Hebrew or Greek?

I have been realizing more and more lately how different my perception is from many others. I don’t say this to toot my own horn, nor to shame anyone else. When you don’t watch television, you don’t listen to the radio, you don’t care the opinion or way or thinking of others, and your sole desire is to know how God sees things, you start to change your opinion on how to view. I want to write briefly on the Hebraic perception versus the Greek perception in the Bible. The contrast can be found in the difference between western and eastern thought. More specifically, the differences between Hebrew and Greek. Here are a few:

Abstract vs. Concrete

To define my terms, abstract thought is a relationship to the world through the mind. Concrete thought is a relationship to the world through the senses. For example, when we look at words like faith, hope, love, or blessing, what is it that we think of? These are all abstract ideas. They are Greek thoughts. The Hebrew was able to think abstractly, but typically that abstract thought related back to a tangible sense.

What are these concepts in the Hebrew concrete thought? Faith is the Hebrew word amuna. It comes from the word aman, or as we would transliterate another form of that word,amen. Aman has the idea of support. When you grow grapes, the vine needs to be lifted up and put on a support, like a wire or fence. That is the idea of aman. Amuna is used in relation to covenant. Because I know of God’s faithfulness and that He will not lie, I can trust that His promises will come true. I put faith in Him the same way that I trust that the grape vine will be supported by the fence.

Ancient Hebrew was written in a pictograph form. The aleph was an ox head, and represented strength. The mem was water, and represented either water or blood. The nun was a sprout, and represented continuation or an heir. The hey was a man with his arms raised up, which could mean worship, beholding, or to reveal. Together, we have a strong blood from the worshiping heir (or son). That is Jesus dying upon the cross. Jesus said that a good work is to believe in Him whom the Father has sent (John 6:29).

The Hebrew word for hope is tiqvah. Tiqva literally means “a cord,” but figuratively means to hope or expect. The tav is two sticks put together to form a cross, and represents a mark, a sign, or a monument. The quph is a picture of the sun at the horizon, and represents a circle or time. The vav is a tent peg that means to secure, hook, or add. We saw in the last word that the hey is a man with his arms raised to represent worship, beholding, or revealing. Together, we have another picture of Jesus: the cross at the appointed time (or as Paul puts it, the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4)) secures worship or revealing. There are really multiple ways to put the words together, all of which seem to give the same message, but slightly different perspectives. That is hope.

To bless literally means to bend the knee. It has the connotation that when you bring gifts before the king, you bend the knee and bow down before him. Likewise, to bless is to “bend the knee” bringing spiritual gifts.

The vast contrast in concrete and abstract thought is seen plainly in just these words. Imagine applying that to a worldview. You no longer just see the Hebrew words different, in which we either need to look up the Hebrew concrete understanding, or we can do the better thing in wrestling with these words based on how Scripture employs them, but you also see that the world itself is not abstract. The things that God has made bring us order and peace, whereas the things that man has created for convenience and luxury bring us chaos and contention.

Appearance vs. Functional Description

When we read our Old Testaments, we need to understand that the descriptions are not given to tell us what an object looks like. The descriptions are to tell us what the object wasused for. An example would be Noah’s ark. If you were to take the measurements given for Noah’ ark seriously, you would find that it was in the shape of a box. I have no difficulty with believing the numbers given, but what was being described was not a box. Instead, what was being described was a massive boat. What is the function, or purpose, of that boat? It was built to carry many, many, many animals and creatures to survive a worldwide flood.

If we think that the description of something is for its appearance, then we have misunderstood what is being spoken. In Hebrew, the word ayil is used to mean both deer and oak tree. In our Greek ways of thinking, we would describe these two things as completely different. Yet, in the Hebrew thought, they have the same function, and therefore are given the same word to describe them. The word ayil is actually defined as “a strong leader,” but we translate it as deer or oak tree not understanding the Hebrew mindset.

