IN THIS STUDY WE LEARN:
- John's gospel was written to non Jewish people.
- Acts was written to a Greek man.
- The language of the New Testament makes it clear the the book was not written to people who spoke either Hebrew or Aramaic.
My brother spent almost thirty years in the United States Navy. He was in a number of countries. Most of them were completely foreign to me. During this time, we communicated by letter, by phone, and sometimes by tape recordings. I would tell him what was happening among the people at home. He would tell me what was happening where he was.
In no communication I ever had with him did I refer to the people at home as "the Tennesseans" or "the Americans." First, I am a Tennessean. Second, my brother, to whom I was writing, was a Tennessean. Third, the people about whom I was writing were Tennesseans. There was no need for me to explain to him whom I was writing about. We were all Tennesseans.
However, his letters to me were different. When he was in China, he wrote about "the Chinese" eating habits and "the Chinese " dress. He wrote of "the Chinese" customs and "the Chinese" manners.
You see, in his letters there was a need to explain who the people were about whom he was writing. He was able to accomplish this by these constant references to their nationality. This was made necessary only because the people about whom he wrote were of a different nation than the people to whom he wrote.
"THE JEWS" IN THE GOSPEL OF JOHN
The form of communication characterized by one writing to a person of another nation used by my brother, is found often in the New Testament. There are about eighty references to "the Jews" in Acts. Almost as many are in the Gospel of John. This proves beyond any doubt that we are dealing with a non-Jewish book. It is fair of you to demand to know just how this proves anything.
Let's check a few concrete examples so that you may see for yourself. There is one on the very first page of John's Gospel.
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent
priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him,
Who art thou?
This is John's first reference to the Jewish people in his narrative. As soon as he introduces them into his narrative, he calls them "the Jews." For him to refer to them in this way positively identifies them as being of a different nation than his readers.
John understands this. His readers understand this. You and I understand this. We know, by the way John referred to the people about whom he wrote, that the people to whom he wrote were of a different nation. Otherwise, why would he have made any reference to their nationality?
John wrote his Gospel for non-Jewish people. He wrote it for Gentiles. He wrote it for Greeks.
Consider another example of the same sort from John's writings.
Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he
was there: and they came not for Jesus' sake only,
but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had
raised from the dead.
How could John make it any plainer that he is not writing to Jews? To his readers he says, "much people of the Jews." He would not have said this if he had been writing to Jewish people. Such a reference would have been altogether unnecessary.
Again, John shows us his book was not written to Jews. Neither would it have been in the language of Jews. There can be no possible reason why John would have written in Hebrew to these non Jews. They could not have read it. His book was written in Greek.
In twenty-one chapters, John refers to "the Jews" about seventy times - 70 times! On average, that is more than three times per chapter. John did not invent this way of distinguishing between the people he is writing to and the people he is writing about.
Both he, and the Holy Spirit who held his hand as he wrote, wanted us to see this distinction. A writer may choose to use this characteristic of communication. He may choose another way to make the distinction. He may choose not to make any distinction at all. However, when this communication device is used, we can be certain the writer is telling his readers that the people he is writing about are different from them.
AT JACOB'S WELL
John tells what happened to Jesus near the little Samaritan town of Sychar. In his narrative, he gives us three examples of how language is used to make a distinction between peoples.
The first is by the woman whom Jesus met at Jacob's Well while he rested there. She draws a very clear line between individuals of different nations. Here is what she said.
How is it that thou, being a Jew, asketh drink of me,
which am a woman of Samaria ?
This is such a common way of talking we pass over it without notice, unless someone focuses our attention on it. However, now that I have asked you to focus on it, you can easily see what she did.
For a second example, check John's notice of what she said. He uses the same way of communicating. He comments, parenthetically to his obviously non Jewish readers. He finds it necessary to explain the Jewish reaction to the Samaritans for the readers.
For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
You see, he explains for his readers why she would say such a discourteous thing to Jesus. In doing so, he also makes the difference of nationality distinctive and yet does it so easily it is hardly noticeable.
In a third example, we have the words of Jesus. Without calling them by name, he tells the woman that salvation is not of the Samaritans. This is what he said.
Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we
worship; for salvation is of the Jews.
By saying "the Jews," Jesus makes an ethnic difference between the people he is speaking about and the person he is speaking to. The people about whom he is talking are Jewish; the person to whom he is talking is Samaritan.
He has no need to say "the Samaritans" to make the distinction between nations clear. The "ye," the "we," and "the Jews" does this well for him. Jesus, a Jew, calls his people the Jews when speaking to a non-Jewish woman.
This is exactly what John, a Jew, did in his Gospel. He repeatedly called his own people, "the Jews" when writing to non-Jewish people.
This rhetorical device is used by many people in many languages. We can be certain John's seventy or so uses of it are by design. He uses it twelve times in one chapter. He intends the distinction of nations to be clear. He is writing about "the Jews" to people who are not Jewish.
Therefore, his book would have been written in a language not Jewish, not Hebrew. The Gospel of John could not have been written in Hebrew. It could only have been in Greek. There can be no doubt about this.
"THE JEWS" IN ACTS
It is interesting to read the account in Acts of a meeting between Jews and Gentiles. See what the messengers from Caesarea told Peter about their master.
And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man,
and one that feareth God, and of good report
among all the nation of the Jews...
These are the words of the men whom Cornelius, a Gentile, sent to Peter, a Jew. There are three individuals represented in these words.1 One is speaking. A second is being spoken to. The third is being spoken about. When we see the use made of the term "the Jews," and know Peter is Jewish, we then know the third party is not Jewish. It is as simple as that.
Notice Peter's words to Cornelius when he arrived at his house?
Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man
that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of
By referring to himself as "a Jew", Peter makes a clear distinction between himself and any person of another nation. Particularly here, he makes the difference between himself and Cornelius, a non Jew, clear. This distinction was clear to Peter. It was clear to Cornelius. It is equally clear to us. Again, here are more of Peter's words to these Gentiles.
And we are witnesses of all things which he
did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem;
whom they slew and hanged on a tree:
THE DISTINCTION MADE
It cannot help being clear to any candid reader of the New Testament that by use of the term "the Jews" a distinction is made between Jews and non Jews. When people of different nations are involved in the speaking or writing, as first, second, or third person, the distinction of people can be made in this way. In our examples, we know that someone, either the first, second, or third person is not Jewish
We observed it in John's gospel. Now we are able to see it throughout the narrative book of Acts. It is the reader who is not Jewish, always the reader. We know this for other reasons as well. We clearly see it from the often used term "the Jews."
It is used in Acts about eighty times. With that many uses, how could any reasonable person even imagine that this book was written to a Jewish person. It was, in fact, written to a Greek man named Theophilus. It was also written in a language he could read, Greek.
Footnotes1. Homer C. House and Susan Emolyn Harmman, Descriptive English Grammar rev. Susan E Harman, 2nd. Ed. (New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, 1950). This book has an especially informative section on first, second, and third person, beginning on page 46.