Why should I learn Hebrew?

That is a great question! I think everyone should learn Hebrew, particularly Christians, and especially ministers. Why? There are many reasons, but one reason is that the Hebrew Scriptures contain beautiful artwork in literary form.

I am working through the book of Genesis in our Wednesday evening Bible studies, and there have been several instances in which the beauty of Hebrew is apparent.

One parallel exists in Genesis 6:4 and 11:4 in the word name. It is translated “renown” in 6:4 and “name” in 11:4 in the English Standard Version.

Lexham Hebrew Bible, Logos Software
Lexham Hebrew Bible, Logos Software

While you may not read Hebrew (I cannot read it well), you can certainly see the connection. The prideful, mighty Nephilim find continuity with the prideful, arrogant inhabitants of the land of Shinar (see 11:1-4, cf. 10:6-15).

Let me offer one more example (which also happens to be an awesome aspect of the Tower account). This parallel is found in 11:4 and 11:8.

Lexham Hebrew Bible, Logos Software
Lexham Hebrew Bible, Logos Software

Now, I need to go into a little more detail with this one because it demands it. The statement by the architects of the Tower desire to build their city and tower “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (11:4, ESV). That is, they did not want to be spread across the earth (in spite of the Lord’s commands in Gen. 9:1 and 7). The word “lest” is a translation of the conjunction פן (please excuse the lack of vowels). As Arnold and Choi describe it, “This conjunction most often indicates an undesirable action or situation that arises from another action as a consequence.” [Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 155.] The undesirable situation is their refusal to spread across the earth.

Their unity (11:2-4) and oneness in language (11:1) enabled them to construct a large city and tower (“with its top in the heavens,” 11:4, ESV). They would, unabated, be able to remain together in this one area and “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (11:6, ESV).

The beauty of Hebrew comes in with the second verse. The LORD dispersed them. The word “dispersed” is the same root as used in 11:4, but the word has a different stem. This word uses the Hiphil stem. It is a “causative hiphil,” meaning the LORD is the cause of the dispersement. [Ronald J. Williams, rev. and expanded by John C. Beckman, Williams’ Hebrew Syntax Third Edition (Toronto, CA: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 62.] While the inhabitants of Shinar feared to be scattered and, through their rebellious unity, began construction on a city and tower to refuse obedience to God, God scattered them without their desires and in spite of their united rebellion.

While this contrast can be seen in the English translations, the intricacies are more visible in their original Hebrew context.

Should you learn Hebrew? Yes! There are so many tools available to help you, and these and many more “gems” will be available for your mining.

Rabbinical Insights into Inspiration


I have begun the task of reading the Babylonian Talmud. It is a monumental work spanning several centuries years and written in at least two languages.i Its importance to Judaism will never be overstated. To our interests as believers in the Messiah, it draws on a “long period of oral tradition ca. 450 B.C.E. To 200 C.E.”ii

I have been incredibly blessed by reading this work. Most of it is rather boring reading, to be honest. This rabbi says this, another says the opposite. And then three to four paragraphs of attempts to justify each rabbi’s position.

But hidden within the earth of wordiness are little gems such as I am going to share with you now. In a section covering the time necessary to recite the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6.4-6) I found this:

“Did David really know exactly when it was midnight? Now Moses, our master, did not know, for it is written, ‘At about midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt’ (Ex. 11.4). What is the sense of ‘at about midnight’ cited in the preceding verse? If I should say that that is language which the Holy One, blessed be he, said to him, that is, ‘At about midnight,’ is it possible that before Heaven there is such a doubt [as to the exact time of night? That is impossible.] Rather, [God] said to him, ‘At midnight,’ but Moses is the one who came along and said, ‘At about midnight.’ It follows that he was in doubt as to exactly when it was midnight. Could David then have known exactly when it was?”iii

I find several points of interest here. To begin with, in regards to the matter of inspiration, we find that God allows the individual author to shine through. When Moses wrote ‘at about midnight’ it seems that God allowed some freedom of expression. As the Rabbis conferred, if God should choose to be more specific he would have had Moses express it that way.

