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Tetelestai

"Tetelestai" doesn’t translate simply, we have to make a phrase out of it - "It is finished." But still some of its power is lost in the translation. In the Greek it implies that something has come to an end, it has been completed, perfected, accomplished in the full and that something has consequences that will endure on and on.

"Tetelestai." The most powerful single word of all of Jesus ministry. It was also his last word. It was the word that turned this apparent tragedy into a scene of Victory that shook the earth, split rocks, changed history, raised saints from the dead and tore away the temple curtain that kept people out of the Holy of Holies.

"Tetelestai" the most powerful word in history. Even more powerful than the words of creation in Genesis chapter 1 where God spoke and the universe came into existence. This word could not simply be spoken. The son of God had to die to speak it.

Rev Bill Versteeg

Question: What does the Greek word ‘tetelestai’ mean?  

Answer: Literally translated the word tetelestai means, “It is finished.”

The word occurs in John 19:28 and 19:30 and these are the only two places in the New Testament where it occurs. In 19:28 it is translated, “After this, when Jesus knew that all things were now completed, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, he said, ‘I thirst.’” Two verses later, he utters the word himself: “Then when he received the sour wine Jesus said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

The word tetelestai was also written on business documents or receipts in New Testament times to show indicating that a bill had been paid in full. The Greek-English lexicon by Moulton and Milligan says this: “Receipts are often introduced by the phrase [sic] tetelestai, usually written in an abbreviated manner…” (p. 630).

The connection between receipts and what Christ accomplished would have been quite clear to John’s Greek-speaking readership; it would be unmistakable that Jesus Christ had died to pay for their sins.

bible.org

Seven times our Lord spoke from the Cross, three before the darkness and four after. There was no voice heard during the darkness. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, had silenced hell. The fourth word is a cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” The fifth word shows us His humanity, “I thirst.” The encounter with evil had taken its toll on His human frame. The sixth word is one of triumph, “It is finished!”

In the Greek, it is the word tetelestai. It’s an artist’s word. It is the word an artist uses when she stands before one of her creations and says, “Tetelestai, it is finished; I cannot add anything more to it. It is complete.” It is a builder’s word. It is the word he uses when he hands over the keys to a new building and says, “Tetelestai, it is finished; I have done everything according to the plan. It is complete.”

Preachers Magazine – Lent/Easter 2006

Just three of the many hundreds of references to tetelestai on the internet. Does any contributor to OST have any thoughts on the significance of the word? Are there any clues from within scripture which develop its meaning? Echoes from other usages? (eg God ‘finished’ creation on the sixth day etc).  Have we been getting it wrong all these years?

I’m interested to know!

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Comments

Re: Tetelestai

Tetelestai.” The most powerful single word of all of Jesus ministry. It was also his last word.

I think we risk blowing things way out of proportion if we:

a) Assume this word “tetelestai” is exactly what Jesus said, because it is a Greek word, and he most likely wasn’t speaking Greek (at least not this type of Greek) at the time.

b) Ignore the fact that the other three gospels disagree with this account in John. (If you find “disagree” too strong, they at least fail to support John’s account.)

Luke 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Mark 15:37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.

Mathew 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

c) Conclude this is absolutely, positively the last thing the actual, historic Jesus ever said before his death simply because one gospel says it is.

d) Assign too much value to various words, phrases, sayings, messages or actions because of where they occur either textually or chronologically in Scripture.

e) Forget that three days later he did something far more important - rose from the dead, and in then said more things.

~jhimm

nothing lasts.
nothing is finished.
nothing is perfect.

Re: Tetelestai

I’m probably losing my already-limited ability to distinguish important matters from tangents, but… It’s generally agreed that Jesus spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew. These languages don’t really have past and future tenses; rather, they use the perfect to indicate completed actions and the imperfect for ongoing actions. So, for example, if something had already happened in the past or was sure to happen in the future, the perfect was the verb tense of choice. If on the cross Jesus said the Aramaic equivalent of "it is finished," he probably said it in the perfect tense. So in translating Jesus’s word into Greek, John would likely have used the perfect tense, which in Greek is distinctly past. Note again that perfect/imperfect are grammatical terms, not commentaries on the excellence of the events being described by these terms.

