WORD STUDY – FORGIVENESS – שׁבק(Aramaic)
Luke 7:47: “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, [the same] loveth little.”
I remember when I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, I had a roommate who was Jewish and even began to study to become a rabbi before he was saved. During his first year of rabbinical training he found Jesus as his Messiah and transferred to Moody. I remember one day he confessed to me his biggest regret. “Why didn’t I wait a few more years to get saved.” I asked why and he said: “Are you kidding man, I would have been a rabbi who got saved. Like I would have more speaking gigs and teaching opportunities than I could handle. Now I am just another Messianic Christian without an amazing testimony.”
For me this verse in Luke has been very disturbing. When I read it in my Modern English translation as well as the KJV my impression is that Jesus is saying that those who have much to be forgiven will love God more than those who have little to be forgiven. Not only that it seems to suggest that the more you love God the more your sins will be forgiven. Now we know that is not true, that Jesus died for all sins, small and great. I know in God’s eyes sin is sin no matter how great or little it is. Murder is just as much a sin as a lie and therefore we are all condemned because we may not have committed murder, but we all lied at one time or another.
But my concern is this. What about people like me who grew up in Christian Home, went to church all our lives, lived a decent life, never committed adultery, murder, or any of the big ones, just the occasional lying, gossip and other sins that are just as much condemning but puts us in that category of the one who has little forgiven and thus we love God little.
I remember my first year in Bible College. I realized I was testimonially challenged. I wasn’t saved out of gangs, drugs, alcohol or sex. I was just your average Joe Christian who went to church every day of the week, belonged to a Bible club in High School, tried to maintain a good testimony in School, led my friends to the Lord. I went right from High School to Bible College to seminary and from there into teaching, ministry and eventually teaching in a Bible college. So my first year in Bible College I listened to all these testimonies of students who were saved out of a life of drugs and crime and I had no story. I remember one guy who had been a member of a gang was into knife fights, drugs, alcohol the whole ball of wax and got gloriously saved. When he gave his testimony there was a not a dry eye in the audience. Afterwards, he literally dared us to come up with a better testimony. We couldn’t, he had the prize, he was the lottery winner who was showcased by the faculty and administration. That was until he got kicked out for drinking. So according to Luke 7:47, I must believe that he loved God more than I did and do.
Today, for the first time I read Luke 7:47 in the Aramaic and not Greek. I recently read an article that told how scholars and archeologist have uncovered fragments of a manuscript, signed by the scribe who copied it and it has been dated to 785 AD. These fragments had parts of the Gospel written in Aramaic. I mean this is big, it is huge. The earliest Greek manuscripts date only to 300 AD during the time of Constantine and we all know the changes that took place in the church during that time. What this indicates is that it is very possible the Gospels were written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek. The Eastern Church has long believed this. In fact they teach the whole New Testament was written in Aramaic. Well, I don’t go that far. Western Evangelical reject this idea and say the Gospels were written in Greek and therefore Greek is a required course of study if you wish to go into the ministry. Only within the last few years has Evangelical scholars grudgingly accepted the fact that Jesus spoke Aramaic and His words had to be translated into Greek from the Aramaic. Of course with Greek so entrenched in our Western Christian world and Aramaic just a language you would study as an elective any change in Aramaic becoming a viable or even required course of study will be long in coming, at least not in my life time.
I say, this however, not to discredit the Greek text and a study of Greek but only to say that we should at the very least consult the Aramaic text in our translations and Luke 7:47 is a great example. The word forgiveness in Greek is apheontai from the root word aphiemi. It means forgiveness and indeed that is the most common rendering. However, there is a less common rendering which is release and when you look at the Aramaic text you may want to go with the word release as it would fit the Aramaic word. The Aramaic word is shavaq which is the word for divorce or to separate and abandon. Thus in the Aramaic you would render this as: “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are divorced, separated and abandoned by her; for she loved much: but to whom( little in Aramaic is qalila which means) less or fewer (sins) are divorced, separated or abandoned by them [the same] loveth little.”
Thus, Jesus is not saying that the more wicked you were before you were saved, the more you will love God. He is only saying a truth that he had been teaching very strongly. That is that those who are not mature in their faith will love God only because….their sins are forgiven, they are given a heavenly home, they get all sorts of goodies from God. But Jesus who was speaking to his disciples was pointing out to them, “But you have walked with me, you have sat under my teachings, your will become something different.” You see the word for love used in this verse in the Aramaic is chav. This is a general all purpose love. It is usually used for a love that given because… It is a love based upon gratitude. Nothing wrong with that love, but Jesus was teaching his disciples that they were going to enter a greater love, racham. Racham is a word used for a mother’s love for her baby while in the womb. That love is not birthed out of any gratitude or respect, but out of a relationship.
You see it is one ones who love little that will have the greatest love, racham, for they will love not out of gratitude but out of a relationship with God.