Simply put, the deer stag is a very strong animal, and is considered the leader of the animals in the forest. Likewise, the oak tree is the hardest of wood, and is also considered the “leader,” or “strength” of the forest. Psalm 29:9 is translated by the KJV as, “The voice of the Lord makes the deer to calve.” Yet, the NIV translates this same verse as, “The voice of the Lord twists the oaks.” Learning that ayil is properly defined as “a strong leader,” the verse should actually be translated as, “The voice of the Lord makes the strong leaders to turn.”

Because Hebrew thought does not typically describe appearance, but instead describes function, there are very few Hebrew adjectives. In fact, when you learn Hebrew, you learn the verb participles, which is a verb used as an adjective. The reason for this is simple: Hebrew thought is more action and function oriented than appearance.

This comes in handy when we read passages like 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul is describing love. Notice that in the passage Paul does not describe necessarily what love looks like, but instead what love acts like:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

Paul describes how love functions. We might be able to wiggle our way into saying that this is what love looks like, but once we understand that it is Hebrew to speak about function instead of appearance, we must admit that that is indeed what Paul is doing here. And why should we be surprised? He himself claimed that he was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” Philippians 3:5.

Impersonal vs. Personal Description

A Greek thinker has no difficulty to describe an object according to the object. What this would mean is that we say, “The pencil is…” This is similar to describing the object’s appearance, but it doesn’t have to be an appearance. When we describe a person, we can say that this person is compassionate, or they are an angry person, etc. It is different in the Hebrew perspective. The Greek would say, “The pencil is…” but the Hebrew would say, “I write with the pencil.” Hebrews describe things in relation to self.

In Hebrew, there is no word for “is.” You will not find the word in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is true to say that when we translate it to English that the word “is” appears. That is how we make the sentence to make sense. But the Hebrew when describing God will speak of God as, “My God,” or, “God is merciful to me.” There is a relationship between the speaker and the object being spoken of. The main point is that when we speak of Paul as an Hebrew, we need to have the understanding that he thinks differently. Once again, this does not diminish in any way that Hebrews can relate an object to itself. The certainly can and could.

There are examples in our New Testaments where we read statements like, “God is love.” This is a statement where God is being described according to Himself. But it is much more common to find statements like, “You have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” You can see in this that Paul is not relating the Spirit according to how we know Him through revelation of Himself, but rather we know God in His revelation to us, andthrough us. It is personal, not impersonal.

Passive vs. Active Nouns

Greek nouns refer to a person, place, or thing. Hebrew nouns refer to an action of a person, place, or thing. This comes from two different things. First, most of the Hebrew nouns come from a verb. For example, BRK is the verb to kneel, or to bless. From that, we get the noun berak, which is the knee. Our knee is the place where the leg bends and allows us to kneel. Similarly, the word berakah means, “gift.” We can describe it as, “that which is brought with a bent knee.”

The other place that this comes into play can be described with the understanding of a mountain. The Hebrews did not see the mountains as pieces of land that was elevated. They saw them in action. The earth rose up and was exalted. The high places were those places that lifted themselves up toward the heavens. It is action packed instead of description oriented. This is another way of seeing “appearance vs. function.”

Time is a Continuum, and Everything is Interwoven

Time is a funny thing. We need to wrestle with the Hebrew concept of time. For starters, the Hebrews saw time likened to being in front or behind us. We would say in our Greek culture that the future is in front of us because we are moving toward it. The Hebrews would say that the future was behind us because we cannot see it. We can see the events of the past, but unless we are prophets, we cannot see the events of the future. This one statement alone shows us that we have the wrong perception of time.

The modern Western world views time as linear: it has a beginning and an end. It doesn’t matter how long ago the beginning was, nor does it matter when the end will come. Every Western thinker believes that there was a beginning and an end. We see time as a progression, and therefore we from start to finish. Somewhere in the past man arose. According to the Bible, it was God that made man. Somewhere toward the “end of the age” God will destroy the “heaven and the earth” and make a “New Heaven and New Earth.” So our Western Christianity sees a start with Genesis 1:1 and an end with Armageddon; depending on whether we believe there will be a 1000-year reign of Christ or not, it might come sooner rather than later.

