Berean Bible Study Notes

Learning to be a Berean, Lesson 4


Today's study: The original languages of the Bible

The Old Testament - Hebrew

The Bible was written in two main languages - Hebrew and Greek, plus a smattering of Aramaic. The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew. Hebrew is one of the Middle Eastern "Semitic" languages. The word "Semitic" comes from Shem, Noah's oldest son, and in older books you may still see it spelled "Shemitic."

Hebrew is a language based on consonants only. There were little marks added about 500 AD to indicate vowels in order to aid pronunciation. It's hard for us to imagine a language like that. There are 22 consonants - and that is their alphabet, more or less. It reads from right to left, as do all the languages east of Jerusalem. (Everything west of Jerusalem reads left to right. Interesting that Jerusalem appears to be the center of the world.)

Genesis 1:1 א  בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

(This line in Hebrew actually reads from the right)

Having the Hebrew with spaces inserted is also a modern convenience. When it was written, there were no spaces. All the words ran together. Depending on where you separated them, it could mean something else. (Context would usually eliminate that) So, how do we know that what we read in our Bibles is the way it should be? Remember that the Old Testament was fully translated into Greek by 200 BC. Greek is a very precise language, with exact meanings being much more the case. This translation, the Septuagint, is the one usually quoted in the New Testament by Jesus and the apostles. The Septuagint usually agrees with the "words" from the Hebrew. So, in effect, they have given their approval to the way our Old Testament reads. Besidesyoucanfigureitoutright?

Now, the words being able to be separated in different places is just the start of the story. According to the Ancient Hebrew Research Center, the original Hebrew was actually a series of pictures, like Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Each picture had a meaning, and put together, the pictures meant much more than a "word" would normally describe. (You know what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words). It's possible that the Old Testament actually contains WAY more than we realize. We may discover, when we sit at Jesus' feet and can learn directly, that we had no idea how much was really there. Should we worry about it? Not on this side of heaven!! The author Himself will explain when we can learn from Him directly.

Here is the way the Hebrew originally looked: (I gave you a copy of this if you were at Bible Study) Ancient Hebrew Alphabet Chart

This is from the Ancient Hebrew Research Center.

The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet

This interesting book was previously online. Here is a portion of the first chapter. Please note that the author uses the word "alephbet" for "alphabet," from the first two letters in Hebrew - just as "alphabet" comes from the first two letters in Greek.

An additional article: Bible Languages

The Old Testament - Aramaic

There are small parts of the Old Testament that are written in Aramaic. In the Bible, "Aram" refers to basically what we now call Syria (not to be confused with Assyria, which covered a whole lot more territory). The language spoken in Aram eventually spread to the entire Middle Eastern world. The Jews began using Aramaic as their everyday language after the Babylonian captivity.

In the Bible, Aramaic was used primarily in several chapters of Daniel (2:4b-7:28), a small section of Ezra (4:8-6:18; 7:12-26) and a verse in Jeremiah (10:11.) In Daniel, Aramaic is used when the discussion centers around Nebuchadnezzar, a Gentile king and when discussing Gentile kingdoms. In fact, Daniel chapter 4 appears to have been written by Nebuchadnezzar himself, and is his testimony of how he came to believe in the true God. (It wouldn't be surprising to find Nebuchadnezzar in heaven) In Ezra, Aramaic is used to quote letters written by Gentiles and to Gentiles, and in Jeremiah, the verse is what God is telling Israel to tell the Gentiles.

Bible Languages

The Original Languages of the Bible (link no longer valid)

New Testament - Greek

Several empires came and went in ancient times. Aramaic was the chief language through the time of the Persian Empire. When Alexander the Great conquered that territory, and especially afterward, when his generals took over, Greek began to be spoken throughout that whole part of the world. From about 330 BC to about 330 AD, Greek was the primary language and had become virtually universal. Everyone spoke Greek, including the people of Rome, and so when Rome conquered the territory, it wasn't Latin they used to communicate, it was Greek.

There are different types of Greek. The ancient, famous ancient writers like Plato used "Classical Greek," a very polished, extremely precise form. Regular people spoke a more basic Greek, called Koine Greek. The New Testament was written in this more common variety, the language of the people.

Biblical Greek (the link is good, but I can no longer find the following on their site. It did originally come from them!)

Bible Languages

Greek is a lot different from Hebrew. Where Hebrew is "loose," Greek is "tight." Translating Hebrew is a challenge because so much meaning is packed into the words. When we sit as Jesus' feet, we may discover that we had barely scratched the surface in our earthly understanding. (Again, nothing to worry about on this side of heaven. I don't think our brains can handle more than that for now, anyway!)

