Articles hebrew-alphabet

Published on September 27th, 2011 | by Gary DeMar


Is Spoken Hebrew a Fulfillment of Bible Prophecy?

While flipping through TV channels while on vacation, I came across a program hosted by prophecy enthusiast Grant R. Jeffrey. Jeffrey dogmatically claimed that our generation is the generation that will see Jesus’ return. In a previous article, I made the comment that modern-day prophecy writers like Jeffrey are more dangerous than Harold Camping because while Mr. Camping made a prediction that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011 and was proved wrong, Jeffrey and others still linger assuring us that Jesus’ return is right around the corner.

Some of the arguments these date-setters use have no biblical support. They are made up.

On this particular broadcast, Jeffrey was giving reasons that he believes point to the incontrovertible truth that Jesus’ coming is about to happen.

The one that caught my attention was his use of Zephaniah 3:9–10 and the claim that the revival of the Hebrew language under the work of Eliazar Ben-Yehuda (1858–1922) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy. There is no doubt that Ben-Yehuda’s work to revive Hebrew as an everyday spoken language was a major accomplishment.

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I first heard the argument that Ben-Yehuda’s work was a fulfillment of Zephaniah 3:9–10 when I was preparing for my debate with Jim Fletcher:

“You can walk through any city in Israel today and you will hear Israelis who come from a hundred different nationalities speaking one language. In Zephaniah 3:9 the Lord had predicted, ‘I will return unto you a pure language.’ A hundred years ago when Ezra Ben-Yehuda began to revive Hebrew, people thought he was crazy. But now you can walk through those cities in Israel where you hear them speak one language, and it’s Hebrew. You don’t hear people today speak Babylonian. You don’t hear them speak Assyrian. You hear them speak Hebrew. So that’s a dramatic example of fulfilled prophecy.”

The claim is made by Jeffrey and Fletcher that Zephaniah 3:9–10 refers to the return of Jews from around the world to Israel and that they speak a purified Hebrew language. Not only is this passage not referring to modern-day Israel, the Hebrew spoken today is not “pure Hebrew.” Keep in mind that Hebrew was not a lost language. It was used by scholars and in liturgical settings. Early English translators of the Bible knew Hebrew.

After doing more research on the subject, I found that Fletcher most likely took his claim verbatim from Jeffrey.

The casual reader of these types of arguments will find them convincing. They have been conditioned to believe that any scrap of evidence put forth by prophecy “experts” is key evidence that the return of Jews to their land in 1948 is a fulfillment of end-time prophecy. The problem is, there is not a single verse in the New Testament that says anything about Israel returning to the land. And there’s nothing in Zephaniah 3:9–10 that supports Jeffery’s argument, laid out in detail in his book The Signature of God and Triumphant Return.

The main problem with Jeffery’s argument is in the translation of the passage he sees as evidence of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy related to the return of the Jews to their land. It’s ironic that Jeffrey mentions the “pure language” of Hebrew but never bothers to look at the actual Hebrew text or the context of the prophecy. The King James Version translates Zephaniah 3:9 this way: “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.” The Living Bible, as it almost always does, interprets rather than translates: “At that time I will change the speech of my returning people to pure Hebrew so that all can worship the Lord together.” The words “pure Hebrew” are not found in the text.

In a note, the editors of The Living Bible state: “Literally, ‘. . . I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech. . . .’ See Isaiah 19:18.” O. Palmer Robertson comments: “[T]he translation of The Living Bible, which has been used to explain the revival of modern Hebrew in Palestine today as a fulfillment of Zephaniah’s prophecy concerning a ‘purified lip.’”(1) The Hebrew word often translated as “language” is actually the word “lip,” and in some contexts refers to “confession” rather than the language someone speaks.