Between the beginning and the end have been all sorts of events. According to Biblical history and not secular history, there has been a worldwide flood, there has been a bottlenecking of humanity because of that flood, a dispersal from Babel, the formulation of nations, an Exodus of the nation Israel out of Egypt, the rise and fall of Israel as a nation, Babylonian captivity, re-gathering of Israel, the advent of Christ, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D, and then the last 2000 years of history from that time. It is all a linear progression from day one to now.

In fact, this linear timeline can be used to describe days, months, years, and etc. We can ascribe to the days hours, and to those hours minutes, and to those minutes seconds. We can then see a progression of second after second to make minutes, and eventually we can see the days passing by. Seasons also come and go. Years pass by with the months, where January is the start of the year, and December is the end of the year.

There is another option. We can see it easiest with this last paragraph. There is “circular” time. Think of a clock where the hands continue to pass by the numbers, but the clock continues to have the same numbers. It is in the shape of a circle because the time repeats itself. You will come back around to 12 o’clock again. Our seasons will go from winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall, and fall goes back to winter.

Days from the Hebrew perspective are not seen as 24-hour intervals that we measure, but instead of “evening and morning.” There is a repetition, a cycle. This pattern was established in the beginning. In the Hebrew mind, timelessness is not to be “without time” in the Greek sense, but instead to be without cycles and patterns. In the New Heaven and New Earth, there will be no more darkness. There will be no more sea. There will be no more cold. There will be no more sun, moon, or stars, which were given for signs and seasons, therefore resulting in there will be no more seasons. Time ceases, not because there is a lack in the progression of actions, but because there are no more cycles and repetitions.

When we read Genesis 1:1, we see “in the beginning,” or “when this present age started.” Before this present age was another age. That age before this one cannot be known or understood through the lens of this age. It was completely different. I don’t hold to the idea of a world where the angels fell, but I do hold to a time before this time. In fact, we can even say that the age we are currently in is the not the same age as was experienced by Adam before the Fall. After sin entered the world, the entire cosmos was altered and shifted. Now everything moans and groans.

There was another age that started with the Flood. God cleansed the earth of the wickedness of man, but it did not rid the earth of sin. From that end, which was in itself also a beginning, to the present time, we have been in what Paul calls, “this present evil age.” We will continue in this age until the “new heaven and new earth.” Paul referred to that time as, “life from the dead (Romans 11:15),” a “resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15),” a “glory (Colossians 3:4),” and “salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:9).” It is actually possible to form an argument that Paul would even assert that there started a new era since the resurrection of Christ.

I said earlier that the ages cannot be understood from one to the next. The Bible records of this present age, which is from Genesis 1:1 through to the “New Heaven and New Earth.” But there are other “eras” within that time frame. What happened before Genesis 1:1 is a contradiction in terms. What will happen after Revelation 20 is a contradiction in terms. When we have come to a place of no cycles, how can we fathom time? It is true that the Greek idea of time will continue onward, but that in no way eliminates the notion that circular time will cease to exist.

It is also important to notice that even though I’m saying time is circular, I’m not saying that there is no progression. Time progresses, and God does indeed move from one point in time to another. When the cycle reaches around, we are not in the same place as before. There is a progression, even though I’m expressing time as a circle. Time repeats in patterns and cycles, but it isn’t an exact repetition.

In conclusion, this is only a brief introduction to a different way of perceiving. There is a lot more to be able to say about the way that the Hebrews viewed things such as Hebrew anatomy, the Hebraic way of discipleship, the Hebraic way of debating, etc. For now, I hope this helps in opening up the Scriptures in a new sort of light.


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