CHAPTER 6- The Writers Keep Explaining Things for Their Readers




  1. Mark explains on what day of the feast of unleavened bread the passover lamb is killed.
  2. John tells what nation celebrates the feast of the Passover.
  3. Paul tells about his experience in Judaism.



A few months ago I bought a little book entitled, Facts About Israel.1  It is filled with hundreds of bits of information about Israel and the Jewish people. It makes for enjoyable, informative browsing. In the chapter on communities, there is a statement that you may find interesting.


Since Israel is the state of the Jewish people, Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) and Jewish festivals are official holidays...


While it is a true statement and necessary in this book, it also tells us three facts that every Israeli already knows.

1. Israel is the state of the Jewish people.
2. Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath.
3. The Sabbath and Jewish festivals are holidays in Israel.

While Jewish people certainly published this little book, the common, everyday customs and practices it explains and defines makes us know, if we do not already, that it is written for people who are not Jewish. (What need would there have been to explain for Jews that Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath?) It is written for people who know little or nothing about things Jewish. For this reason alone, one would know it is not written in Hebrew.

Are there such bits of information in the New Testament? Do we find everyday customs explained? Are common practices defined in such a way as to tell us, here is a book that was not written to Jewish people?

The New Testament was not a publication of The Information Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. It was, however, written by Jews (except for Luke). Just as certainly, it was written for non Hebrew speaking people. This can be found out by just reading the book.

Most of the events described in the five narrative history books, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, took place in Jewish lands among Jewish people.

Still, the conclusion that the book was written to people who were not Jews is forced upon us. Yes, it thunders at us from every nook and cranny of the book. The conclusion is inescapable. There are explanations of such simple Jewish customs they could have been written only to people who are not Jews.

This completely concurs with what we have studied in previous chapters. Definitions of Jewish practices, clarifications of Jewish holy days, and explanations of Jewish customs are made repeatedly. This would need to be done only if the New Testament writers knew their readers would not understand these Jewish things.



Consider what Mark said about the Passover.

And the first day of unleavened bread, when
they killed the Passover...
                                            Mark 14:12

Every Jew knew the Passover lamb was killed on the first day of  the feast of unleavened bread.2 They celebrated the feast every year, had done so for centuries. All the Jews knew the order in which these things were done.

Why does Mark judge it necessary to explain this to his readers? If he was writing to Jews, his explanations show a low opinion of their intelligence. No, Mark would not have made such an insulting statement to Jewish people.

However, it is all too obvious he realized his readers would not know this fact about the feast. Therefore, he makes it clear to them. At the same time, he makes it very clear to you and me that his gospel is not written to Jewish people.

What are you and I to understand from this? It once was said, "All roads led to Rome." Every road you and I have taken leads to one destination as well. The New Testament was not written to Jewish people. Mark's readers are not Jewish. The language of Mark's Gospel is not Jewish. Like the rest of the New Testament, it was not written in Hebrew or Aramaic, but in Greek.



Such explanations are not uncommon in the New Testament. It is a book that was written across cultures. Often one culture needed to be enlightened to the ways of the other. Here is what John said about the same feast.

And the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.

John 6:4

John, like Luke, sees the need to clarify for his readers just what the Passover is. Would not every Jewish person have known the Passover was "a feast of the Jews"? John cannot be writing to Jews. He would not have said such a thing to Jewish people.

Put it in its simplest form, here is how it looks.

A. All Jews knew the Passover was a feast of the Jews.
B. The people to whom John wrote did not know the Passover is a feast of the Jews.
C. Therefore the people to whom John wrote were not Jews.

It is the only conclusion possible. John wrote to Gentiles. He would not have written to them in the language of the Jews. Greek was the common language of the Gentiles of John's day. Since we know he did not write in Hebrew or Aramaic, we can say with certainty he wrote in Greek.



You may not have considered it before, but Jesus turning water into wine has something to do with the New Testament language. Have you ever thought of what the Bible says about it?

And there were set there six water pots of stone,
after the manner of the purifying of the Jews...
John 2:6

John tells his readers why the pots of water were there. It was the Jewish manner (custom) at a wedding. Again, we see a writer explaining a Jewish tradition for the benefit of his readers. He did this only because they were not Jewish. Had they been Jewish they would have known why the water pots were there. He is writing to Gentiles. He is writing in the language of Gentiles, Greek.



Paul defines his former beliefs for the non Jewish Galatians. He writes of his Judaism in a way he would only have done when addressing non Jews. Here is what he said.

For ye have heard of my conversation in times past
in the Jew's religion, how that beyond measure I
persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and
profited in the Jew's religion above many my
equals in my own nation...
                                   Galatians 1:13,14

You can judge for yourself. Would he have written in this manner to Jews? Would he have said "the Jews religion" if he had been talking to Jews? He would not have done so. Neither would he have made reference to, "mine own nation" unless he was writing to people not of his own nation.



Perhaps it is becoming a little tiresome to multiply examples and repeatedly reach the same conclusion. Surely by now, it is plainly seen by every reader of the New Testament that the book was not written to Jews. Therefore we know it was not written in Hebrew or Aramaic.

Nevertheless, before we conclude this chapter, let's consider just one more explanation of a Jewish tradition.

Then they took the body of Jesus, and wound it in
linen clothes with spices, as the manner of the Jews
is to bury.
John 19:40

John told his readers how they wrapped Jesus' body in linen, along with spices. Then, realizing his readers were not familiar with this custom, he explained, "as the manner of the Jews is to bury." It was necessary for John to define this burial practice as Jewish. Had his readers been Jewish, it would not have been necessary.

The Bible speaks to us. By giving us case after case after case, the New Testament declares itself to have been written in a language other than the one Jewish people spoke. The Jews in and around Jerusalem, in New Testament times, spoke Aramaic and Hebrew. We know the New Testament was not written in either of those languages. This book was written in the common language of the Gentiles.



1. Facts about Israel, (Jerusalem, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Division, 1985), p. 90. [back]
2. Exodus 12: 6, 18 Deuteronomy 16: 4 [back]