Rev. Roy is a Pastor, holder of a MRE and Biblical Scholar. He translated The Gospel of John, An Actual Translation and numerous articles.
The Sons of Thunder, Saints or Sinners, Roy Blizzard III © 2022
I don’t know about you but the nickname of Jesus’ disciples James and John, Boanerges or the Sons of Thunder, found in Mark 3:17 has always bugged me. I’ve read I don’t know how many commentaries and they always describe the two disciples as a couple of strong willed and argumentative men. This just didn’t appear to me to be traits that would endear either one to Jesus or anyone else of the time but hey, who am I to second guess Jesus, right? Well I’m not second guessing Jesus but I have no problem second guessing Bible translators as they have been frequently known to be wrong. My issue is that the word Boanerges is one of those “one-off” words that only show up once in the Biblical text much like the word Maranatha in I Corinthians 16:22 (*1). Neither of these words are found in any other Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew text so how do we know that the translation given in Mark 3:17 is correct? What if they were all wrong?
The sons of Zebedee are mentioned in the three Synoptic Gospels. The call of the two brothers is related in Mk 1:16–20 (= Mt 4:18–22, Lk 5:1ff.) After Andrew and Simon are called to follow Jesus as students (disciples), Jesus goes on further, sees the two brothers James and John in their boat mending their nets and calls them to follow after him as well. Their response to His call is prompt; they leave their father and the hired servants in the boat and go away after Him. They are mentioned at Capernaum, and at Samaria.
When we read the commentaries on the passage where they are called the Sons of Thunder, they always refer us to the event where James and John are asking Jesus who shall sit on Jesus’ right hand. The issue is that they aren’t arguing with each other or the other disciples but the other disciples were upset with them for asking. Lk 9:54 shows the desire of James and John to call down fire from heaven on the “inhospitable” Samaritans, a story which may or may not be connected with the interpretation of the name Boanerges by commentators but it more readily demonstrates the general Jewish viewpoint which was disdain of the Samaritans in general. So this whole argument falls apart because there is simply no evidence that either of them were argumentative or angry enough to warrant the epitaph of “Sons of Thunder” meaning two disruptive brothers. In fact, if John is the real author of the books in the New Testament he, at least, is filled with love and compassion and empathy not rage and violence.
According to the Strong’s Concordance (*7), which is the most commonly utilized concordance, especially among the less scholarly, the word Boanerges, #993, is not a Greek word but supposedly comes from two Chaldean words “ben, #1123” and “ragaz, #7266”. They give the meaning as Sons of Commotion because the word “ben” commonly means “son of” and “ragaz” usually means “violent anger” or “rage”. The combination of Ben and Ragaz doesn’t appear to be as fluidly moved into Greek from the Hebrew/Chaldean as Maranatha (*1) was, because you would expect something like Benerges instead of Boanerges. So what’s up with this oddity?
According to A. E. Brooke (*2) he states,
“No thoroughly satisfactory explanation of either part of this word has been found. βοανε is hardly a possible transliteration of בְּנֵי; it can only be accounted for on the supposition that it is due to conflation, either the ο or the α being a correction of the other. The second half of the word has been connected with Aram. רְגַשׁ (= Heb. רָגַשׁ, tumultuatus eat; cf. Ps 2:1, Ac 4:25, and for רְגָשָׁא, Jl 3:14, strepitus, see Payne Smith, Thes. Syr. 1879–1901). But the root never has the meaning of “thunder.” רְגַו has also been suggested; cf. Job 37:2 בָּרֹנֶז קֹלוֹ, of thunder, and 39:24 בְּרַעַשׁ וְרֹגָז. But the meaning of the word is ‘raging,’ not ‘thunder.’ Burkitt has suggested that the Syriac translator connected the word with Aram. רְנוֹשֶׂא (1 K 18:11 = הָמוֹן ‘crowd’) of which he took רְגֹשֵׁי for the status absolutus. Jerome conjectured that the name was originally רְעֵם בְּנֵי (on Dn 1:8, ‘emendatius legitur bene-reem’), in which case the explanatory gloss, ὅ ἐστιν υἱοὶ βροντῆς, is older than the corrupt transliteration; but it would be difficult to account for the corruption of a correct transliteration of רְעֵם בְּנֵי into βοανεργές. Wellhausen suggests that possibly the name Ragasbal may point to Reges = ‘thunder,’ a meaning of which he says no other trace is found (Ev. Marci2, 1909, p. 23).”
As you can clearly see, this word has most of these scholars stumped because it doesn’t fit their preconceived ideas that the New Testament text is all Greek and Greek Theology. If Boanerges is a Chaldean/Hebrew derivative then could the translation of Sons of Thunder also be from a Jewish theological usage with a Chaldean or Hebrew basis and because of it “Sons of Thunder” might also be in error?
In the translation of the New Testament by Franz Delitzsch (*4) from the textus receptus Greek to Hebrew, we don’t find that he used the word “ragaz” but used the word “regosh”. This is a quite different word. So what is happening here and where did Franz Delitzsch get his word for his translation?
