By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
As I begin writing this article, I think it is important to note that I am not a Hebrew scholar. However, as a lifelong student of the Bible, which is what we are all called to be, it is important to recognize the richness we find in the Hebrew language. If you are a new student of the Bible the Old Testament was not written in English but in Hebrew. As is common when translation occurs, sometimes the language you are translating into does not always express the fullness or richness of the original language. This does not make the translation bad or inaccurate, but it is a reason why having some understanding of the original language helps. While there are far too many Hebrew words to know in-depth without truly studying the language, here are 10 Hebrew words from the Bible that every Christian should know.
10 Hebrew Words from the Bible Every Christian Should Know
1 – Elohim – This is the plural form of the word El or Eloah and this is the first name for God found in the Bible. We see this word mentioned in Genesis 1:1 and throughout the entire first chapter of Genesis.
“In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth.” – Genesis 1:1 (emphasis added)
The word for God here is Elohim. The reason this word is so important is that this is how God chooses to introduce himself in the opening verse of scripture. What really makes this word interesting and one that warrants further understanding is that Elohim is in a plural form, yet it refers to a singular God. You could argue from the very beginning of scripture God begins to lay the foundation to reveal to us his triune nature. Again, this does not prove the trinity but as you read through scripture this Hebrew word from the Bible makes that truth make more sense.
2 – Ruach – This word means breath, wind, or spirit. In the Old Testament, this word is often related to the Holy Spirit. The first mention of this word is in Genesis 1:2, where we see the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters. When this term is applied to God it can also mean the power that is within the wind. It is not just the Holy Spirit, but the power that he contains.
3 - Chesed or hesed – Earlier I mentioned the difficulties that can occur when translating words from Hebrew to English. This is one of those Hebrew words from the Bible that fit into this category. The word can be translated as mercy, love, loving-kindness, steadfast love, faithful love, or unfailing love. As you can see these are characteristics that we attribute to God, however, this also ties into the difficulty in translating this word. Here is one description found on greatbibleteachers.com that connects this word to God beautifully.
“The lovingkindness of God is what makes the Hebrew/Christian God distinctive. “But what set the God of Israel apart then, what made him completely unique to the point that the other gods were no gods at all, is what still sets him apart today. He is the God who delights in being kind, in loving his creation, and in offering forgiveness and salvation to those who have no right to expect anything from him…The great surprise of the Hebrew Bible is not that God is awesome or holy. These characteristics we would expect from God. The great surprise is that he is kind, that he is a God of hesed. This is what fundamentally makes him unlike any other god then or now.”
And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love (chesed) and faithfulness." – Exodus 34:6 (emphasis added)
4 - Berakah – The definition of this word is blessing. Here is a use of this from Scripture.
"Then on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for it was there that they blessed the Lord. For that reason they named that place “The Valley of Beracah (blessing)” until today." – 2 Chronicles 20:26 (AMP)
One way to think of or use this word is in offering a benediction or blessing at the end of a service. When someone bestows this prayer or blessing at the end of the service, they are demonstrating this word in action.
5 - Hattat – This word is commonly translated in the Old Testament as sin. One imagery of sin is a person missing the mark. You may have heard someone say that when they have sinned, they missed the mark and whether they realize it or not they are expressing a term in Hebrew.
So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin (hattat) these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” – Exodus 32:31-32 (emphasis added)
6 - Mashiach – If there is one Hebrew word in the Bible every Christian should know it’s Meshiach. Just from the pronunciation of the word you may see the similarity to the word Messiah, which means saving or anointed one. Jesus is our Meshiach as he is the saving and anointed one who came to take away our sins.
"Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One (Mashiach), the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble." – Daniel 9:25 (emphasis added)
7 - Qadosh – This word is often translated as holy but for many people, they really don’t grasp what it means to be holy. You will understand this word better when you recognize that to be holy is to be set apart for a special purpose. Ultimately holiness is about living right, and also why you are living right. When we live holy, we position ourselves to be used by God for his special purpose.
"Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness (qadosh); tremble before him, all the earth." – Psalm 96:9 (emphasis added)
8 - Teshuvah – This is the word for repent and clearly this is one Hebrew word in the Bible that is foundational to our walk with God. Firmisrael.org gave a definition to this word that gives the full scope and measure of the word.
“The Hebrew word we translate as ‘repentance’ is teshuva (תשובה, pronounced “teh-shoo-vah”). And teshuva is a lot more than a feeling of guilt or regret. In fact, it derives from the verb ‘to return’!”
What is beautiful about this word is the imagery of repentance it paints. When we repent, we don’t just turn from engaging in sin, we also return to fellowship and relationship with God.
9 - Torah – This word is interesting because this is a Hebrew word from the Bible that many Christians have heard before and have probably used as well. Most often the word is associated with the law or the first five books of the Bible. When thinking of this word it is probably best not to think of the law in the legalistic sense but in the sense of instruction. The Torah is where God lays out his instructions for how the nation of Israel should live with each other and the surrounding nations.
Keep this Book of the Law (Torah) always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. – Joshua 1:8 (emphasis added)
10 - Nephesh – This word is generally translated as soul, however, there are other meanings of this word as well, which can provide more understanding. Nephesh can also mean living being or most commonly life. When translated into English it can also mean mind, desires, heart, or appetite.
"Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the
breath of life, and the man became a living being (nephesh)." – Genesis 2:7 (emphasis added)
I hope you have enjoyed this small journey into the Hebrew language. You don’t have to become a Hebrew scholar to understand the Bible as I am not one. But understanding some of these words can make the scriptures come alive in a whole new way. I encourage you whenever you can to take time to learn more of these words as you continue in your journey as a student of the Bible.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.