Another point that I find fascinating is that there is some ambiguity in the Scriptures. There are numerous times when estimations are given rather than exact numbers (Exodus 32.28; Joshua 7.4; Judges 15.11; 16.27; and Acts 2.41). This, in turn, can be applied to the rest of Scripture. It is important not to force exactness when exactness is not intended. We can find ourselves in much trouble when we attempt to force something that is intended to be taken loosely.

The last point that I get from this is to be comfortable with not having all the answers. In the context the Rabbis were discussing whether Moses knew when midnight was.iv But they were comfortable acknowledging that Moses didn’t know (or it was at the very least a possibility), and they were fine with that. There may some issues, some matters, that believers never fully grasp. Are we comfortable with not having all the answers? Are we honest to admit that we don’t know everything?

So the rabbis have much to teach us, if we would simply have ears to hear and eyes to see.

iJacob Neusener, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume I Tractate Berakhot (Peabody, Hendrickson: 2011), xv.

iiNeusener, Babylonian Talmud, xxv.

iiiNeusener, Babylonian Talmud, 10-11.

ivIt may seem such a trivial matter to discuss when exactly midnight is, particularly when we know when midnight is. But to the ardent follower of Judaism preciseness is a non-negotiable, specifically when regarding the recitation of the Shema.

Discernment: A Vital Gift

A tree is one of the most beautiful aspects of creation. There is one stem, one trunk, and then there are so many branches and leaves. Each leaf is unique, a incredible work of art. The tree can teach us much. The lesson I want to learn today, however, is that of unity.

Donald Bloesch, a scholar and theologian, writes, “….Christians sorely need the gift of discernment to make the proper evaluations.” [Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts, 145.] He is dealing with different variations within Christendom that view the Spirit in diverse ways. 
His comment is so vital for today. There are so many variations, so many denominations, so many view points. Which one is correct? Which one is wrong? The spirit of discernment, mentioned in 1 Corinthins 12.10, needs to be exercised today. We need to discern, to judge in order to determine which view is correct and which view is not.

Another point Bloesch makes is to differentiate between heterodoxy and heresy. He defines the two, “Heterodoxy signifies the elevation of what is peripheral over what is essential in the faith, while heresy leads to a denial of what is essential.” [Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts, 145.] It is imperative that, in Christendom, we learn to do this. Is it difficult? Yes. Will it be messy? Of course. But if we are to follow Christ, then we are to seek unity. Harmony, oneness, and “a complex or systematic whole” are words and phrases that describe what we should be seeking.

Too often we make peripheral issues the main focus and lay aside essentials.

I end with these words from the Messiah, and pray that believers may be one, אחד, a God-glorifying harmony.

John 17.20-23

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Intermediate Hebrew Assignment- Translations and Methods

This assignment included an evaluation of several sections of books written on translations and approaches. The reading assignments were specifically geared toward the translation of the Hebrew Bible, but the principles and methods can apply to the Greek Bible as well. Enjoy!

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.[1] In order to make God’s Word available to all men and women translation must occur. As with any work of translation, certain methods and practices must be followed in order to achieve the desired goal.[2] But before the methods can be discussed, the discussion on how to translate must take place. In other words, what constitutes a proper translation? Is it enough to simply translate word for word without regards to a logical and coherent sense? For instance, if one were to translate a paragraph from Hebrew to English, word for word, would the English translation convey the information found in Hebrew? These are difficult questions, and questions that many scholars and translators have sought to answer.[3] The presence of debate and questions does not negate the fact that a balance must be reached between conveying the meaning of Scripture while also following the structure of the Hebrew and Greek languages.[4] Duvall and Hays described what they believed to be the goal of translation when they wrote, “Translation is nothing more than transferring the message of one language into another language.”[5] However, as Fox pointed out, there is more to translation than simply conveying a meaning.[6] So translators must be able to convey both the message, the way it would have been received, and the method by which it was communicated.

