Author Topic: Thinking in Hebrew  (Read 356 times)

Brian Stoffregen

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Thinking in Hebrew
« on: July 23, 2021, 07:54:18 PM »
This article got me thinking more about the differences between thinking in Hebrew and thinking in Greek.
https://whathappened.church/blog/thinking-in-hebrew-vs-thinking-in-greek/?fbclid=IwAR062a3Eao0XDr-DU28aKKEzG7Zu5unlPDZgwxHLey5y8PBMDrDSMdzaMyM


Some differences in my memory banks: Hebrew tends to be verb driven (actions) while Greek tends to be noun driven (thoughts). That is, Hebrews will tell stories about ways God loves his people (which sometimes means acting in unloving ways to discipline them). Greeks write essays about how God is love.


Hebrew was a spoken language. The consonants had to be read (always outloud) in order to know what the words meant. As I will show later, the letters: אמן ('mn) can have a variety of meanings depending on the vowel sounds when they are heard. ἀλήθεια will be pronounced the same way whenever it's read from a text.


Greek was more of a written language.


A key difference is that literate cultures ask, "What do the words mean?" Words are used to evoke ideas or pictures in the head. Oral cultures ask, "What do the words do to the hearers?" Words are used to evoke responses, e.g., laughter, crying, sympathy, anger, etc. When God spoke in Genesis 1, the words did something. They conveyed more than just information.


Specifically, looking at Greek and Hebrew words for "truth". (Going a bit further than the essay link posted at the beginning.)


ἀλήθεια = f. noun truth, truthfulness; reality
ἀληθεύω = vb. speak the truth; be honest
ἀληθής = adj. true, truthful, honest; real, genuine
ἀληθινός = adj. real, genuine; true; dependable
ἀληθῶς = adv. truly, in truth, actually, surely

This group of Greek words (and definitions from A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, revised Edition, prepared by Barclay M. Newman (at the back of my Novum Testamentum Graece 28th Revised Edition).


This group of words  come from ἀ = negation + λήθω = "to elude notice, to be unseen, to be secret". Thus, this group of words is about revealing what might not have been seen or noticed. That is, they are about revealing what is real. "The true God" is the God that is real.


The group of Hebrew words related to "truth" have the root: אמן ('MN). (We get "amen" from this root.) The origin of this root is centered on that which is firm, reliable, trustworthy.


Verb, אָמַן 'aman can refer to pillars or other things that support a building. It can also refer to adults (like a nurse) who support children. It then can refer to the trust or belief one has in a trustworthy person (or God).


Related words and definitions from A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament ed. William L. Holladay,


אֹמֶן = 'omen = n.m. reliability
אָמֵן = 'amen = adv. surely, truly, amen
אֵמוּן or אֵמֻן = 'emun = n.m. true, reliable
אֲמוּנָה = 'emunah = n.f. steadiness, reliability, honesty
אָמְנָה = 'amnah = adv. in truth, truly
אֲמָנָה = 'amanah = agreement
אָמְנָם = 'amnam = adv. surely, truly
אֱמֶת = 'emneth = n.f. steadiness, reliability, permanence, continuance; fidelity; truth; true

While not at odds with the Greek idea that "the true God" refers to the God who is real, who has been revealed. In Hebrew thinking, "the true God" refers to one who is reliable, trustworthy, believable. I think that the closest analogy we have to the Hebrew thinking is the phrase, "a true friend." "True" refers to the quality of the relationship, rather than indicating that the friend is real.
« Last Edit: July 23, 2021, 07:57:44 PM by Brian Stoffregen »
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Dan Fienen

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Re: Thinking in Hebrew
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2021, 08:24:01 PM »
There may well be differences in emphases and habitual thought process between Greek and Hebrew. Yet God chose to reveal Himself in both languages. Certainly we can gain insights in considering how Hebrew talks about God and His relationship to us, as well as considering the insights to be gained with how God reveals Himself to us in Greek.


We western Christians are likely to be more familiar with Greek styles of thinking and expressing since Greek is the language of the New Testament, and Greek itself as an Indo-European language is much more closely related to our language than is the Semitic Hebrew.
There is certainly value in considering other points of view and insights to be gained from other peoples. Whether it is considering Hebrew versus Greek expressions, insights from women, and non-European and non-Western cultures and people. But that does not invalidate our own experiences of God, expressions about God, or insights, as Western European cultured Christians.

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Charles Austin

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Re: Thinking in Hebrew
« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2021, 08:40:53 PM »
So must Africans, or Pacific Islanders, or Lapps, or Afghans receive the Gospel through “our” languages and cultures?
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Back home from Sioux City after three days and a pleasant reunion of the East High School class of - can you believe it! - 1959.

Dan Fienen

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Re: Thinking in Hebrew
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2021, 12:12:01 AM »
So must Africans, or Pacific Islanders, or Lapps, or Afghans receive the Gospel through “our” languages and cultures?
As is often the case you overstatement and exaggerate your reaction to what I said. Translation from "our" language  and culture to that of other people's will be harder to do for some languages and cultures than for others. The Gosple will always challenge the cultural assumptions of whoever hears it. Even that of Euro-Westerns like you and me. Us Euro-Westerners however have had centuries of attempting to tame the Christ so we sometimes have a harder time hearing how He challenges our business as usual as do others hearing Him fresh.


Whoever would hear the Gospel, however, it must still start to them from Hebrew and Greek, because it was in those languages first written. The challenge for the translator and preacher is to as much as possible get out of the way of the Gospel. We are called to preach Christ, not our cultural adaptation of Christ.
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Thinking in Hebrew
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2021, 02:12:32 AM »
So must Africans, or Pacific Islanders, or Lapps, or Afghans receive the Gospel through “our” languages and cultures?
As is often the case you overstatement and exaggerate your reaction to what I said. Translation from "our" language  and culture to that of other people's will be harder to do for some languages and cultures than for others. The Gosple will always challenge the cultural assumptions of whoever hears it. Even that of Euro-Westerns like you and me. Us Euro-Westerners however have had centuries of attempting to tame the Christ so we sometimes have a harder time hearing how He challenges our business as usual as do others hearing Him fresh.


Whoever would hear the Gospel, however, it must still start to them from Hebrew and Greek, because it was in those languages first written. The challenge for the translator and preacher is to as much as possible get out of the way of the Gospel. We are called to preach Christ, not our cultural adaptation of Christ.


The African students at seminary were much more comfortable with the Old Testament. They said that about 1/4 of Swahili comes from Hebrew. Their culture and thinking was more like that of the Hebrews: Telling stories to convey truth.


I remember one professor trying to illustrate Hebrew thinking by putting a big T on the board for Truth. He then drew arrows pointing to the T from all different directions. The arrows represented the stories told to illustrate the Truth - looking at it from many different perspectives. No one story contained it all, but only illustrated a part. Thus, they had no problems with two different creation stories; both pointing to T; or two Flood stories, or Deuteronomy repeating the events in Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, like repeating the Ten Commandments not quite verbatim from Exodus; or 1 & 2 Chronicles repeating the history of the kings of Judah that are included in Samuels and Kings. (They omit the kings of Israel.)


The early Jewish believers elevated four stories of Jesus among the many early gospels; rather than just one or a harmony of them all.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]