Greek is a precise language and is able to pin down many things, such as who is doing the action, whether the action was completed in the past or is ongoing, etc. It was the perfect language at that time for God to communicate the message of the Gospel.

Originally, Greek, too, was written without spaces between the words.

Why was the New Testament written in Greek (no longer a valid link)

Basics of Biblical Greek: The Greek Language (no longer a valid link)

The Original Languages of the Bible

The Original Languages of the Bible (no longer a valid link)

I apologize that some of the above links are no longer valid. I originally wrote this five years ago. I will try to revise and include current links.

More articles:

Difference between Hebrew and Greek (fun article)

The Greek alphabet

John 1:1

Wescott & Hort

εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος

Stephanus - 1550

εν αρχη ην ο λογος και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον και θεος ην ο λογος

How to research the original languages (without knowing them)

So, without becoming Greek or Hebrew scholars, where does that leave us? We have many tools that we can use to get at the original language of a verse. One of the best ways is with an exhaustive concordance. There are also online tools available free, such as the Blue Letter Bible.

Let's practice doing that by taking a look at this verse:

Isa 40:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint.

If you click on the verse, the link will take you to Isaiah, chapter 40 at the Blue Letter Bible web site. (The Blue Letter Bible site uses King James, so that's what we'll use here.) Find the verse, and click the "C" at the left. That will take you to the Hebrew breakdown. When you click the number in the center for each Hebrew word, it will take you to the Strong's Concordance for that word. Most helpful (to me, at least), it will give you every place in the Bible where that word appears, so you can compare other verses.

The Hebrew is transliterated for you there (how that word would look phonetically, with our alphabet).

But they that wait - Hebrew: qavah {kaw-vaw'} Strong's Number: 06960 NIV Number: 7747

1) to wait, look for, hope, expect, look eagerly for

2) to lie in wait for

3) to wait for, linger for

Some verses that use this word: (the small numbers in the verses are the Strongs numbers)

Psa 27:14 Wait6960 on413 the LORD:3068 be of good courage,2388 and he shall strengthen553 thine heart:3820 wait,6960 I say, on413 the LORD.3068

Psa 37:9 For3588 evildoers7489 shall be cut off:3772 but those that wait upon6960 the LORD,3068 they1992 shall inherit3423 the earth.776

Psa 37:34 Wait6960 on413 the LORD,3068 and keep8104 his way,1870 and he shall exalt7311 thee to inherit3423 the land:776 when the wicked7563 are cut off,3772 thou shalt see7200 it.

Isa 8:17 And I will wait2442 upon the LORD,3068 that hideth5641 his face6440 from the house4480, 1004 of Jacob,3290 and I will look6960 for him.

Hos 12:6 Therefore turn7725 thou859 to thy God:430 keep8104 mercy2617 and judgment,4941 and wait6960 on413 thy God430 continually.8548

Upon the Lord - Hebrew: Y@hovah {yeh-ho-vaw'} Strong's Number 03068 NIV Number 3378

Jehovah = "the existing One"

1) the proper name of the one true God

a) unpronounced except with the vowel pointings of 0136

There are hundreds of verses that use the name of God, of course.

Shall renew - Hebrew: chalaph {khaw-laf'} Strong's Number: 02498 NIV Number: 2736

1) to pass on or away, pass through, pass by, go through, grow up, change, to go on from

1) to pass on quickly

2) to pass away (vanish)

3) to come on anew, sprout again (of grass)

4) to pass through, to cause to pass, change

1) to change, substitute, alter, change for better, renew

Gen 31:7 And your father1 hath deceived2048 me, and changed2498 (853) my wages4909 ten6235 times;4489 but God430 suffered5414 him not3808 to hurt7489, 5978 me.

Gen 35:2 Then Jacob3290 said559 unto413 his household,1004 and to413 all3605 that834 were with5973 him, Put away5493 (853) the strange5236 gods430 that834 are among8432 you, and be clean,2891 and change2498 your garments:8071

2Sa 12:20 Then David1732 arose6965 from the earth,4480, 776 and washed,7364 and anointed5480 himself, and changed2498 his apparel,8071 and came935 into the house1004 of the LORD,3068 and worshiped:7812 then he came935 to413 his own house;1004 and when he required,7592 they set7760 bread3899 before him, and he did eat.398.

