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Hebrew Thought

The Hebrew language is thousands of years old. The Old Testament, which is the first 39 books of the Bible, was written in the Hebrew language by many different authors over the course of thousands of years from different time periods. It is an entirely different language from English, which was only created between the centuries 5th – 7th AD, years after Jesus Himself walked this earth, as well as every author of the Bible.

Even though today we have many different languages that have been formed over thousands of years, the authors of the Bible had a completely different way of thinking and processing the world around them than we do today as people living in western civilization. Western civilizations, such as America and Europe, have adopted their customs and ways of thinking from Greek culture, which is extremely different from the Hebraic way of thinking.

One of the biggest and most distinguishing differences between Hebrew and Greek thought is how they describe things:

Greek thought describes objects in relation to its appearance.

Hebrew thought describes objects in relation to its function.

Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible Reference (AHLB) – Ancient Hebrew Thought – Appearance and Functional Descriptions

A Greek description of a common pencil would be; “it is yellow and about eight inches long”. A Hebrew description of the pencil would be related to its function such as “I write words with it”. Notice that the Hebrew description uses the verb “write” while the Greek description uses the adjectives “yellow” and “long”. Because of Hebrew`s form of functional descriptions, verbs are used much more frequently then adjectives. (2)

As you can see, the way the same thing is viewed and understood can be vastly different depending on how a person thinks and this includes the biblical scriptures. In English, we view words very abstractly, while in Hebrew, things are very concrete in relation to their function.

The Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible reference breaks down an understanding of the abstract versus concrete thought:

Concrete thought is the expression of concepts and ideas in ways that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted or heard. All five of the senses are used when speaking, hearing, writing and reading the Hebrew language.

Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible Reference (AHLB) – Ancient Hebrew Thought – Abstract and Concrete

An example of this can be found in Psalms 1:3,

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither”.

Psalms 1:3

In this passage the author expresses his thoughts in concrete terms such as; tree, streams of water, fruit and leaf.

Abstract thought is the expression of concepts and ideas in ways that cannot be seen, touched, smelled, tasted or heard.

Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible Reference (AHLB) – Ancient Hebrew Thought – Abstract and Concrete

Examples of abstract thought can be found in Psalms 103:8, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” The words compassion, grace, anger and love are all abstract words – ideas that cannot be experienced by the senses.

Why do we find these abstract words in a passage of concrete thinking Hebrew? Actually, these are abstract English words used to translate the original Hebrew concrete words. The translators often translate this way because the original Hebrew makes no sense when literally translated into English. (3) This shows us that how words are interpreted in the bible have completely different meanings depending on how we are viewing it.

Some people might argue it’s not important to understand Hebrew because God knows every language; however, Jesus Himself spoke Hebrew (Acts 26:14). When He came to this earth and walked with His disciples, it was in the form of a Hebrew/Jewish man, who understood and taught from a Hebraic mindset, using Jewish idioms and concepts that the Hebrew/Jewish people of that time would understand.

If we want to understand what Jesus taught His disciples and see Scripture from the perspective of the biblical authors who wrote the Bible, then why wouldn’t we go back to understand the Hebraic way of thinking?

References:

  1. Ancient Hebrew language and alphabet Chapter 2: Hebrew Thought by Jeff A. Benner
  2. Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible Reference (AHLB) – Ancient Hebrew Thought – Appearance and Functional Descriptions
  3. Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible Reference (AHLB) – Ancient Hebrew Thought – Abstract and Concrete

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