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In chapter 3 the plot of the story
of sin thickens, or since we are talking
about sin, one could say the plot sickens.  At the outset of the chapter,  Gary Anderson demonstrates how the Hebrew phrase
nasa awon is rendered into Aramaic,

namely either as qabbel hoba ‘to
assume a debt’  or in other contexts  sbaq
‘to remit a debt’. The latter refers to a person who graciously
refuses to collect on a debt, while the former refers to the person who has and
must pay a debt.  So for example using
the familiar examples from Lev. 5.1 we have ‘if a person becomes obligated by
sin…he assumes a debt’ or  from Exod.
10.17 ‘remit the debt of my sins just this once….’   If you compare that with the translation of
the Hebrew in the previous post on Chapter Two, you will see the
difference.  Anderson goes on to show that in the later
rabbinic languages there is “a complete interchangeability between commercial
and theological terminology.’ (p. 29).  
This brings Anderson
to his discussion of Jesus, who should rightly be discussed before the later rabbinic
material, but is not.  Here Anderson says Jesus “spoke
a form of Hebrew close to that of the rabbinic dialect” (p. 31).  It is not at all clear to me what he means by
this,  since in fact, in the fragments we
have, Jesus speaks Aramaic, and not rabbinic
Hebrew.   Surprisingly enough, when it comes to Jesus
Anderson discusses exactly two texts—
Mt. 6.12, which he takes
to be a literal rendering of Jesus’ Aramaic, and the parable he has already
discussed found in Mt. 18.23-35.  His
conclusion about Jesus, and indeed about the NT is that the notion of sin as a
weight has disappeared, while the notion of sin as a debt is found widely,
including in the Gospels on the lips of Jesus. 

While I would certainly not want to
deny that one of the metaphorical ways that Jesus images sin is in terms of
debt (see the parable mentioned above), it is certainly not the only way.  The language of ‘redeeming’ of course can be
related to financial debt, even today (you can redeem the coupon….etc.), but
the language of ransom (Mk. 10.45)  or
the language of ‘taking away the sins of the world (John 1) does not come from
this commercial metaphor.  Indeed, the
latter example certainly does seem to come from the scapegoat/burden complex of
ideas about sin in the OT.   And then
there is a further problem.  Anderson argues (p. 32)
that “in contemporary Greek the word ‘remit’ 
(aphiemi)  and the word debt (opheilema) did not have a secondary meaning of ‘forgive’  and ‘sin’. 
Now it must be said this conclusion is very questionable, even if we are
only dealing with Matthew.  Matthew in
fact is probably not urging the Christian audience he is addressing to pray for
debt relief or for that matter to relieve someone else’s literal debts, though
that is a good deed, indeed. No, more commercial language is used to talk about
sin and forgiveness.  What the words
denote and what the words connote are not one and the same.  The subject of Mt. 6 and Mt. 18 is sin and
forgiveness even if commercial language is used to describe it.  And this brings me to another point. Nouns
and verbs mean what they mean in contexts. 
It is not true that ‘in the beginning was the dictionary’.  What we have in the famous petition in Mt. 6
and Lk. 11 is that one writer decided to go with a more literate translation of
what the words denote, the other with what the actual connotation was, to avoid
confusion.  Besides all this, both of the
aforementioned Greek words have a semantic field— opheilema can indeed also refer to a wrong, not merely a debt, and
while we are at it, aphiemi can even
mean to divorce!   Anderson has over-simplified things here, and
in so doing distorted the evidence.  And
it might be worth thinking further about just exactly what Jesus meant when he
said ‘Come unto me all you who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give
you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’.  Possibly Jesus is contrasting his yoke with
the yoke of the Mosaic Law,  but
considering the fact that most early Jews hardly saw the Mosaic Law as some
onerous burden, why should we not think Jesus was referring to the burden of
sin, which Jesus would alleviate the sinner from?  It’s worth pondering.  


But in any case Jesus certainly
does talk about forgiveness of sins, not just forgiveness of debts, and it is
important to get that point across. 
Jesus has enormous concern about the poor, and indeed even debt relief
if Lk. 4 is read as suggesting that Jesus proclaimed the year of Jubilee had
arrived. But the sin problem, whether imaged as debt or something else is a
bigger problem, to say the least.  In an
interesting further discussion,  Anderson shows how at Qumran
(e.g. 11QMelchizedek) one of the things that happened when remitting a debt
began to be seen as an metaphor for forgiveness of sins, is that Jews began to
go back and look at OT texts (e.g. Deut. 15) that were about remitting literal
debts, and wondered if in fact they were also about sins as well.  Whatever, may be the case with that,  Anderson
is saying too much when he tries to claim that the metaphor of weight was
simply replaced by a metaphor of debt. For one thing the metaphor of weight
does not disappear, though it is true that the commercial metaphor rises to the

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