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Some cool things about Hebrew

I think bible teachers should spend some time learning biblical languages (see this post or this post). It might only take 40 hours, but still some time would be a good investment. But perhaps you need to be sold a little more so let me just list a few things that I very quickly found to be cool about learning Hebrew.

  • Each word has a root of three letters.  The three form the one!
  • God (Elohim) is a plural noun that, wierdly enough, always takes a singular verb.  The Plurality always works as a Unity.
  • Even the letters are cool.  They all come from symbols with rich meanings.  Dev's your man if you want to know more.  But just think of the letter taw (pronounced tav).  Its symbol is the cross.  Now read Ezekiel 9 and realize that the 'mark' put on the foreheads of the faithful is simply the letter taw.  Cool, huh?
  • Adam means the particular bloke Adam, a man and humanity.  And the fall is the story of the particular bloke Adam disobeying the LORD.  But then of course this is Man's fall.  And Christ, the last Adam (the Greek never says 'second' Adam but 'eschatos Adam' - the last, eschatological Adam) not only works salvation for Himself but for Man.
  • Eretz means Land (usually promised land) but also earth.  Inheriting Canaan is always a symbol of the whole world.
  • My favourite word is Nasa.  It means: He lifts up, He carries, He forgives, He bears the weight of.  And, for instance, the Prince of Ezekiel 40-48 is the Nasi - the One who forgives by carrying, bearing the weight and being lifted up.

And a thousand times seeing repetitions of words and phrases that you miss in translations.  Words with really interesting double meanings (like 'eye' is the same word as 'fountain').  And sentence structures designed to highlight words and ideas that you just couldn't capture with a simple translation.

If you get the chance, have a dig into biblical languages.  Raking slowly (excruciatingly slowly at times!) over the bible is never a waste of time!


0 thoughts on “Some cool things about Hebrew

  1. Will

    that's a great encouragement glen - thanks! this week i'm trying to bed down my greek alphabet.

  2. christisinn

    Wow, that sounds so cool. Thanks for that post glen. I started learning Hebrew a few months ago and make slow progress. I got the alephbet and some grammar down now but what you wrote is a real encouragement to speed up a bit.

    I love the fact with the mark being a cross - I check it out and here is a picture for all who want to see it themselves.

    Another cool things about Hebrew is that every word derives from something you can see. The word "and" is only the letter "vav" preffixed to a word. It comes from the word "vav" which means peg, or nail. Thus you attach a tent to the ground as the word "and" attaches two parts of a sentence. Hebrews must have had such a rich understanding of the sermon of creation if I don't get it wrong here...

    For the rest you might be interested in starting to learn biblical Hebrew three useful resources.

    A) a Hebrew interlinear (also Greek) for free:

    B) free Hebrew audio Bible for pronunciation:

    C) a good teaching website:

    Do you have any more useful links, Glen? Or could you write something about learning NT Greek?

  3. Dev

    Hebrew is incredible stuff - i'll definitely continue it in Singapore

    you have really strange things like Heb 10 vs Ps 40 that seem to make no sense in the 'Western' languages

    a pastor once said it's a good thing to have multiple Greek translations of the Hebrew, since each Hebrew word conveys so much meaning - the interesting thing is that the Septuagint translators always seem to pick an incredibly Christ focused way of reading it - even though they have so many options in their translation

  4. Jacky

    Hi Glen! Looks like you have been busy the last few months (esp. with your post on evolution...)!

    I was recommended "Hebrew Grammar" by J. Weingreen - I went through about a 10th of it, and have to say that it is quite a hard read (cause there are parts which ask you to translate, but there is no "answer" book per se which makes it all the more unbearable) but it is also pretty detailed. Can anyone who has used that book give me a heads-up as to a better way of using it, or perhaps some other materials for aid?

  5. Dev

    I vote for Weingreen too
    but yea it's tough!
    best thing is find some crazy Christ-focused OT Hebrew-knowledgeable guy to teach you!

  6. glenscriv

    I haven't come across the Weingreen. I used Page Kelley's "Biblical Hebrew" which seemed very good and methodical. Might be a little more bite-sized than Weingreen? Again answers are not in the back. But I reckon the best way to learn is with a mate, so rope someone else in and test each other.

    Anything that gets you into the text is good.

    And, Jacky - good to hear from you!

  7. codepoke

    OK, I'm going to get my skivvies toasted on this one, but I have to say it.

    We need experts in Greek and Hebrew. We can each profit from tidbits we learn along the way. Your tav observation is wonderful.


    What a collosal waste of time for an average Joe like me. In 5 years of study, I'll barely be able to make useful mistakes like assuming the root of a word has a direct bearing on it's derivatives. Or that an uncommon construction like, "in Christ" wasn't as foreign to Greek speakers as it is to us English-speaking folk.