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“Returning people” is an interpretation, not a translation. It is not a reference to the Jews returning to their land, either after the Babylonian captivity or in 1948. The context refers to the nations surrounding Israel, “from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. . .” (Zeph. 2:10). These aren’t dispersed Israelites. Even the dispensational-oriented Liberty Bible Commentary understands the Zephaniah 3:9 passage this way:

“The people in view are the remnant of the Gentiles who survived God’s judgment because of their conversion. Jehovah will give them a pure language . . . so they can call upon the true Jehovah.”(2)

John Hannah, a professor at the dispensational Dallas Theological Seminary, puts the passage in its proper historical context:

“Zephaniah predicted that the nations will be renewed both morally (v. 9) and spiritually (v. 10). The purifying of the lips of the peoples does not mean they will speak a new language (as the KJV seems to imply by its trans. ‘a pure language’). Instead it means the renewal of once-defiled speech. One’s lips represent what he says (the words spoken by his lips), which in turn reflect his inner life (cf. Isa. 6:5–7(3)). . . . As a result the nations, turning to reverential trust in God, will call on the name of the LORD and will evidence their dependence on Him by their united service (shoulder to shoulder).”(4)

One by one the passages that dispensationalists claim are a fulfillment of Bible prophecy are beginning to collapse under the weight of exegetical scrutiny.Endnotes:

  1. O. Palmer Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 328, note 2.()
  2. Paul R. Fink, “Zephaniah,” Liberty Bible Commentary: Old Testament, eds. Edward E. Hinson and Woodrow Michael Kroll (Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982), 1781.()
  3. “Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven’” (Isa. 6:5–7). This is hardly a description of Isaiah speaking pure Hebrew after his lips were touched.()
  4. John D. Hannah, “Zephaniah,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, 1533.()
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About the Author

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).

13 Responses to Is Spoken Hebrew a Fulfillment of Bible Prophecy?

  1. Gerrie says:

    As I read the Christian story in Acts 2 I find that in concludes with a description of a group who had favor with all the people. Nowadays one seldom (if at all) experiences such a position. Looking at the spirit (attitude) reflected in the comments I can understand why. There is a lot of Christianism and anti-Christianism, but no Christ!

  2. Berean says:

    “Returning people” is an interpretation, not a translation. It is not a reference to the Jews returning to their land, either after the Babylonian captivity or in 1948. The context refers to the nations surrounding Israel, “from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. . .” (Zeph. 2:10). These aren’t dispersed Israelites. Even the dispensational-oriented Liberty Bible Commentary understands the Zephaniah 3:9 passage this way:

    I believe, in the statement above, the reference (Zeph. 2:10) should be (Zeph. 3:10).

  3. LouiseCA says:

    Mr DeMar is a good, good man, and very smart, right in many areas. But he is totally and completely incorrect on the subject of end times, Israel, Hebrew culture and language, word studies, and the Return of Christ.

  4. LouiseCA says:

    You’re not an independent thinker. You’re brainwashed. You repeat silly arguments that every unbeliever before you has warbled off. I’m glad you said the “subject is closed” because that goes along with your mind. There is no point in trying to discuss anything of substance with someone such as yourself, since you obviously know better than all the brilliant scientists of record who were strong believers in Christ. I would bow to your superior intelligence..if only you were in possession of such. Instead, I’ll continue to bow before the ONE Who died on the Cross to redeem mankind..even the extremely foolish. And one more thing-stop yelling at us. We are all capable of reading in lower case.

    • Randy131 says:

      What a bunch of TRIPE, for Gary DeMar knows no more about the timing of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, than those whom he claims knows nothing. Jesus Himself said only His Father knows the true time and all should be prepared, for the time will come like a thief in the night, and Gary DeMar apparently wants us all to experience His return as a complete surprise. I know not when Jesus will return, and thats precisely why I will not condemn anyone who says he does, for he may be right, and unless one knows when the time of Jesus’ return is, should not condemn those who think they might and want people to prepare as Jesus had asked of them. It seems to me that Gary Demar only condemns these others in order to elevate himself in the eyes of those who listen to and accept his TRIPE.

