How to do a Bible study in Hebrew even if you don't know Hebrew

Thursday, June 17, 2010

People are always impressed when you can talk about what the original Hebrew or Greek means in a Bible study. So I thought I would share an easy way to look up words in the original biblical Hebrew. It's easy to do, can greatly expand your understanding of God's word, and will only cost you 50 bucks.

First the free part: look up a passage in the Bible using the Greek and Hebrew concordance function of Blue Letter Bible. You can search for a passage in the Bible and it will show you the corresponding Hebrew or Greek text for that verse. Just hit the "show me" button below to see an example of Psalm 34:2 (it will open in a new tab so you can continue reading).

You can see there that verse in the NASB and the corresponding Hebrew lemmas for each word. Click on the Strong's number for a word and it will open a page that will give you a definition for it. Pretty awesome. If you want to look up your own verse, just click on the "C" to the left of your verse.

Now comes the money part. The dictionary. There are two sections, one called "outline of biblical usage" which is not a dictionary at all. Don't use that. Below that is the famous Gesenius lexicon. It's not bad, but it is quite dated (this one is from 1847!) so you should really have something more up to date one. It can be quite challenging to find a good Hebrew dictionary. Some like the HALOT are outrageously expensive, and others like the BDB (Brown-Driver-Briggs) looks like a bunch of gibberish to non-specialists and really doesn't give definitions at all. Fortunately for Hebrew there is the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) which is reasonoallby priced and very practical to use. It gives long, detailed, and understandable definitions of all important Hebrew words, and what's more: you don't need to know Hebrew to look stuff up in it. gives you both the Strong's number, and even the TWOT number which you can use to find your word in it.

So let's try that out with Psalm 34:1-2. The NASB reads

My soul will make its boast in the LORD; The humble will hear it and rejoice.

If you look up the word translated "humble" you'll find it can also mean "oppressed" which is how that line is rendered in the NIV

My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

Or how about if we look up the word translated "rejoice." It's not really the kind of thing anyone says outside of a religious context. Even from the Gesenius we can see that the word has to do with having a joyful disposition. So what if we translated it more in the way we talk today and said "let the afflicted hear and be happy"? This can help us to think more about what the text is actually saying where the familiar religious words tend to just roll over us. Of course you could go on and on like this, which is the point. It's a fairly simple way to dig into a text and see things in it that you might have missed otherwise by exploring it in the original language.

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At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellently done. as a way to illustrate the varied possible inflexions in English derived from a simple look at the words used, as here gives a somewhat variation on the usual take on that verse (part b). So then one can go look at the possible intents/variations on the idea of boasting in the part a of that verse...
Word studies are great to get bigger pictures (and sometimes quite a diffrerent slant on the intent of a verse. then nee whole verse studies then so called chapter studies and book studies. BUT one needs to remember that verses, chapters are NOT in the 'original texts... so we need to be careful then in 'cherry picking our verses' to build a doctrine, application against another's understanding!


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