    I'm a programmer, and as such it was useful to me to learn a little "assembly language," which is an underlying tongue of all computer languages. But I'd be doing a tremendous disservice to my employer if I spent months perfecting my assembly skills. It's important to grasp that assembler quirks impact child languages in specific ways and allow for those anomolies, but after that assembly work is gratuitous geekdom. Enjoy assembly if it's your nature, but don't bill your employer for your time.

    Learn enough Greek-Hebrew to understand when someone explains some quirks, and then stop. The Father doesn't speak Hebrew and Jesus doesn't speak Greek. Moses and Paul did, but they're languages not an entrance into a secret club. It's hard to know what the original author of anything written millenia ago meant, but my little explorations into those languages isn't going to unwrap those riddles. My time is better spent reading men who've given their lives to wrestling with this stuff, hearing them unwrap these things in their own ways, and seeing how they differ.

    And while I'm making enemies, they are not rich languages.


    I get so tired of that shibboleth. I won't say it, and maybe I'll be killed some day while trying to cross the river. Who knows.


    You can tell the richness of a language by whether they have separate words for eye and fountain. English has 4 synonyms for eye as a noun alone (eyeball, peeper, baby-blue, headlight) depending upon how cute or silly you want to be, and well over a dozen for fountain. That's rich.

    Latin is excellent for poetry, because the endings in Latin make the concept of rhyming meaningless. Latin doesn't rhyme, so their poetry is purely rhythmic. And because all the grammar is self-defining due to the complexity of the endings, word order is insignificant. Therefore the poet can arrange the words almost randomly to achieve his rhythmic wishes.

    That doesn't make Latin rich. It makes it bizarrely difficult to translate, but not rich. English is the richest language around. That old wives tale about 14 or 40 or 400 words for "snow" in Inuit? Yeah. English has like 4 times as many words for snow as Inuit, and words for "warm" they've never imagined.

    Just think from how very many English words you can choose when trying to explain the shades of the several different possible meanings all compacted into one overstuffed, overburdened, stretched-thin, helpless word in Greek or Hebrew.

    It's the mind of the author that's rich, and the minds of those men whom God chose to author his thoughts in their languages are worthy of deep exploration. I've got a much better chance of succeeding in that exploration with a good set of translations than with a lexicon.

  8. glenscriv

    Hi Code,
    You raise points that I'd definitely want to echo. This is not a secret club with mysterious initiation rites. And the approach that says: "Learn enough Greek-Hebrew to understand when someone explains some quirks, and then stop" has definitely been my approach. I don't think it takes 5 years to get to that stage - I think maybe 100 hours with training in good bible software thrown in would be ample.

    If you're going to make teaching the bible a major part of your life, then that's an investment you should make. If you're a lay person who's into the wonder of word-studies and 'a theology of trees' or whatever, then it will be a joy to invest that time. And if there are a few of you in every congregation you'll spark each other in exciting ways and keep everyone rooted in a love for the word.

    That's basically what I'm saying.

    As for the richness point. Maybe a better word is 'theologicaly loaded'. The fact that heaven is masculine and earth is feminine is theologically loaded if you ask me. The marriage of heaven and earth is the goal of all reality. It makes even learning noun endings fun. But even if we could prove that English is richer than Greek or Hebrew I'd say:

    a) Excellent! It means less vocab to learn.

    but also

    b) Unless they are *extremely* literal, English translations will never capture the repetitiveness of Moses and Paul. This is no bad thing in terms of a readable translation. But if you're preaching you ought to know the links and the emphases that the author is making. This will require some baseline knowledge of the original languages.

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  10. pitchford

    Hey, I'm a little late, but...

    Just wanted to comment on your first bullet point, Glen. I've studied Hebrew for quite a few years, and I never thought of the tri-literal stem in quite that regard -- but when you mention it, it's a striking observation. But anyway, here's the random thought that struck me: if the tri-literal stem is trinitarian, then do we get a glimpse of the incarnation in the inseparable prepositions, or (perhaps better yet) the pronominal suffixes?

  11. glenscriv

    Hi Nathan,
    Good to hear from you. I like your suggestion - the fourth (the church) is either *in* the Three (as in inseparable preps) or belonging to Them (as with the pronominal suffixes)! Nice!

  12. glenscriv

    Hi Matt,
    Welcome to the comments.
    I'm all for stretches! Think of it as just one more of a billion implications of living in the creation of the triune God. :-)

  13. Jacky


    I've recently discovered an online group which posts up the 'answers' to a lot of the exercises in Weingreen's book. This is uber-useful for those who do not have a regular partner who (a) looks at the Bible Christocentrically and (b) is actually decent @ Hebrew.. Weingreen's book doesn't actually have answers to the exercises, making it all the more difficult..

    Though of course this does not beat finding a friend in the local synagogue near you to teach you and through that you can learn more about contemporary Judaism and help them know more about their Messiah.

    Hope this is useful to fellow brothers/sisters!

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