To begin with, translators are faced with the barrier between what Duvall and Hays called the “receptor language” and the “source language”.[7] In Grasping God’s Word, the two provide an example from a verse in the New Testament in which a literal, word by word translation is given.[8] To the common English speaking person the verse would make little to no sense. Because of this, they wrote, “Is a translation better if it tries to match each word in the source language with a corresponding word in a receptor language? Could you even read an entire Bible ‘translated’ this way?”[9] The answer is a qualified no. Because the differences in languages it would be rather difficult to translate every nuance found in the original languages.[10]

This problem is particularly acute in the Hebrew Bible. The gap between the meaning of the Old Testament Hebrew and the translation into English led one author to state that modern translations “have placed readers at a grotesque distance from…its original language.”[11] Perhaps the issue of the translation of the structure of the “source language” is no more significant than in Old Testament narrative prose.[12] The difficulty lies in balancing the ability to communicate the meaning without sacrificing the beauty and the nuances of the Hebrew language. For example, Alter raised the point that English translations fail to properly translate the “waw conversive.”[13] In Genesis 24.16-21 Rebekah draws water for Abraham’s servant. She then proceeds to provide water for all his camels. The waw conversive is used “to denote sequences of consecutive actions…” which would have provided the English readers with the impression that Rebekah did not stop getting water for the camels for a long time.[14] The idea the Hebrew author was attempting to convey is that Rebekah continuously filled her bucket in order to rehydrate the camels. This particular example is not found in many English translations.[15] There are additional examples, but it should become apparent that there are shortcomings in many English translations that fail to produce an accurate reflection of Hebrew thought.[16]

The next text of the translator is to determine the method of translating. There are predominately two main lines of translation: “dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence.”[17] The selection of these two methods depends upon the translator’s goal, i.e. meaning or accuracy in regards to the original.[18] While some translations aspire to be “more functional”, they often failure to communicate the nuances similar to the examples provided above.[19] Others strive to present the most accurate reflection of the original languages but fail to provide the reader with a comprehensible piece of literature.[20]

No doubt the business of translation is extremely demanding. On one hand the translator must be able to provide a meaningful transition between two languages; on the other hand he must also be able to communicate the original message in its original literary structure. But there are safe guards that some scholars have developed in order to protect the integrity of the original language while allowing the message to be communicated in modern vernacular. Fox provides a lengthy discussion on how Hebrew translation can be accomplished with the above goal.[21] And Thomas lists the several steps of the “deviation test” in which translators have the ability to objectively examine their own as well as other translations.[22]

Using the methods provide by scholars in conjunction with the balanced approach of dynamic and formal equivalence, translators today can provide the English speaking world (or any language) with an accurate version of God’s Word.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 23.

[2] Robert L. Thomas, How to Choose a Bible Version: An Introductory Guide to English Translations (Fearn: Mentor, 2000), 89-100.

[3] See, for example, Grasping God’s Word; How to Choose a Bible Version; and David Horton, The Portable Seminary (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 2006), 76, 463, 506, and 569.

[4] Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; a New Translation with Introductions, Commentary, and Notes (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), xii; xxiii.

[5] Duvall and Hays, 23.

[6] Fox, xiv-xxi.

[7] Duvall and Hays, 33. The “receptor language” is the language into which the translation is being made; the “source languages” are the original languages, i.e.: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

[8] Ibid., 33.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Duvall and Hays provide several of those difficulties by quoting D. A. Carson, 33-34. From D. A. Carson, The Inclusive-language Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1998), 48-51.

[11] Robert Alter, Genesis: A Translation and Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), x.

[12] For a detailed treatment of the topic, see Fox; Thomas; and Alter.

[13] Alter, xix and xxi; see also Gary Davis Pratico, and Miles V. Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001), 192-194.

[14] Referring to camels ability to consume large amounts of water, “The body rehydrates within minutes of a long drink, absorbing over 100 litres (25 gallons) in 5–10 minutes.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “camel,” accessed September 21, 2014, http://www.britannica.com.proxygsu-lrb1.galileo.usg.edu/EBchecked/topic/90756/camel.

