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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 4, by Kevin M. Williams

Why three? Whether discussing the rulers or the pastors, why were there three? So that there was no consolidation of authority, so that cooperative wisdom and unity might be maintained in all circumstances. As the wise King Solomon wrote, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

These seven so far, the rulers, the bishop, and the pastors, were referred to as “the seven good men of the city”—a phrase one encounters in the Talmud.

When Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:13, “For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus,” he is addressing offices far different from contemporary experience. If Paul—or even the Messiah—were to visit our congregations, how might they feel?

The eighth person in our ten, is the targumin, or interpreter. His duty was to read the Hebrew texts and interpret them into the local language. Even when the scrolls were read in Hebrew, the interpreter would recite in the common tongue. If Greek, then Greek. If Aramaic, then Aramaic. If Latin, then Latin. It was crucial for the local Jewish community and God-fearers (gentiles) to be able to adequately understand the words of the Bible.

One of the most famous, is the Targum Jonathan—written in Aramaic by Jonathan ben Uzziel, and dating back to the time of the apostles. The interpreter’s job was not as strict as the bishop, to oversee an exact recitation of the Hebrew words. The interpreter added commentary as an aid to understanding. The Targum Jonathan, therefore, gives scholars insight into Hebraic understandings of the second temple period, and therefore, insight into New Testament context.

Isaiah 52:13-14 reads this way in the New American Standard: “Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.”

Here is a sampling of the same versus from the Targum Isaiah. Notice the subtle nuances in commentative interpretation: “Behold, my servant, the Messiah shall prosper; he shall be exalted, and increase, and be very strong. As the house of Israel hoped for him many days, for his appearance was wretched among the nations, and his countenance beyond that of the sons of men.”5

Whatever office or duties the ninth and tenth men fulfilled, the information, regretfully, appears to have been lost to antiquity.

As we study Matthew, or any of the New Testament, and we encounter words like “synagogue,” “ruler,” or “overseer,” we may now have a clearer understanding of the biblical context.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2002

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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