Today, I am reviewing 5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know: A Bite-Sized Bible Study (self published) by Lois Tverberg.
A book on the subject of Hebrew words every Christian (presumably English-speaking) should know undoubtedly raises the question, “How will my life benefit by knowing Hebrew words?” Tverberg provides a wonderful analogy that answers that question in the introduction.
You could say that words themselves are packaging. Words are the luggage that we use to transport our thoughts into the minds of others.
In English, we have an enormous number of “suitcases,” words with various shades of meaning and formality. Some dictionaries put the number at 100,000, some more. But believe it or not, biblical Hebrew has only about 4000 words, a tiny fraction of the vocabulary of English.
You might wonder how Hebrew can communicate with so few words. The reason is that each “suitcase” is roomier inside—deeper, wider, more spacious. Many Hebrew words carry a wider range of meaning than the corresponding word in English. Unpacking the ideas within a Hebrew “suitcase” is often enormously helpful in Bible study. ” (p.8-9)
The author goes on to describe the flowery wordplay and nuances within Scripture than are completely lost when read in a language other than Hebrew. Yes, we can get the general idea of what’s being said, but the beauty and poetry of the language falls far short of the depth conveyed by the Hebrew language.The book was a quick read (hence the subtitle, A Bite-Sized Bible Study), but it contains a surprisingly dense amount of content. I appreciated that each Scripture referenced includes a link to three different side-by-side translations on the Bible Gateway website. Comparing the KJV (literal), NLT (idiomatic) and NIV (a balance of the two approaches) helps put the words in perspective, as opposed to relying on any single Bible version. Each chapter includes reflection questions to help you dig even deeper and apply the broader understanding to your life as well as further reading resources and study helps for each of the five word concepts presented.
In the first chapter we gain insight on what it means to fear God in the Biblical sense? Learn how the Hebrew word translated as fear can mean both extreme terror and supreme reverence, and some practical ways to tell the difference when reading. This chapter includes a portion from the book of Jonah which demonstrates a clever wordplay where three different meanings of the same word are packed into just a few short verses.
In chapter 2 we consider whether we have “ears to hear.” have you ever pondered the meaning of that saying of Jesus? The author sheds light on the Hebrew word often translated as hear, and you might be surprised at the deeper meaning. She also explains how understanding this Hebrew word can greatly widen one’s understanding of the Shema, which is the foundational statement of faith of the Hebrews. (This was one of the first Hebrew words I learned and it remains one of my favorites.)
In chapter 3 we begin to comprehend how a visitation can be a pleasant experience or a terrifying encounter (or even both at once). In explaining the deeper meaning of the concept of visitation in Hebrew it also covers how a single Hebrew word can convey both positive and negative meanings, in some cases at the same time.
In chapter 4 we learn how knowing goes far deeper than what we think of as knowledge. This is the most extensive chapter, as it the most difficult concept in the book. It is filled with many Biblical examples to help bring out the deeper meaning and make it clear and help the reader understand the surprising amount of depth and beauty that is hidden in the Hebraic sense of knowing.
In chapter 5 we dive into the Hebrew concepts of forgetting and remembering, and the active role they take in our lives. It provides a fresh perspective on how active God desires our relationship with Him to be, and how that mirrors his own love and behavior toward us.
5 Hebrew Words that Every Christian Should Know is a quick read at 46 pages, but it will leave you hungering for more. The intention is for it to serve as a Hebrew language appetizer (which is the example the author uses in the introduction, not to mention that it is subtitled A Bite-Sized Bible Study.) It provides a starting point to delving into the Hebrew language and points you toward resources to undertake a deeper study of the five concepts presented. I’m looking forward to Tverberg’s upcoming book titled Reading the Bible With Rabbi Jesus which promises to be a practical and insightful take on Bible study, including a deeper discussion on Hebrew words and other “big-picture” ideas that often remain concealed in English translations of Scripture.
Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus (Zondervan, 2012)
An examination of some of Jesus’ most important words in the light of their Jewish context. What did they mean to a first century disciple and how should we understand them today?
Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (Zondervan, 2009)
How would your understanding of the gospel be reshaped by the customs, beliefs and traditions of the Jewish culture of Jesus and His disciples in first century Israel?
Listening to the Language of the Bible (En-Gedi Resource Center, 2004)
A guide for discovering the richness of the Scriptures in their Hebraic setting.
If you are an author and have a current or upcoming book that you would like reviewed, please leave me a comment below or contact me via the email link on the About That W page.