[15] Alter, xxxi.

[16] Alter raised this point, writing, “the translator’s task, then, is to mirror the repetition as much as is feasible”, xxviii. He went on to discuss the importance of word order and word location that is often lacking in English translations, xxxi and xxxiii.

[17] Thomas, 89-90. Duvall and Hays use the descriptions of a “more formal approach” and a “more functional approach”. Duvall and Hays, 35. They point out the necessity of balance when they write, “Formal translations run the risk of sacrificing meaning for the sake of maintain form.” Ibid., 35. Referring to the functional approach they warn, “The functional approach is not always as sensitive as it should be to the wording and structure of the source language.” Ibid.

[18] Scholars seem to agree that a balance is needed. See Fox, xxiii; Duvall and Hays, 34-38.

[19] Duvall and Hays, 35. They list the following translations utilizing this method of translation: New Living Translation and the Good News Bible.

[20] Ibid., 35. They list the following translations that practice this method: New American Standard Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version.

[21] Fox, xx-xxv.

[22] Thomas, 90-100. There are five steps: number approximately 30-50 words in the original language; translate the words into the English equivalent as closely as possible; arrange the words in compliance with the original word order until the words make sense (Thomas calls this “minimal transfer”); compare the numerical values to determine the deviation of the translations; one additional step is to complete the process again until a sufficient amount of samples has been obtained to provide an accurate representation of the deviation value of a given translation.

Critical Editions of the Hebrew Bible- Hebrew Assignment

Here is a short article I worked on for one of my Hebrew classes. Please read it and let me know what you think!

The Leningrad Codex

The Hebrew Bible (hereafter HB) has seen revisions and textual versions produced in the last century. To define and discuss the various efforts made by scholars, Hebrew linguists, and textual critics, a basic groundwork of terms, versions, and their respective goals must be examined. The student of the HB should be acquainted with this field as his selection of which HB to use will be affected by the information soon to be discussed.

Perhaps the most basic step in understanding the critical editions of the HB is to understand the text (or texts) used in each edition. According to Murphy the Codex Leningrandensis is “the central text for most modern Hebrew Bible editions.”[1] L (as is abbreviated in scholarly work) is extremely valuable as it is the most ancient copy of the complete HB.[2] This forms the basis for many of the HBs available today.[3]

The second major Codex used for the HB is the Aleppo Codex. While the L is considered the oldest complete codex, the Aleppo Codex, or A, is the oldest manuscript available to scholars today.[4] It is represented by many different manuscripts from a variety of geographical areas as well as dates.[5] It is the basis for the major work being completed by the Hebrew University Bible Project.

While the Codices L and A form the basis of two families of HBs, a new work is being accomplished known as the Oxford Hebrew Bible (OHB). This project uses an eclectic approach, as Hendel writes, “Rather the OHB aims to be a reliable and circumspect critical eclectic edition, and a worthy complement to the diplomatic editions.”[6] Rather than relying on one Codex, the eclectic approach seeks to gather all available manuscripts and codices in addition to different versions of the Old Testament.[7]

The various editions of the HB all come from different purposes which affect the use of the selected Codex (or eclectic approach). For the line that follows L several reasons exist for the purpose of choosing this one Codex. To begin with, the fact that it remains the oldest complete codex lends great weight in its selection.[8] Baker provides the next three reasons in his review. Contrary to the reasons provided by the OHB[9], there are no accepted methods for review and evaluation of Hebrew manuscripts, codices, or other sources (such as the Syrian Pentateuch or the Septuagint).[10] The next objection raised by those who prefer L is there is no objective starting point to begin when choosing an eclectic text.[11] Finally, programmatically the purpose of the BHK, BHS, and BHQ is to provide a one volume tool for a wide field.[12] To attempt to collect and include variants in readings from the sources that the OHB uses would necessitate a work of many volumes.[13] It should become apparent that the perceived short comings of an eclectic text as well as the incompleteness of the Aleppo Codex have led the editors of the BHK, BHS, and the BHQ to choose L as their choice.

