Bible Study,  Christianity,  Hebrew

Biblical Hebrew opens a New World

For me, Biblical Hebrew opened a whole new world of meaning and depth to Bible study.

A number of years ago, I started on a journey to learn Biblical Hebrew (BH). When I decided to learn BH, it was influenced by a desire to understand the original intent and meaning of the Old Testament.

As I learnt BH and started to read the Hebrew Tanakh (what Christian’s would call the Old Testament, but written in Hebrew) I realised that there was far more to the language than what I first thought. And I came to understand that there is a depth and richness of meaning in the Tanakh that is often not apparent in the English translations of the original Biblical language.

I seems to me that there are a number of reasons why this richness and depth is not so apparent in the English translations:

  • Translating from Hebrew to English is not a one-to-one meaning relationship. Often a Hebrew word can be translated various different ways into English, and an English word sometimes have multiple Hebrew equivalents. This probably ought not to be a surprise, but in my naivety it initially surprised me.
  • In BH words portraying similar concepts are often (although not always) based on the same consonant structure. English has something similar. For example, the words one and only are very closely related. But the way that BH employs this concept includes verbs, nouns and adjectives, with the verb often being the root word and the only changes are in the vowels and consonants that act like vowels.
  • In BH each consonant has it’s own meaning, and it is possible with a bit of practice, to work out the meaning of a BH word from the consonants themselves. Having read and spoken English virtually all my life, I cannot see a similar relationship of the meanings of letters creating the meaning for a word. Although English does have words that are combined to make new words, which is a similar idea: “husband” is from two Norse words, hús (house) + bóndi (occupier and tiller of soil) [see ]

You may think I am being negative towards English or other Bible translations. But as I studied and started reading in BH, I came to understand that the English translators did an amazing job of translating Hebrew into English, even if some of the meaning and richness got lost in the process. Many English speaking Christians will gravitate to one Bible translation, which then becomes their ‘favourite’ or the ‘only true’ translation but as I continued on my journey to learn BH I concluded that the richness and depth of Hebrew almost requires the English reader of the Bible to use multiple translations to get a fuller picture of the meaning of the original text.

Examples of the richness and depth of meaning of BH can be found in many Hebrew words. One example is the similarity of the Hebrew words for man and woman:

  • “iysh”, means “man, husband”.
  • “ishah”, means “woman, wife”.

In Hebrew the consonant structure of these 2 words, which gives the words their meaning, is based on the same root, “‘esh”. Jeff Benner, in his book, “The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet”, translates the root “‘esh” as “strong pressing — Fire” and links the idea of “strong pressing” to “the pressing together of soil by God to form man (Genesis 2.7).” The wordplay between the Hebrew words “iysh” and “ishah” has led some, whether rightly or not, to conclude that Hebrew was the language God used to speak at creation [“The History of the Hebrew Language”, by Angel Saenz-Badillos, p.2].

One Comment

  • Mum

    Only 2 weeks ago after one of the Zoom lesson study, I said to your father how you and Cal take after him with your in-depth knowledge of the Scriptures and religious issues.
    May God bless you James as you continue to study His Word.

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