Isa 41:1 Keep silence2790 before413 me, O islands;339 and let the people3816 renew2498 their strength:3581 let them come near;5066 then227 let them speak:1696 let us come near7126 together3162 to judgment.4941

Job 14:7 For3588 there is3426 hope8615 of a tree,6086 if518 it be cut down,3772 that it will sprout2498 again,5750 and that the tender3127 branch thereof will not3808 cease.2308

Psa 90:5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood;2229 they are1961 as a sleep:8142 in the morning1242 they are like grass2682 which groweth up.2498 Psa 90:6 In the morning1242 it flourisheth,6692 and groweth up;2498 in the evening6153 it is cut down,4135 and withereth.3001

Psa 102:26 They1992 shall perish,6 but thou859 shalt endure:5975 yea, all3605 of them shall wax old1086 like a garment;899 as a vesture3830 shalt thou change2498 them, and they shall be changed:2498

Their strength - Hebrew: koach {ko'-akh} or (Dan. 11:6) kowach {ko'-akh} Strongs: 03581 NIV: 3946

1) strength, power, might

a) human strength

b) strength (of angels)

c) power (of God)

Gen 31:6 And ye859 know3045 that3588 with all3605 my power3581 I have served5647 (853) your father.1

Exo 15:6 Thy right hand,3225 O LORD,3068 is become glorious142 in power:3581 thy right hand,3225 O LORD,3068 hath dashed in pieces7492 the enemy.341

Jdg 16:19 And she made him sleep3462 upon5921 her knees;1290 and she called7121 for a man,376 and she caused him to shave off1548 (853) the seven7651 locks4253 of his head;7218 and she began2490 to afflict6031 him, and his strength3581 went5493 from4480, 5921 him.

They shall mount up - Hebrew: `alah {aw-law'} Strong's Number: 05927 NIV: 6158, 6590

1) to go up, ascend, climb

4) to spring up, grow, shoot forth (of vegetation)

5) to go up, go up over, rise (of natural phenomenon)

6) to come up (before God)

7) to go up, go up over, extend (of boundary)

1) to be taken up, be brought up, be taken away

2) to take oneself away

3) to be exalted

1) to bring up, cause to ascend or climb, cause to go up

2) to bring up, bring against, take away

1) to be carried away, be led up

2) to be taken up into, be inserted in

3) to be offered

Gen 2:6 But there went up5927 a mist108 from4480 the earth,776 and watered8248 (853) the whole3605 face6440 of the ground.127

Gen 19:28 And he looked8259 toward5921, 6440 Sodom5467 and Gomorrah,6017 and toward5921, 6440 all3605 the land776 of the plain,3603 and beheld,7200 and, lo,2009 the smoke7008 of the country776 went up5927 as the smoke7008 of a furnace.3536

Psa 139:8 If518 I ascend up5927 into heaven,8064 thou859 art there:8033 if I make my bed3331 in hell,7585 behold,2009 thou art there.

Psa 30:3 O LORD,3068 thou hast brought up5927 my soul5315 from4480 the grave:7585 thou hast kept me alive,2421 that I should not go down4480, 3381 to the pit.953

Psa 24:3 Who4310 shall ascend5927 into the hill2022 of the LORD?3068 or who4310 shall stand6965 in his holy6944 place?4725

Psa 47:5 God430 is gone up5927 with a shout,8643 the LORD3068 with the sound6963 of a trumpet.7782

Jer 52:9 Then they took8610 (853) the king,4428 and carried him up5927 unto413 the king4428 of Babylon894 to Riblah7247 in the land776 of Hamath;2574 where he gave1696 judgment4941 upon854 him.

With wings - Hebrew: 'eber {ay-ber'} Strong's Number: 083 NIV Number: 88

1) pinion, wing

a) of bird (dove, eagle)

Psa 55:6 And I said,559 Oh that4310 I had5414 wings83 like a dove!3123 for then would I fly away,5774 and be at rest.7931

As eagles - Hebrew: nesher {neh'-sher} Strong's Number: 05404 NIV Number: 5979

1) eagle, vulture, griffon-vulture

Exo 19:4 Ye859 have seen7200 what834 I did6213 unto the Egyptians,4714 and how I bore5375 you on5921 eagles5404 wings,3671 and brought935 you unto413 myself.

