shared with others, spreading the knowledge and understanding of the Bible. Sharing this knowledge can strengthen faith, and even start new relationships with God all because you decided to show someone how this Hebrew word connects with us today, and back in the Old Testament. From now on, I will definitely make it more of a habit to share the things, respecting other’s level of understanding.
It is true. Many people tend to shy away from things that they do not understand. It is definitely helpful to those who shy away from it to not use the words that are hard for others to understand. However, I believe that it is helpful, to many people, to use the words that the Jews might use so that they can better understand. As said, Be a bridge, not an island. The best way to help people from shying away from the unknown is to try and help them better understand the unknown. The best way to do that is through things like Bible studies, traveling to places like Israel, and or being a teacher.
I think that this article is very true and I deeply agree with it. Sometimes, it is very hard to be on the same page and speaking the exact same language as someone. I also really like the analogy of being a bridge, not an island. I think that this is the one thing our culture truly needs: community. Without it, we are nothing but individuals striving to succeed and infatuated with ourselves. We need the help of others, no matter what spiritual language they are speaking. Those barriers need to be torn down and eliminated so there is room to grow together. Sharing thoughts and insights is one step closer to building community and being bridges.
Isaac Brace says
This article really empathizes with my way reaching out with people. I often don’t know how I can talk to people who do not believe the same things I do. I never know if I should just start talking to them about bible stories, or how Jesus has worked in my life, or how he has answered many of my prayers. I feel like I need to choose my words wisely, so I do not scare them away. I pray often that I will have the right words when these people come along, so I can speak to them without a “translator” and they will understand and feel the power of faith like I do. However, sometimes you don’t need to say anything. I have found that it works to reach out to people with your actions. Act how Jesus would want you to, and through these actions people will see you are a christian and want to know more. I found this works in my life, and really helps me be a bridge to people, and share my knowledge and spread God’s wonderful teachings.
Your motto reminds me of John Donne: “No man is an island.” Some people like to act like they are, but we’re really all part of one whole. I think it’s important for us to remember that we are all a part of the same continent, but maybe we’re separated by mountains or rivers. It’s the job of the Christians who understand both sides of the continent to help the people on either side learn from each other more. Like you say, though, it’s not easy, because we have to walk the line between our own excitement to share and their need for us to pace ourselves.
I think that it is very important that when you are telling another person about Christ for the first time, you don’t speak in words that they might not understand. If you start off speaking using big Hebrew words, they might be turned off to wanting to learn more about Christianity because they don’t understand it right away. They might think that it is too hard to understand, and not want to continue on. As Christians we need to make sure that when we are sharing the gospel with someone else, the language is applicable to what stage of learning they are at.
Olivia Meiste says
I’m currently enrolled in a discipleship class at my school, and we’ve been learning about Jewish roots and different ways to look at specific bible verses and stories. I’ve had many instances where it’s hard to understand a teacher or classmate because they’re speaking as though they’re above me or more knowledgable than those around me. It’s difficult to “get it” when you jump right into learning something new about the bible or about God. I continue to think of the John Donn’s “No Man is an Island.” We are all part of a continent and all part of a world. When one person hurts, we all hurt. It’s important to share what we’ve learned with others, as you said, so we all can hear and be a part of a learning journey. This article is a great reminder.
I believe that it is a good thing that you are using the traditional terminology because if you were to use the Hebraic terminology I think that there would be people who wouldn’t really understand what you are trying to get at. I like the point “That means, always think in terms of sharing what you’ve learned with others, not about setting up barriers to keep them away.” If you learn something new and amazing about out God you should want to share it with everyone that you are around, not just hold it inside just for yourself. Share the word of the Lord so that everyone can hear what you have to say.
Abby Konyndyk says
I found this article can connect into life really well. The article talks about communicating to other people. This is very important because if you are explaining something to someone who has no previous knowledge about God and you using words that involve that they will be confused and not necessarily get anything out of it. I like how you used the metaphor you want to build a bridge not an island. You can be alone with only one group of people, but you got to spread around to other groups and the knowledge they know. This is important part to learn about other cultures.
I agree with what you say about how learning about the Jewish roots of Christianity reveals an entirely different style and vocabulary of the Bible. In discipleship class at my school, my teacher has really been focusing in on this topic as well. I have noticed that it really does make a difference, and it opens up my eyes to things I didn’t see when reading God’s word before. It can be really difficult to learn the Bible in this way, but it is SO important to communicate and share with others on how to go about doing this. It will truly open up people’s eyes and cause them to see God in a new way. Like it has for me so far, it will greatly impact a person’s faith and really make them start getting into the stories in the Bible more closely. God calls us to be disciples and to share his Word with everyone around us, and to live out his Word in order for the world to see. It is so important that we communicate with others what we know, so that they may know and understand the goodness of it. God’s Word is so good, and everyone should know that. I love how you say that we as Christians need to be a bridge and not an island. Perfect analogy of what God calls us to do!
Sandra P. says
I think you are very correct about saying, “Be a bridge, not an island.” Whether it’s talking to someone about Jesus, or telling someone about how to make cookies, it is important to make sure what you are saying can be understood by nearly anyone. Everyone should think about how school teachers are about to build bridges between them and students so often. While the teacher often has a much wider spectrum of knowledge on a given subject, he or she is still able to speak in a “common knowledge” type of manner. I’ve definitely been in situations where I was listening to someone talking about a Biblical subject, thinking, “What?” the whole time. I try my hardest to make sure I speak in ways in which most anyone can understand, because I am always interested in building bridges. I haven’t really put a whole lot of thought into it before, but what you have said about using more widely used vocabulary when speaking on Biblical topics, that makes so much sense. Since I have been studying the Bible for countless years, some of the stuff I mention to others who don’t know Jesus or haven’t done a whole lot of studying of the Bible probably feel as if I’m speaking whole different language. I should be more conscious of this in the future!