The phrase in Hebrew that is translated as Boanerges meaning the Sons of Thunder is rendered into Hebrew in Franz’ translation as Beney Regosh Hoo Beney Raahm בני רגוש הוא בני רעם . The translators have always dealt with this phrase as if it is a Greek phrase due to the textus receptus being written in Greek. However, given that Jesus and the disciples are all Jews and obviously spoke Mishnaic Hebrew and are dealing with Jewish theology it is more than likely that we are dealing with another of these failed attempts by the translators to deal with a complex Hebrew language issue while not understanding the Jewish theology of Jesus.
The first big issue with correctly understanding this passage is that the translators have always translated the Hebrew word Beney בני as “sons” or “offspring” of instead of considering that it has another usage meaning “builders of”. While both usages are related to each other and while this word could be used as sons, if we look at its use as “build” instead of “son”, the rabbis of Jesus’ day used this word in interesting ways that make a lot of sense. In Sabbat 1c the Rabbis used it to mean “scholars who were engaged in building up the world all their lives”. So it becomes a metaphor in Jesus’ day to educate or train. This is also similar to what we see in the idiomatic usage of “son” as “one who succeeds to the father’s calling”.
Jesus, being a Rabbi, uses the term “Ben” in the negative phrase meaning both “son” and “teacher” when addressing the hypocritical Pharisees in Matthew 23:15 when he calls them a “son of hell” because of their teachings that in order to be righteous you had to not only perform the Temple rites but also do all the rules and teachings of the fathers instead of repenting as the prophets called for.
In fact the term “Son” itself is a Hebrew idiom meaning in first century Judaism, “If you have seen the son you have seen the father because the son is so much like the father in all that he does and says”. In this sense we see Jesus referring to himself as both teacher and a representative of God as an offspring which builds up the world.
In Jastrow’s Lexicon of Mishnaic Hebrew (*5) the word Regosh is generally translated as to stir up or rage, but it also has the meaning of “to be affected, to feel or perceive”. If you correctly understand the message of Jesus that he and his disciples are here to heal the broken hearted then the meaning of Regosh meaning “to be affected” would quite possibly be the proper meaning.
In Midrash Tillim to Psalms 118:10 we read,” He will stir up (regosh) all the nations and bring them to Jerusalem.” This doesn’t mean stir up to anger but to stir up in a sense of having their spirits stirred to find God. In the Targum of Job they use the word Ragiz to mean Ragosh. This would mean that the two words are being used interchangeably by the Rabbis to mean stir up in the sense of to be affected not to stir up in anger or rage. This is showing us that James and John weren’t being stirred to anger but stirred up to feel for someone so as to build them up for God and bring about Jesus’ Kingdom.
Returning to the word Boanerges, if we go to the Liddell and Scott Unabridged Greek Lexicon (*6), we also discover that this part of the word “Boa” is a Doric Greek usage that should mean “to help” not “voice” or “sons”. So now we are back to the Jewish concept of Jesus by helping to build up those people who are hurting as Jesus’ mission was to heal the broken hearted.
As for the word Thunder in Hebrew Rahahm רעם, in Genesis Rabbah S 12 in reference to Job 26:14 it was said that no human could stand the Thunder coming forth as it is prepared (in its full strength) or the display of God’s might. Thunder was a Jewish euphemism for the “voice of God”. Thunder was also an idiom for the righteous King Josiah of Israel who cleansed the land from paganism but who died near Meggido at Hadad-rimmon meaning “the god of thunder”. Rimmon is also the Hebrew word for pomegranate which has a Star of David on the flower end and is symbolic for many offspring.
It is interesting to note that all the words used in this passage in Mark 3:17 have multiple meanings and the translators of the text into Greek apparently were just not familiar with the intricate nature of the Judaism of Jesus’ day nor Jesus’ message and therefore used the words in their non-Jewish meanings instead of the first century Jewish context of Jesus.
My conclusion is that Jesus was actually saying that he nicknamed James and John “The helpers of the affected”, with the additional meaning of “The cleansers and voice of God who were from the kingdom of David and were to be fruitful in offspring”. There is nothing about being argumentative here.
If my conclusion is correct, and that the Sons of Thunder has zero Linguistic or contextual support then why are we still reading “The Sons of Thunder” in our so called translations? This is a complex issue that I don’t want to deal with in this article but the simple answer can be said to fall into errors in understanding the Message of Jesus, The Language of Jesus, and The Culture of Jesus. We also have to deal with the propensity for so called “translators” to not be qualified educationally and they only parrot the same meanings that everyone before them did, many time for the reason that the denominations they belong to demand it be translated this way, even though it’s wrong. Just as the man I quote in my article, he saw that the words don’t mean Sons of Thunder so why didn’t he look for the answer as I did? Because translators want to ignore the Hebrew background of the New Testament due to a bias against anything Jewish. It has recurred for generations. This is why we still have no English translation that I’m aware of that has properly rendered the very first word of Genesis from the Hebrew. This failure has resulted in many errors in understanding Jesus and his teachings. I hope this article helps to bring some clarity on the real James and John.
*1) Blizzard, Roy, M.R.E., Maranatha? Challenging a Textual Error, 2019.
*2) Brooke, A.E., James and John, The Sons of Zebedee. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Bible and Theology. Online
3) Brown, F., Briggs, C., Driver, S.R., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. 1996.
*4) Delitzsch, F., The Hebrew New Testament, The British Bible Society.1983.
*5) Jastrow, M., Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, 1982
*6) Liddell, H.G. and Scott, R., A Greek English Lexicon, 1983.
*7) Strong, J., Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.
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