Word Play Reveals a Hidden Meaning

By Dr. Anne Davis

I applaud all of you who are interested in the Hebraic roots of our Christian faith. That has led many of you to the Hebrew Scriptures because they are so rich with meaning. But don’t stop there! There are also incredible Hebraic roots in the New Testament. Did you know there are over 300 citations of the Old Testament in the New? And for every citation there are many more allusions or subtle references to the Hebrew Scriptures? Furthermore, the New Testament, although recorded originally in Greek, was authored by Jews who knew the Hebrew Scriptures intimately. So, their whole outlook and methods of interpretation came directly from the Hebrew Scriptures. Those who know the Hebrew Scriptures will appreciate the New Testament.

Here’s an example. The Gospel of Mark 10:42-46 records the story of Yeshua who was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. The crowd pressed around him, calling him Yeshua of Nazareth. However, blind Bartimaeus, who could only hear the roar of the crowd, called out, “Yeshua, son of David,” referring to the promised Messiah.

There are two important elements that follow in this account, which we can only appreciate from the Hebrew. First is a play on words. In Hebrew, the word for “blind” is עִוֵּר (pronounced ivver) using the same letters as the Hebrew word for “skin”, which is עוֹר (pronounced ohr). You can see that the two words have the same letters but are pronounced differently.

Now we come to a third word in this word play. The word we have just seen for skin (עוֹר pronounced ohr), begins with an ayin, but becomes “light” when the ayin is changed to an aleph (אוֹר ohr). The sound remains the same but there are two different letters at the beginning of each word resulting in two different words. So, we have three words that are either spelled the same or sound the same: blind, skin, and light, and these three words are in the word play of blind Bartimaeus.

Let’s start by looking more closely at “skin”. Gen. 3:21 tells us, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Thus, God covered their nakedness with garments of skin (nakedness symbolically exposes sin), and their sin was separating them from God. Such separation caused by sin had to be symbolically covered with skin.

Now we can turn to blindness. In the ancient world, blindness was a common affliction caused by cataracts (a thin skin), which slowly covers the cornea of the eye, causing blindness. Today we know that when this intrusive covering is removed, we can see again. This is what happened to Bartimaeus. Not only did he recover his sight by removal of the covering skin from his eyes, which allowed the light to reenter, but from a spiritual standpoint, his sin no longer needed to be covered because he had acknowledged Yeshua the Messiah and was able to see the light.

That leads us to the second element in this story, which is the Greek word meaning “to see again.” Yeshua asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do?” Bartimaeus answered, “I want to regain my sight” (that is, “see again”). “Regain my sight” is formed from anablepo, whichis a conflation of two words. Blepo (βλέπω) means “to see”, and ana (ἀνά) is the preposition hooked on the front that can mean “again,” thus “see again.” However, ana can also mean “up,” thus “to look up”. That is what Bartimaeus was doing. He was looking up spiritually by recognizing Yeshua as “the son of David,” the promised Messiah, who would come from the line of King David. In return, Yeshua caused the removal of the skin covering over his eyes so light could penetrate again for Bartimaeus to “see” the Lord Yeshua.

BibleInteract provides three powerful resources that allow you to conduct your own studies in the original biblical languages. First are online, self-grading courses in reading both Biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek. Second, if that is more than you wish to tackle, simply learning the Hebrew and Greek alphabets will allow you to conduct word studies in the original language (not an English translation). BibleInteract offers instruction in learning the Hebrew and Greek alphabets. Finally, at the very least, Members and Partners can access a wealth of teachings that penetrate a depth of meaning through the original languages.

May you be blessed by perceiving God’s Word as the people of ancient Israel first heard it.

The New Testament, although recorded originally in Greek, was authored by Jews who knew the Hebrew Scriptures intimately. So, their whole outlook and methods of interpretation came directly from the Hebrew Scriptures.

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Dr. Anne Davis is a professor of Biblical Studies who enjoys working with graduate students to enhance their exegetical skills for exploring the depth of Scripture.

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