Lois Tverberg says
Thanks, everyone from RVL’s class. I appreciate your comments and thoughts.
I read this article, one of the first things I saw was how the specific words in Hebrew have a meaning more than what is on the surface. I see it in similar ways, because when I hear you in class, or at church I hear hebrew words and their meanings. Then I hear it future explained and I hear it is something completely different than what I think the writer had to say.
I love the idea of being a bridge. I think a lot of scholarly people tend to regard their students as less intelligent in certain aspects. But if you truly want to teach someone a new idea you have to make it work for both the teacher and student. The bridge idea is perfect because it truly helps the teacher give insight to the student and it helps the student understand what the teacher is showing them. When it comes to the Bible and putting it into the Jewish culture perspective it can be difficult to get the point across, but when you can it is amazing and exciting. Being a bridge is the best way to help Christians understand how astounding God’s word is.
I really enjoy what you have said here. It can be a reminder for all of us in every kind of cultural context. When we learn something new we should want to share it with the people around us. Especially when we learn something new about God. We should be on fire to share that. But it can be really hard to express what you learned in Hebrew into traditional Christian language. Thank you for sharing with us your insights on being a bridge and not an island. I know for me in my everyday life it is a lot easier to be an island but I need to remember to not put up the barriers.
I love this motto because it’s a good reminder to always think about the audience you’re talking to. I sometimes forget this, especially when I’m working with students in my Sunday school class. Also, being 18, I sometimes shy away from people when they start bringing up things that I don’t fully understand. For example, my older brother is a very scholarly guy, but when he gets on a rant about other religion’s and how naive we can be, I start to put up a wall, and I don’t want to continue on with the conversation. I know he is trying to teach me, but he tends to do it in a way that scares me more than excites me.
Yes, we should help bridge the gaps to help others to hear the Truth. Some words though do allow the proliferation of error that can cause others difficulty in grasping the Hebrew thought process rather than the greek. For instance, it is not the New Testament, it is the Renewed Covenant. This difference is extremely important in getting through the deception that some have sown into traditional Christianity. It is not new, the greek work means refreshed or renewed. This can lead to great conversations. I believe it is the intention or heart that matters, how we act in an honorable way to help our Brothers/Sisters out of the paganized Christianity we were handed by our Fathers. thank you.
I’ve learned to define my terms when speaking with others who might not know the lingo. A friend of mine thanked me for doing this, saying when she didn’t understand these sorts of things, it made her feel stupid. Now I would ask if I didn’t understand, but realize some people feel uncomfortable doing so.
However, if you use the term, “Old Testament,” you must be aware of the source of that term (Marcion) even if your listeners/readers aren’t. Yes, the words, “new covenant,” are used in both Hebrew and Greek texts, but we know this does not refer to a book. So, I agree with Terry, that while one seeks to communicate via common ground, the price of validating falsehood is too high. I understand the idea of not triggering a reaction of fear/embarrassment that would shut down further communication. However, one foundational error in Christianity is that believing the wrong thing leads to eternal damnation as well as estrangment from heaven in this life. I understand the fine line some walk, but Yeshua didn’t mince words about the corruption and error of the people of his time.
I agree with you that we as Christians have to be bridges not islands. Jesus wanted us to spread the His Word to others so if we were all islands there wouldn’t be a way to share it to others and become bridges. I think that it is important that everyone tries to be a bridge to others who think that they are islands because something that happened in their life. If we do that then there will be millions of “bridges” all over the place going in different directions spreading the word to others. Thats amazing.
Bob Israel says
God crossed our paths today. I am an ordained minister with two earned doctorates in theology. I was trying to determine where I would be most effective in His kingdom — trying to become a Messianic rabbi (my father was Jewish) or seek the pastorate. What you said about being a bridge rather than an island spoke to me. I shall pursue the pastorate and a testimony to the Jewish roots of Christianity. Than you so very much!
Keith Radcliffe says
Good essay, thank you for sharing!
As a writer of biblical & spiritual essays, vocabulary has always been a concern to me. I really want to replace some of the corrupted words with more accurate ones – for example, replace “Christian” with “Messianic”. However, I’m aware that this will be a needless obstruction to some readers. It is definitely a balancing act!
In an essay about the “real” name of God or Jesus, an author commented “…since you know the real word, why would you continue to use the false word…”? Well, there is the issue of communication!
Lois Tverberg says
Keith, to answer the question, “Since you know the real word, why would you continue to use the false word? I would point out that even saying the name “Yeshua” (as an English speaker) is actually still a “false word” if you want to be perfectly correct about it.
Why? Because in Hebrew, this name is spelled yod-shin-vav-ayin, and the final letter is one that English speakers find unpronounceable. The ayin is a guttural consonant pronounced down near the adam’s apple. It sounds enough like a “g” that it is the first letter in the words Gaza and Gomorrah. But English speakers find it impossible to say. We can’t even write the final sound – we have no letter for it. (And yes, the gutteral ayin was pronounced in the first century.) So the word Yeshua is still not the “true name” of our Messiah.
This means that the whole planet (including English speakers) needs to go retrain our throat muscles to say a gutteral ayin in order to not use a “false” name!
Or, we can humbly realize that languages often contain sounds that non-speakers find unpronounceable and approximations (transliterations) must be made. That’s why in Hungarian, he is called Jézusnak, in Maori he is called Ihu, in Haitian Creole, he is called Jezi. In Spanish, his name is pronounced “hey-sus.”
The transliteration English uses is “Jesus.” No scholar has ever advocated changing this pronunciation. Why? Because scholars know that unpronounceable names must be transliterated, and the new word is the legitimate name in that language.