←Books ←Chapters Next→


This commentary expresses the opinions and studies of Paula Fether. The author makes no claims to expertise but only seeks to share the results of lifelong Bible study. It contains references to many scholarly resources, some of which are listed here at the end for your convenience.

Jews and Gentiles

While Jews and Gentiles are familiar terms to most people, the terms used in the New Testament are Judeans and the nations (sometimes also Greeks or Barbarians). Judea was the name of the area, not simply the name of the Hebrew tribe of Judah. All the tribes were represented there, as indicated in such passages as Mat. 19:28, Acts 26:7, Rom. 9:4, and James 1:1. There were no such terms before the twelve tribes of Jacob existed, since all before them were simply labeled by their ethnicity, whether righteous or wicked. The term for non-Jews, Gentiles, is from the Latin word for family, clan, or nation, and in the New Testament it refers simply to anone who isn’t a Jew.

Calendar, Holy Days, Feasts, Festivals

Israel used a lunar calendar, meaning the beginning of a month was marked by the first sighting of the waxing (increasing) crescent moon. Thus the full moon occurred approximately in the middle of the month. The first month of the year was the beginning of spring (our March/April) and was called Nisan (or Aviv/Abib, after the ripening of the barley harvest). This was stipulated by God in the instructions concerning the Passover Festival in Exodus 12, which is vital for understanding events and timing in Jesus’ final week as a mortal.

That passage, which is about commemorating the passing over of the death angel when Israel was enslaved in Egypt, states that a flawless year-old male lamb (or goat) was to be selected for each family on the 10th. It was to be cared for until the 14th, when at twilight all the lambs were to be slaughtered and then eaten. This marked the start of a 7-day period beginning and ending with a sacred assembly (a.k.a. a special or high Sabbath), and all yeast had to be purged from every house for the entire 7 days. The 14th became known as Preparation Day, and the 15th was the actual Passover, though the whole festival was also called the Passover. So regardless of the Gregorian calendar dates, the Preparation was the 14th and the Passover was the 15th.

No work was to be done on any Sabbath except for certain types of food preparation (e.g., Ex. 20:9-10), and people were not to travel (Ex. 16:29). By the time of Jesus the rabbis allowed people to walk less than a mile. So if anyone is said to have worked, done business, or traveled more than a mile at some point in the Gospels, we can be sure that it was not a Sabbath day.

The Feast of Firstfruits (the first day of the week following Passover per Lev. 23:9-16), began a seven-week festival called the Feast of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-22). Firstfruits was known as one/first of the Sabbaths, and this phrase in Greek is imprecisely rendered the first day of the week in most Bibles. The Day of Pentecost was a feast marking the final day of the final week.

Sacred Names

Scripture commands that the name of God must be honored (e.g. Exodus 20:7), but does that mean there is a particular Hebrew name which either is not to be spoken/written or must be done precisely? In Exodus 3, Moses encounters God in the incident of the burning bush and asks his name. God responds by saying I am who I am, which in itself is a description rather than a name. He goes on in that passage to say he should be known by whose God he is.

The Bible does not say or imply that there is a particular set of letters and syllables only to be said or written as the sacred name of God. In fact, those who disagree have changed the spelling and pronunciation of the alleged sacred name over the years. When the Old Testament was translated from Paleo-Hebrew to Greek before the time of Christ, none of the Hebrew names for God were kept intact (transliterated into equivalent Greek letters), but translated by their meanings. Honoring God is more about respect and reverance than syllables and letters. We do more dishonor to God by how we live, than what word we used to identify him.

Figures of Speech

The writers of the New Testament were likely to have been Hebrew thinkers recording Aramaic speech in Greek. Thus we need to be especially careful about interpreting any given expression, considering all the factors involved. All three languages would have their own expressions and colloquialisms, and at times a Hebrew idiom may be expressed in Greek words for example. One such expression is typically And he spoke to them, saying…,, instead of what English would express simply as And he said to them….

Regarding the phrases son of God and son of man: These are often Hebrew expressions for a member of a group. For example, son of Israel means an Israelite, son of God means one of the God class of beings, and son of man means one of the human class of beings. So when Jesus uses these expressions for himself, he is either emphasizing his divinity or his humanity. When preceded by the definite article (the), it is being used as a title.

The Koine (common) Greek of the New Testament also tended to use the male gender of words as inclusive; that is, sons could be either male or female, while daughters were only female. Likewise, brothers could also include females. In both cases the male form was used if there was at least one male in the group. It is a term of inclusion, not exclusion.

The word typically translated Christ (Greek) or Messiah (Hebrew) means the prophesied One who has been divinely identified via anointing.

Pronouns and Gender

There is great controversy over the use of the third-person plural pronoun (they) when an individual’s biological gender is unknown. For example, If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he or she desires a good thing is more awkward than If anyone aspires to be an overseer, they desire a good thing. The word for anyone is ambiguous in the Greek; it does not specify male or female. Yet some accuse any translation that does not render it he desires of emasculating the text.

In Greek the Holy Spirit takes the impersonal pronoun (it), though it is clear from the entirety of the Bible that the Spirit is a personal entity. For example, the Spirit can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), and some were struck down dead for lying to it (Acts 5:3). Hebrew uses the feminine pronoun (she) for the Spirit of God, but again, this does not make God either feminine or masculine. God is spirit (John 4:24), not flesh, and thus not gendered. If we insist upon assigning biological traits to that which is not biological, we come closer to myth than scriptural truth. For this reason it is just as wrong to think of God as male as it is to think of God as female or an impersonal force.


The phrase believe in someone carries the connotation of blind faith, as one might believe in the tooth fairy. The phrase believe someone means to mentally agree with something they said. But to have faith in someone or to trust someone adds the meaning of personal conviction, of mental assent plus emotional attachment and dedication. The Biblical languages did not have our English concept of merely believing in someone’s existence without additional contextual information, such as that used in James chapter two. Some Christians seem to view it almost as a force or power to be manipulated.


The Greek word translated eternal has the literal meaning of an age or a time of unknown duration. This does not require a limited time, since eternity is also of unknown duration. Jesus used the same term in Mat. 25:46 for both punishment and life. So if punishment must be limited in duration, then life in heaven is also limited in duration. Some contend that this is indeed the case, but this logically leads to an endless series of ages, which is indistinguishable from eternity.

Church or Synagogue

The Greek word typically translated church actually means a congregation, assembly, or gathering. The Greek Old Testament used the term about a hundred times for various gatherings. The New Testament only means the community of Christians when the context makes that clear, since the same word was used also for the angry mob of heathen in Acts 19:32. The Hebrew equivalent is synagogue. Both words began as only referring to the people, but later also to the meeting place itself. As for alleged heathen origins of the word church, see this source, which shows nothing relating to the mythical goddess Circe. It may have been derived from a Greek expression meaning the house of the Lord. The point is that church is not an evil word as some allege, since intent is vital, regardless of any possible origin in false religions.


Scripture uses many words typically just translated sin. In the New Testament especially, the various words often overlap in meaning and have more to do with the circumstances of the sin, rather than different degrees of sin. Some emphasize the laying of a trap or obstacle for people, some are more about unlawful violation of property, and some are unintentional. But all are ultimately offences against God.

Basic Resources

↑ Page Top