Another way looking at a language #3 Abraham

Another way looking at a language

8. Proverbs and verbatim

As today in Dutch (About this sound Nederlands), and probably also in other languages as in English, we can find a lot of words which got a totally different or new extra meaning, so it happened in the early centuries of our Contemporary Timetable as well. Though many expressions we find in our day to day speech came originally from the Biblical times and can be found in the Bible books.

“Hij staat goed aangeschreven” or “to be in a person’s good books” can for example been tracked to Exodus 32:32 and “Zie niet aan, wat voor ogen is” to 1 Samuel 16:7 “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart.” or “zonder aanziens” “without fear or favour” from Romans 2:11, Deuteronomy 10:17 and Matthew 22:16: “For there is no acceptance of faces with God,” (Romans 2:11 YLT); “For Jehovah your God, he is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, the mighty, and the terrible, who regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.” (Deuteronomy 10:17 ASV); “… for thou regardest not the person of men.” (Matthew 22:16 ASV).

North door of iconostasis v.1
North door of iconostasis. Icon of Paradise: Abraham's Bosom with the Good Thief entering to the left
“Hij zit op Abrahams schoot” literally meaning “he is sitting on Abrahams lap” or “Hij is van voor Abraham” literally translated “he is from Abrahams time”, though in normal language nobody is going to think he really was born before Abraham and is still living today, though with English speaking people we do find a lot of problems in their understanding of “I was before Abraham”. When we in Dutch say “she was born before Abraham” we do not mean the same as Jesus did, because today it means that she is an old fashioned person. But you can understand it would give problems if people from another language would go and take it literally, thinking that this woman existed before Abraham.

Also when we say “Hij of zij heeft Abraham gezien” or “he or she has seen Abraham” we do not mean that that person has actually met Abraham, seen or spoken to him, but we only indicate that that person has past half a century. The person is more than 50 years old but not thousands of years old.

9. Carried away into Abraham’s bosom

File:Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis 001.jpg
The Story of Lazarus and Dives. Lazarus and the rich man are shown during life in the top register, in the middle is Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham, and at the bottom Dives is suffering in Hades. + The word in the Greek text for "bosom" is kolpos, meaning "lap" "bay" relating to the Second Temple period practice of reclining and eating meals in proximity to other guests, the closest of whom physically was said to lie on the bosom (chest) of the host. (See John 13:23 ) - Illuminated manuscript, Codex Aureus of Echternach, c. 1035-1040. (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg.)

In Dutch it is clear as in Yiddish and Hebrew that the person of the Aramaic or Greek writing in Luke 16:22-23 that the beggar El‘azar or Lazarus was not literally carried by angel-persons or ghosts: “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into (אברהם) Abraham’s bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:22-23 ASV) In the East it was common to lie down at the meal, at the table on “rustbanken” or couches or settees. Often the head of one person rested against the bosom or breast of the other. After a nice meal it was not uncommon as it is still done in several ‘hot’ countries to take a little nap after dinner. The beggar did not get “Lazarus” (from “Lazarus worden” = “becoming drunk”, had drank too much alcohol) but was carried away in his death to come into Abraham his arms, meaning in the safety of our forefather.
The rich man and Lazarus” passage is cited as a literal description of actual events (and not as a parable) Stress is often placed upon words “there was a certain rich man” to emphasize the historical character of the language used. But in Luke 16:1 the parable of the unjust steward commences with the same language. Must this parable be read literally? (Similar language is used in other parables—sees Luke 12:16) Jesus did not definitely call it a parable.

Religious bodies like the Church of Christ hold the view that disbelievers go to hell (left hand side of the divided state of Hades or Sheol ()) whereas idol worshippers go straight to the lake of fire. It should be pointed out that this view puts Abraham in the lake of fire and not in Hades since it is recorded that Abraham “was gathered unto his people” (Genesis 25:8) and his people were idol worshippers. (Joshua 24:2) Lazarus is the only character personally named in the parables of Jesus, implying that Lazarus must have been known to the audience. This parable of Jesus might have been uttered after he received news of the death of his friend, Lazarus. The parable was given at Pereae, east of the Jordan at Bethabara (where news of Lazarus’ death came to him, John 11:6 cf. John 10:40; 1:28). It was an easy day’s journey from Bethabara to Bethany. Lazarus was typical of all Jews of this day. They were deprived of even the most meagre crumbs of the bread of life from the rich man’s table. (i.e., High Priestly class, but Caiaphas in particular). However much Lazarus might patiently await the rich man’s (Caiaphas) condescension, the High Priest was incapable of dispensing even spiritual crumbs.” {The Lazarus class was like the Gentile dogs who hoped for crumbs from their Master’s table. (Matthew 15:27).}

The passage speaks about bodies not souls. e.g., eyes, bosom (vs.23) tip of finger and tongue (vs. 24). Souls are said to be immaterial (the material body being left in the grave), how then could Lazarus (if really a soul) be carried by angels? (vs.22). How could Lazarus go literally to Abraham’s bosom? Abraham (as now) was unquestionably dead and without his reward. (Hebrews 11:8, 13, 39, 40).

