The Delitzsch Hebrew/English Gospels from Vine of David not only provides access to the profound scholarship and insight of Professor Franz Delitzsch, but it is also a wealth of information into the background of the New Testament.
Our Master Yeshua’s words come alive in their native Jewish context. Here is an excerpt from the Translator’s Preface regarding Yeshua’s warning not to give what is holy to dogs (Matthew 7:6):
The English word “holy” does not imply anything in particular. Some Christian commentaries consider this a direct reference to Yeshua’s message of the Gospel. The Didache (9:5) connects this verse with sharing a sacred meal. But when the words are represented in Hebrew, a different allusion emerges:
אַל־תִּתְּנוּ אֶת־הַקֹּדֶשׁ לַכְּלָבִים
Do not give the kodesh to the dogs. (DHE)
When the term kodesh is used in this way, it does not refer to holy things in the broadest sense, but rather to items that have been dedicated to the Temple as a sacrifice. The fifth order of the Mishnah, entitled Kodashim, discusses laws relating to the sacrifices. One of its tractates, Temurah, discusses what happens when an animal is designated as a sacrifice and becomes unfit. For example, such an animal might develop a defect or a serious disease, which places it in a category called trefah (literally, “torn”). Such an animal cannot be sacrificed, but since it had already been designated as sacred (kodesh), people were not allowed to use it for secular purposes either. What, then, is to be done with it? Can it be redeemed—that is, purchased with money or substituted for a different animal and then put to secular use? The Mishnah explains:
Any kodashim that become trefah are not redeemed, since we do not redeem kodashim to feed it to dogs. (m.Temurah 6:5)
This statement is quoted verbatim in several places in the Gemara outside of its direct discussion of this Mishnah (b.Pesachim 29a-b, b.Bechorot 15a-b), suggesting that this teaching has an axiomatic or proverbial use.
Although Yeshua used this phrase in an idiomatic sense (i.e., he was not literally making a ruling regarding what is to be done with defiled sacrificial animals), one cannot begin to understand the significance of a metaphor without first understanding the symbols that it employs. The interpretation via Hebrew in the context of first-century Judaism enables us to see how familiar Yeshua was with sacrificial Oral Law. Furthermore, it shows the implied importance that he gave to the sanctity of the sacrifices by using them as a figure of speech.
Having explored the source of Yeshua’s figure of speech, we can begin to unpack and apply it. Like many of the rabbis of the Roman era, Yeshua covertly referred to the Roman government using a code language. He warns his followers not to entrust matters of Torah (“kodesh”) to such godless courts (“dogs”).
This is just one example of how studying the words of Yeshua in light of the Hebrew language can bring clarity and insight into his teachings.