Re: Tetelestai

Thank you for putting a more scholarly shine on my own vague ramblings based on memories of an education too far distant.

~jhimm

nothing lasts.
nothing is finished.
nothing is perfect.

Re: Tetelestai

I agree. Why would Jesus speak Greek? Anyway, it is a great story to tell our kids but I don’t believe this was actually his last word. Thanks for the exact translation, I’ve been looking for it all over the internet.
___________
Samuel Stanislas, part of the Traduceri team.

Re: Tetelestai

You asked on the cramped thread about my impressions on the potential root of why this word/phrase has had so much impact on people throughout history.

I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer on that front. It had never occurred to me until a day or three ago that there was much particularly significant about this particular accounting in John’s gospel. I might suggest that my sense that by adding chapter and verse indicators into Scripture we have done ourselves and others a deep harm informs that point of view.

We have turned the Bible into a series of quips. A quiver of arrows to be specifically fired at specific arguments and discussions. I think it often causes us to miss the point, and I think it often causes us to be too flip and too dismissive of those whom we see as having some kind of unBiblical or extraBiblical point of view. Someone expresses an idea and *wham* we smack it down with a specific verse. This is very effective in one sense, but I can’t help but be concerned if it doesn’t deeply distort our overall theology by putting us in a place to look for a verse or enough verses to support a point of view we apparently already have (for whatever potentially very valid reason). If my point of view is built on an overall reading of Scripture instead particular verses, it is very difficult to defend my ideas against that *wham* approach, simply because of time, effort and longevity concerns.

So, within this context of looking at the Bible in very small bits and pieces, we find this quotation of Jesus’ final words on the cross. Never mind that the other three gospels say something completely different, we have this vague sense that it all pieces together somehow and we focus on this one verse and try to extract some profound meaning from it and it alone.

On the one hand, this approach generates positive results, and so it must be capable of accessing at least some aspect of the truth, but on the other hand, I think it risks an opportunity to access more aspects of the truth by being left in a bigger context.

Maybe that’s not an answer.

~jhimm

nothing lasts.
nothing is finished.
nothing is perfect.

Commentary on John 19:30: 'It is finished'

I have added a commentary on John 19:28-30 in order to develop and clarify my own understanding of the troublesome word tetelestai. I see a number of reasons now to think that Jesus was referring to the fulfilment of one or more Old Testament narratives of suffering and vindication. 

Re: Tetelestai

Wow - echoes of the greatest artist of all time, creator God, standing back to rest when he had completed (Heb kalah) his creation …. and that sabbath then becomes a place to gaze on Jesus / Yeshua and the fullness of his renewed completion.

Re: Tetelestai

Tetelestai is in the perfect passive indicative form of the verb. It means that something is completed with enduring effect or state.

If Jesus said this in Aramaic, we can discern the Hebrew means of stating it, which is close to the Aramaic, if not exact. The same translatable meaning is possible. It would have to be in the Pu’al stem, perfective form, which is the passive form of the factitive stem, which stem means “to have been put into a continuous state of.”

In fact, the Semitic translation may be more powerful than the Greek. If we properly translate the Pu’al stem, not just the word, Jesus would have said, “It is [has been] put into a continuous state of being accomplished.” The Hebrew is KuLLeTaH. Or if, as one has mentioned, Jesus stated it more as an exclamation, as I believe He did, it would be preceded by HiNNeH. This is commonly translated as “Behold.” It is an emphatic particle that emphasizes the immediacy both of time and of location, and should be translated more literally: Here and Now!

So Jesus may have said: “Here and now it is [has been] put into a continuous state of being accomplished!”

Regarding what “it” is, it is either one foundational aspect of the atonement from which all other aspects come forth, or, as Thayer says, it is everything regarding what the Father placed upon the Son to complete. This is why I put the subject of the verb as feminine, which in Hebrew is used to refer to more abstract meaning, broader/detailed application, or a previous grammatical statement or idea (among other things) which is the antecedent of the of the pronoun.

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