In seminary, I did learn to read Ancient Greek and translate that into modern English. This was the original language used to write the New Testament. Unfortunately, I failed to keep up this practice. So, my current abilities in this are limited. I am now highly dependent upon other sources for help.
Also, I never took a class in reading ancient Hebrew, which is the language of the Old Testament. As such, I am fully reliant upon other sources for help with that.
Despite these limitations, I am still aware of the necessity for word study using these two languages to gain a greater understanding of the more difficult sayings of Jesus.
Considering the above, thank you to Dr. Steven Notley, an Episcopalian, for his assistance in discerning the following.
In Luke, chapter 21, Jesus is talking about the future destruction of Jerusalem. In doing so he tells a story of the fig tree. A translation of the ancient Greek into modern English reads: “When they already put forth, you can see for yourselves and know that the summer is near.” The translators for our Bibles have added their own understanding by inserting the word “leaves.”
The problem is that this may lead us astray — fig trees have their fruit come first, then the leaves. The fruit is bitter. It becomes sweeter with the passage of time.
Could Jesus have drawn upon a Hebrew source in telling this story? This seems likely. In the Old Testament book of Amos, Chapter 8, verses 1 and 2: “Thus the Lord God showed me: ‘behold, a basket of summer.’ And he said, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘a basket of summer.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘the end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass by them.’”
Hidden from our eyes is a clever wordplay on the Hebrew terms for “basket” and “end.” It gives it greater depth and lends itself to memory. This is lost when using English. The term translated as “basket” has the connotation of fruit. The “end” is summer — when the fruit is ripe on the branches. It is harvested and its sweetness then appreciated. The passage concludes with words of comfort.
So, when you combine the above, it gives a message of hope and assurance.
How might this apply to us? If we are experiencing bitterness, pray for an end to it — for “summer to come” — and for God to provide a sweeter taste in your life.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 30 years.