The magical powers of Hebrew (and Greek, I guess)


By Kris (with a "K")

So I'll admit, when I first decided to study the biblical languages I thought I was going to be entering into a magical world where the Hebrew and Greek languages were going to make things come alive in new ways I'd only imagined before. Part of this was because of the mystery that shrouded the biblical languages—of which case this mystery was primarily fueled by a lack of exposure and simple honest-to-God ignorance.

But I still remember the expectations I had for the "literal" readings that I'd been teased with in my NASB margins to melt away at the glory of reading the Scriptures in the original tongues.

When I first heard that there were no such things as original manuscripts, this was my first of many future mental stutters. But it made sense, so I moved on. Then, when I realized Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek were just another language obscured with boring rules of grammar and syntax, my original enchantment began to wear off.


But over the years of continued persistence at trying to fully appreciate what they bring to the table, I feel I have much more sobered expectations now—and thankfully, more appreciated yields. In other words, I don't feel betrayed when a "word study" on some puzzling use doesn't result in exegetical gems and theological jewels.

More and more, I have a growing interest in understanding how the language actually works—than a nagging and misplaced hope that some gnostic nugget will arise from my Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (mine's for sale!).

The transition has been strange, but I would trade it for nothing. I only hope that more students and even lay members begin to realize there is nothing magical about the biblical languages—and that if anything, and anywhere, the magic lies in the message... which thankfully can transcend languages and cultures, though it be wrapped up inside them.

"I create what I speak"

Of course the biblical languages can help to identify and elucidate this message, but the signifier must not be mistaken for the signified (de Saussure, anyone?).

All of this to say, it makes me sad when I see "teachers" (James 3.1) misuse the biblical languages, and reinforce this idea that the biblical languages are somehow infused with the divine, more so than any other tongue that He created.

Stuff like this—that behind every letter is a story waiting to be tapped—makes me face-palm. This example is for real:

Let’s examine the word stone or rock in Hebrew, it is eben and looks like this: אבן

The Aleph, א , is the first character in the Hebrew alphabet and represents God or Heavenly Father.

The Bet, ב , combined with the Nun, ן , means Son in Hebrew or Jesus Christ.

Hence, stone in Hebrew means the Father and the Son. So when we are told in the New Testament (Luke 6:48) to build our house on a rock and not sand, we should build them on a foundation made up of the Father and the Son.

Wait, what?!

Let me just be clear:

  • Hebrew consonants (i.e. characters) don't represent things (maybe they do according to Jewish folklore)—but they're letters! Simple as that. They're not hieroglyphics. 
  • Bet and nun most definitely do not mean "Jesus Christ"—much less "son" (but I can be more sympathetic with what the post writer is trying to say).
  • And yes, you guessed it: stone in Hebrew most definitely does not mean "the Father and the Son". *sigh
  • So yes, the extrapolation of this error-laden word study onto Luke 6:48 is so misconstrued I don't even know where to begin untangling the knotted premises.

Students of the original languages are fortunate to be able to study these languages in an age where the general field of linguistics has come so far, and offers so much to glean. I only hope that more and more professors, teachers, students, invested lay, and sundry and come to appreciate the gains. In the words of Jesus,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

And yes, the Greek says just that. No magic-strings attached.