The next codex had a similar approach though slightly different. While those who chose L for their editions of the HB selected it on the basis of a complete text, the editors of the HUB used the Aleppo Codex. However, in their edition they also provide their readers with several other variants and leave the reader to determine which reading is more accurate and honest.[14] The editors organize the witnesses in a unique way which allows the reader to work through the available evidence.[15] The difference between this approach and that used by the editors of the OHB is this: the editors of the HUB allow the readers to decide which reading is the most accurate while the editors of the OHB make judgments on the witnesses they provide. The approach of the HUB is more closely related to those who utilize L, but as was stated previously slightly different. One can see how the selection of materials and sources for the edition of the HB is directly related to both the purpose and the textual views of those editing.

The eclectic approach is the final of the three major branches of the editions of the HB. Hendel provides an extremely lengthy and detailed reasoning of behind the work of the OHB.[16] The editors offer several reasons why an eclectic approach is to be chosen above a single codex. The explosion of manuscript and other materials has provided the field of textual criticism with an enormous amount of evidence.[17] This material must be evaluated and examined to see its worth when attempting to find the archetype.[18] The editors then go on to develop a method and rationale for their efforts, providing logical examples of textual criticism from other fields (such as English Renaissance literature).[19] The work they have attempted to accomplish is massive and the editors readily agree that the work would not be available in a single volume but would ultimately be a one volume work for each book of the HB.[20] This work will be one that takes a great deal of time and effort, but the results will yield much in the field of textual scholarship.

The discussion of the critical editions of the HB is a large one, and one hardly able to be placed into a single work, much less a short article. The student and scholar is encouraged to perform his or her own investigation into the field.

[1] Todd J. Murphy, Pocket Dictionary for the Study of Biblical Hebrew (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 101. The date provided by Murphy is CE 1008.

[2] Weis, Richard D. “Biblia Hebraica Quinta and the Making of Critical Editions of the Hebrew Bible1.” Weis, Biblica Hebraica Quinta and the Making of Critical Editions of the Hebrew Bible. January 1, 2002. Accessed September 14, 2014. For those who may not know, a codex is “An ancient manuscript bound in folio leaves (a book) rather than as a scroll.” Murpy, 42.

[3] The BHK, BHS, and BHQ are all dependent upon L. See Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic/InterVarsity Press, 2006), 108.

[4] Murphy, 22. He lists the date as CE 930. See also Baker, David L. “Which Hebrew Bible? Review Of Biblia Hebraica Quinta, Hebrew University Bible, Oxford Hebrew Bible, And Other Modern Editions.” Tyndale Bulletin 61, no. 2 (2010): 211-36. January 1, 2010. http://www.galaxie.com/.

[5] Sanders, James A. “Book Review: Hebrew University Bible: The Book of Ezekiel.” Review of Biblical Literature 2, no. 1 (2005): 1-6.

[6] Hendel, Ronald. “The Oxford Hebrew Bible: Prologue to a New Critical Edition.” Vetus Testamentum, 2008, 328-329.

[7] Ibid., 326.

[8] Kittel, Rudolf. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Editio Quinta Emendata ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997),xii, xiv.

[9] See Hendel, 328-334 for a lengthy discussion on the process and methods for their selection of an eclectic text.

[10] See Baker, 212.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Althann, Robert. Torah Neviʼim U-khetuvim = Biblia Hebraica. 5.th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2004), vi. Althann writes in the introduction, “it was intended…for use by scholars, clergy, translators, and students who are not necessarily specialists in textual criticism.”

[13] The editors of the OHB make no claims to desire to provide a one volume work. In fact it is opposite of their claims. See Hendel.

[14] Sanders, 2.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Hendel, 324-351. He also includes examples of the use of the OHB.

[17] Ibid., 324.

[18] Ibid., 329.

[19] Ibid., 343.

[20] Ibid., 324.