Lazarus dies and in the parable, the premature death of Caiaphas is made to follow. In Hades they meet but in situations reversed. Caiaphas requests Abraham (with whom he claimed privilege by virtue of ancestry, (Matthew 3:9)) to warn his five brothers. The five brothers are the five brothers-in-law of Caiaphas, the Sadduceean High Priest. Caiaphas was son-in-law of Annas who had been deposed by the Romans for openly resisting them. The request is refused on the grounds that they had not heard Moses and the Prophets (e.g. in their attitude to adultery and resurrection, Luke 16:18; 20:27–38) nor would they respond if one rose from the dead. The resurrection of Lazarus further incensed the Pharisees, chief priests and Caiaphas who feared their loss of power. (John. 11:47–57).

The parable condemns Caiaphas the chief Shepherd of Israel for his selfish irresponsibility in neglecting the spiritual and material needs of Jews in Israel. Lazarus represents this neglected class. The parable is a further indictment of the Sadducees (who denied the resurrection of the body and were about to reject the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus) in their disbelief of Moses and the prophets. The parable is presented in terms of the popular belief of the Pharisees about the death state.

Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis (detail)
Codex Aureus Epternacensis (Goldenes Evangeliar), Prunkhandschrift, Szene: Gleichnis vom reichen Prasser und vom armen Lazarus, Folio 78 recto, detail
{Sheol = synonym of “bor” (pit), “abaddon” and “shaḥat” (pit or destruction), and perhaps also of “tehom” (abyss) = and denotes a place of abandon, a place to leave someone behind or grave.}

10. Point of view

Gustave Dore Lazarus and the Rich Man
Print by Gustave Doré illustrating the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, from the Gospel of Luke (1891)
Every time we do read something in the Holy Scriptureswe do have to look from which point of view it was been written and to whom it was said with the understanding that those who listened should get the meaning from their point of view.

The same it is for having a Satan around, meaning a ‘devil‘, not indicating a monstrous figure from a place called hell, but a bad person or an opponent, adversary, enemy and sometimes also an avenger. Lots of Christians would say about one or another person that he or she is a Satan, but do still want to believe that there is a real Satan lurking around the corner, who could capture that person away and bring them to places to burn for eternally, while they sometimes really say to someone else ‘go to hell” and ” burn forever”. (Would you really think they mean that really that person has to be smoked and can be put in a non ending fire?)

Therefore it is important that we try to find out where “Abraham got the mustard” (from) “waar Abraham de mosterd heeft vandaan gehaald” which has no similar equivalent in English where they would say: “to know how many beans go to the dozen” or “…. make five”.



Previous: Another way looking at a language #2 Meanings


  • “Needer-lands” The life of a Canadian au pair in Aerdenhout Netherlands > “The closest English word you have is “cosy” but that only covers part of it.
    Instilled with a superiority complex, I was of the mindset that anything said in another language could be translated, with its full value intact, to English; being one of the “largest and more complex” languages of the world, how could it not accurately convey the meaning of the rather “primitive counterparts”? However, upon coming to the Netherlands, my outlook as changed substantially. Not only is the word’s largest dictionary the “Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal” (Dictionary of the Dutch Language), there are words in the Dutch language that [as far as I know] English lacks – descriptions of a complex situational/emotional/societal state by a sole descriptor. You could argue that these words can be effectively translated, however in my attempts I’ve found that nearly all the depth is lost in translation – the English words sound banal in comparison.

    Gezellig:Google Translate tells you this means cosy – it can. I’m going to quote Wikipedia for this one, they’ve worded it so well!“A perfect example of untranslatability is seen in the Dutch language through the word gezellig, which does not have an English equivalent. Literally, it means cozy, quaint, or nice, but can also connote time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness.”

13 thoughts on “Another way looking at a language #3 Abraham

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