More and more believers today study the Bible and wonder, am I getting the complete understanding of the Hebrew words?
We have a sea of knowledge at our fingertips, and we can connect with Israel and Hebrew speakers easily. Most of us a have a Bible at home or even several. If you have travelled to Israel, you know how much a trip like that enhances your comprehension of Scripture.
All the blessings above are unique to our generation. And imagine how much deeper you could dive into the Word of God with basic understanding of Hebrew! To get you started, in the coming weeks we want to introduce you to seven Hebrew words every Christian should know. But before we share what they are, let’s answer the question WHY.
Hebrew Language and Hebrew People
With the use of the Hebrew language God revealed Himself to mankind. This ancient tongue held the greatest spiritual truths that guided our lives through the ages. And every generation discovers them anew.
It is hard to believe that the language of the Bible for centuries was used only by scholars and in religious practices. Today, it is the official language of a country and the native tongue of about five million people.
Did God really speak Hebrew to the first people He created? We cannot know that for sure (but we do know that the story of creation was written in Hebrew). Nevertheless, there is a very strong argument for it. That is, the names of the first people that appear in the Bible have a specific meaning in Hebrew.
Hebrew Name Meanings
The first man was called Adam, which in Hebrew simply means “man”. At the same time, the word adama means earth or soil. Which, coincidentally, that is what God made Adam out of. The name of the first woman, Chava (in English usually Eve or Eva), comes from the word chai – Hebrew for life.
Is that of any significance? Well, it may affect how you interpret some other parts of the Bible as well. Although the New Testament was written in Greek, the context remains the same. The setting and the culture was still very hebraic.
Take for example the fact that Jesus was described as “son of man”. In Hebrew you say, Ben Adam. Which means, yes, “son of man”. But the Hebrew connects it also with the idea that Jesus was “son of Adam”. It sounds consistent with when the apostle Paul calls Jesus in his letters – the second Adam.
But here also we could look at the Hebrew and draw another conclusion. If Jesus was the second Adam, could He also be called “the second man”, as the head of mankind? Because if man was the crown of God’s creation, that would make Jesus – the second, perfected man – the true crown of creation!
And since we are talking about names. Let us not forget that the name Jesus was not a foreign-sounding word to Mary and Joseph. His name in Hebrew is Yeshua, which literally means “Salvation.” It was a powerful word, but it was not unfamiliar. It is thus that much more poignant whenever the word salvation – yeshua – appears in the Old Testament!
Did Jesus Speak Hebrew?
Jesus was born with a Hebrew name and in a hebraic culture. Does that mean He spoke Hebrew as well? Many biblical stories could suggest that Jesus in fact spoke (or at least understood) three languages! Despite being brought up in a small village and a humble family, He would have been exposed to more than just His mother tongue.
It is generally believed that Jesus spoke Aramaic in His everyday life. It was the common tongue of the people in the region at the time. Some of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels were recorded in Aramaic, which means His disciples knew it and used it as well. Nevertheless, it is also very likely that the Jewish (as well as Samaritan) families of that day continued to use Hebrew.
We read that young Jesus debated the scholars in the Holy Temple for several days. Those conversations likely happened in Hebrew, considering this was the language of the Holy Scriptures. Additionally, Jesus addressed the apostle Paul in Hebrew when He appeared to him on the road to Damascus.
On top of that, we need to be mindful of the fact that Jesus lived in cities full of foreigners. He encountered Greeks and Romans on His path, as we know from the Gospels. It is safe to assume that He must have known some Greek or even Latin. It is quite unlikely that His conversations with the Roman commander or Pontius Pilate were in Aramaic.
How did Hebrew Survive without a Country?
After the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, Jewish scholars began calling Hebrew a sacred language. As the descendants of Israel moved through foreign lands, they adapted and used local languages in daily living.
In modern history, the Jewish people made several attempts to revive Hebrew as a spoken language. But in the modern age, languages that mixed Hebrew with local languages were much more popular. These included Yiddish in Eastern Europe (merged with German) or Ladino in the Iberian Peninsula and present-day Turkey (merged with Spanish).
Over the centuries, Hebrew survived mainly as a literary and liturgical language. Like Latin, Ancient Greek or Classical Chinese, Biblical Hebrew existed only in writing. That is, until a young Zionist from Lithuania, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, decided to emigrate to Jerusalem and use Hebrew with everyone he met.
Although it did not come easy, most of the inhabitants, in many cases thanks to their religious upbringing, were able to communicate with Ben Yehuda. With time, the young idealist managed to convince rabbis and teachers to use Hebrew in schools to teach not only religious subjects, but all of them.
More and more Jewish people were choosing to return to their Promised Land. There, they realized that choosing any Western language for communication could create unnecessary conflicts. Hebrew proved to be the one common thread…
Bringing Modern Hebrew into Life
Ben Yehuda was truly the father of modern Hebrew. The fruit of his great dedication and persistent work is a seventeen-volume New Hebrew Dictionary, first of its kind, published in 1908. By 1922, British Mandate leaders recognized Hebrew as the official language of the Jews in the land. Finally, in 1948 Hebrew was proclaimed the official language of the new state: Israel.
Today, there are families in Israel who have spoken Hebrew already for three or four generations. It is remarkable that a language, which was just a dream a hundred years ago, is now used every day by millions.
The people of Israel speak the language of God’s mysteries today, although many are oblivious to it. Nevertheless, God continues to reveal His truths to us. And one of such revelations is comprehension of Hebrew! The foundational words like Adam and the rich ones like Yeshua (Jesus) – they all invite us to discover the depth of God’s word.
Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know
We know the Bible can be confusing and you want to get more out of it. Which is why we want to teach you selected Hebrew words that will transform the way you read the Bible. Join us at IsraelU to learn seven Hebrew words that every Christian should know!
Dive into the first word (and more will follow)! Do you know what the Hebrew word Shema means? Read about it here and watch the IsraelU video below:
This article originally appeared on FIRM, May 25, 2021, and reposted with permission.