Deu 14:12 But these2088 are they of which834 ye shall not3808 eat:398 the eagle,5404 and the ossifrage,6538 and the osprey,5822

They shall run - Hebrew: ruwts {roots} Strong's Number: 07323 NIV Number: 8132

1) to run

2) runners (participle as subst)

b) to run swiftly, dart

1) to bring or move quickly, hurry

2) to drive away from, cause to run away

Gen 18:2 And he lifted up5375 his eyes5869 and looked,7200 and, lo,2009 three7969 men376 stood5324 by5921 him: and when he saw7200 them, he ran7323 to meet7125 them from the tent door,4480, 6607, 168 and bowed himself7812 toward the ground,776

Gen 24:28 And the damsel5291 ran,7323 and told5046 them of her mother's517 house1004 these428 things.1697

And not3808 be weary - Hebrew: yaga` {yaw-gah'} Strong's Number: 03021 NIV Number: 3333

NOTE: Although the BlueLetter Bible does not show it, there is a participle (Strong's Number 3808) in the Hebrew added to the "weary" that makes this negative - "not" weary

1) to toil, labour, grow weary, be weary

2) to grow weary, be weary

b) to weary, make weary, cause to go toilsomely

c) to make to toil, make weary, cause to be weary

Jos 24:13 And I have given5414 you a land776 for which834 ye did not3808 labor,3021 and cities5892 which834 ye built1129 not,3808 and ye dwell3427 in them; of the vineyards3754 and oliveyards2132 which834 ye planted5193 not3808 do ye859 eat.398

Psa 6:6 I am weary3021 with my groaning;585 all3605 the night3915 make I my bed4296 to swim;7811 I water4529 my couch6210 with my tears.1832

Isa 40:31 But they that wait upon6960 the LORD3068 shall renew2498 their strength;3581 they shall mount up5927 with wings83 as eagles;5404 they shall run,7323 and not3808 be weary;3021 and they shall walk,1980 and not3808 faint.3286

And they shall walk - Hebrew: yalak {yaw-lak'}- Strong's Number: 03212 NIV: 2143

1) to go, walk, come, depart, proceed, move, go away

2) to die, live, manner of life (fig.)

b) to lead, bring, lead away, carry, cause to walk

Gen 5:22 And Enoch2585 walked3212 with854 God430 after310 he begot3205 (853) Methuselah4968 three7969 hundred3967 years,8141 and begot3205 sons1121 and daughters:1323

Gen 12:19 Why4100 saidst559 thou, She1931 is my sister?269 so I might have taken3947 her to me to wife:802 now therefore6258 behold2009 thy wife,802 take3947 her, and go thy way.3212

Gen 13:17 Arise,6965 walk3212 through the land776 in the length753 of it and in the breadth7341 of it; for3588 I will give5414 it unto thee.

Deu 30:16 In that834 I595 command6680 thee this day3117 to love157 (853) the LORD3068 thy God,430 to walk3212 in his ways,1870 and to keep8104 his commandments4687 and his statutes2708 and his judgments,4941 that thou mayest live2421 and multiply:7235 and the LORD3068 thy God430 shall bless1288 thee in the land776 whither834, 8033 thou859 goest935 to possess3423 it.

And not3808 faint - ya`aph {yaw-af'} 03286

1) to be or grow weary, be fatigued, be faint

b) wearied

Isa 40:30 Even the youths5288 shall faint3286 and be weary,3021 and the young men970 shall utterly fall:3782, 3782

Studying this verse in the original Hebrew adds something to it - and perhaps (not for sure) makes it similar to some New Testament verses:

Watch/wait for the Lord?

Matthew 24:42 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Romans 8:23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

1 Corinthians 1:7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

2 Peter 3:12 as you wait eagerly for the day of God to come. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.

Renew their strength?

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

John 5:25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Mount up on wings like eagles?

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Researching the original languages can be fun and exciting. Seeing how a word is used elsewhere in the Bible can really add insight. Please don't let this be a hindrance to you, though. This is useful for special study of small sections or particular issues. Sometimes, like in the verse we studied here, it might put a slightly different spin on the verse. However, we are English-speaking people and we have Bibles in English translations. If major sections of Scripture mean something entirely different in the original language, how good a job did the translators do?

God preserves His Word (and that means in English, too)!! You don't have to be a language scholar for God's Word to work mightily in you. This little exercise here was just to show you that the original languages are not out of your reach, and the tools are there for you to do the deeper study when you want to.

How to study the original languages of the Bible using Strong’s numbers

Next time we'll look at how we got our English Bibles!

 Good link for used books (including exhaustive concordances): AddAll

Learning to be Bereans Bible Study


Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

© 2010 This study was written by Jacqui Komschlies and last updated 9/17/2010. If you have questions, comments, corrections or concerns, please write me.

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