  5. Satchks says:

    Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. Proverbs 15:32

  6. Jacob Peters says:

    Ultra Orthodox Jewish Groups like the Satmar and Neturai Karta reject Modern Hebrew as a rebellious, Zionist Construct and still use Yiddish as the Language of Exile. Needless to say they also reject the Modern State of Israel as another rebellious Zionist Construct, and they do not view its establishment as any fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy. On this point at least, they seem to know the Bible better than Grant Jeffrey and other Christian Zionists.

  7. Ray says:

    Mr. Pittman,

    You were born too late. You would have made an excellent SS Officer. Did you know there were some former Lutheran Pastors who became SS Officers. All goes to show that there were actually “Religious Nazis” such as yourself.

    Other than that all you prove to me (and others) is that you are a frothing at the mouth religious fanatic. Thank God people of you ilk will never cease the reins of power in this country, although one politician is trying real hard right now.

    Again, you missed your calling in the SS. Have an absolutely stinking day.

    • Ray says:

      I meant seize the reins of power.

    • Ray,

      Perhaps you haven’t read much on this thread (or perhaps not understood it). However, Unlike Luthereans and other Two Kingdom Theologians I believe it’s Christian’s Duty to speak out against Evil and Atrocities. Hitler was an elected official and the Church in Germany were nearly silent against him since they seperated the Kingdom of God from the world. And we see the results of that. Having a poor understanding of Romans 13 has crippled the Church around the world.

      I don’t seek the reigns of Power good sir nor does the guy you are speaking of. We seek the Reigns of Law…I mean this is a Republic. The Law should govern both spheres of society both Gov’t and Public. If anything we seek to decentralize power and rid the country of Corporatism and Marxist….hmmmm…. sorta like Anti Nazi stuff…. Who would of known.

      We appeal to God that he will grant us Mercy so that we may finally get a President who is an Economist and knows the limits of Gov’t. And will effect constitutional law and order.

      We shall see.

      Hail King Jesus,

  8. Gary,

    Great article good sir. I have a question for you. Can any Jewish person read the Old Economic scriptures and teach that a future Messiah is coming to Israel period?

    I have been pondering this question because if their Messiah hasn’t come yet (since they reject Christ) do they have any scriptures that foretells past the 1st Century that a future Messiah was still possible. Past Daniels 70 Weeks and all the minor prophets.

    Last Messiah I remember reading was Macabees and we all see what happened to them. So what authority are they appealing to for a Future Messiah. Answer if you have time. Good article again.

  9. Ray says:

    Thanks for this article Mr. DeMar,

    At the risk of being told by someone on this website that my statements/opinions are straying from the subject, let me just mention something that I’m sure you already know.

    YIDDISH was spoken by most European Jews before the Holocaust. I understand that there were strong Yeshiva movements particularly in Lithuania promoting this language. As I recall, Hebrew was regarded only as a sacred language for prayer and scripture study.

    You probably know that Yiddish and/or Hebrew use is still a “bone of contention” among Israeli Jews today. Not to mention the fact that many ultra-Orthodox Jews there and elsewhere do not believe that the State of Israel should exist, and that it can only be reestablished by the Messiah when he comes, which could be around the year 6000 on the Jewish Religious Calendar.

    Again, thanks for the article which is a reminder that the “End of the World Is Coming Soon” mob will use anything to promote their agenda. Regrettably we have at least one GOP Presidential contender who falls into this belief category.

    • Gary DeMar says:

      There were many Jewish rabbis who opposed the efforts of Ben-Yehuda to popularize the language. Like you mention, and I point out in the article, they believed the language should be restricted to liturgical use. In a way, their attitude was similar to the Roman Catholic Church and its insistence that the Mass and the Bible be in Latin. Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” deals with the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. Reb Saunders opposes a secular Jewish state.

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