The Richness of Hebrew
by Lois Tverberg

"Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold." Proverbs 3:13-14

Americans often forget that the Bible comes to us from languages and cultures different from ours, and that what it says in English is an inexact representation of its meaning in its original language. If we want to hear the Bible for what it really is saying, we need to get a sense for its idioms and thought patterns.

We can gain rich insights into scripture by focusing on the Hebrew words of the Bible and examining their multi-faceted expressions. Sometimes this can help us avoid misunderstandings when we see that even though a word has been translated into English, there may be a different picture behind it than what we have.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and even though the New Testament was written in Greek, it was written almost entirely by Jews growing up in a Hebrew-speaking, Semitic-thinking culture. Having a sense for the Hebrew language is therefore very important for understanding the Bible, and gives us clues on the thinking patterns of its writers. Besides making the Bible clearer, hearing its words as they were originally meant is a tremendously enriching experience, giving us wonderful new insights into God's word.

This month we will be looking at various Hebrew words and seeing their true breadth of meaning. Hebrew has a small vocabulary, and each word usually has a greater depth of meaning than its equivalent in English to describe many related things. For example, the Hebrew word for house, beit, can mean house, temple, family or lineage. Because of these multiple meanings, the biblical writers often incorporate layers of ideas and wordplays that we don't catch in English.

Also, the Hebrew language uses physical pictures to express abstract ideas, which lends itself to poetic expression. I have found it amazingly useful in my study to get a sense for these, opening up my thoughts to many new insights on God's word.

   ©2003 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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