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Word Study Wednesday

God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ who came to make His Father known (John 1:18).

Over the next few Wednesdays, we will be covering several things to keep in mind while doing word studies.  These will include:

  1. The sound of the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word effects its usage.
  2. The original word may not have a precise equivalent in English.
  3. The original word may have multiple meanings.
  4. Words that deal with the abstract may have more concrete meanings.
  5. Words may be translated into English words which have been abandoned and not in common use.

Let’s consider the first of these today.  Every word has both sound and meaning.  Sometimes in Bible translations the sound is lost and the meaning is retained, and other times the sound is retained and the meaning is lost.

When doing a word study, we should consider whether the sound of the original word effects it’s usage.  There are often connections between words that sound alike but mean something different.  Hebrew in particular, abounds with wordplay where rhyming words and alliteration are used bring our attention to larger points or emphases (Greenstein, “Wordplay, Hebrew” Anchor Bible Dictionary 6:968-71).

Take for instance the use of the Hebrew rhyming words tohu bohu.  They occur in Genesis 1:2 (form and void), Isaiah 34:11 (confusion and emptiness), and Jeremiah 4:23 (form and void).  When examined with Isaiah 45:18 we see that the earth became that way; it wasn’t created that way.  The Hebrew rhyming words tohu bohu magnify the words “form” and “void” and emphasize the chaos that resulted on earth when Lucifer was cast out of heaven.

There are also other times when the sound is retained and the meaning is neglected.  This often occurs with names.  In the early chapters of Genesis, we find “Adam,” “Eve,” and “Eden.”  These English words retain the sounds of the Hebrew, but neglect to convey the meaning.  “Adam” means “humanity”; “Eve” means “life”; and “Eden” means “delight.”  Indeed, many names have meanings that have been lost while the sound from the original language has been retained.

Enoch’s naming of his son Methuselah was prophetic of the coming flood.  The name Methuselah comes from two roots:  muth which means “death” and from shalach which means to “to send.”  Therefore, the name Methuselah signified “his death shall send” and indeed in the year that Methuselah died the flood came.  Methuselah was 187 when he had Lamech (Genesis 5:25) and lived 782 more years.  Lamech had Noah when he was 182 (Genesis 5:28).  The Flood came in Noah’s 600th year.  So 187 + 182 + 600 = 969.  That’s the age of Methuselah when he died.

Some even go as far as suggesting that God hide a prophecy of Jesus in the genealogy in Genesis 5 (Proverbs 25:2).  By looking at the definitions of the 10 names listed we find prophecy of Jesus.  “Adam” means “man,’’ “Seth “appointed,” “Enos” “incurable,” Cainan “sorrow,” Mahalalel “the praise of God,” Jared “come down,” Enoch “teaching,” Methuselah “death shall send,” Lamech “the despairing,” Noah “rest or comfort.”  The prophecy would read:  Man is appointed incurable sorrow, but the praise of God shall come down teaching and his death shall send or bring the despairing rest and comfort.

We use “Amen” at the end of every prayer.  It seems to function so as to announce the prayer is over.  However, “Amen” comes from a cluster of Hebrew words that revolve around what’s true, trustworthy, reliable and faithful.  Saying “Amen” at the end of a prayer is affirming that God is dependable reliable and faithful.  It also reaffirms our agreement with the words of the prayer.  “Amen” was frequently used by Jesus.  It occurs more than a hundred times in the gospels.  However, instead of using it at the end of a declaration, he uses it at the beginning announcing he has something important to say.  Something the listener will find true, trustworthy, reliable and faithful (John 3:3; 6:47; 8:58 for example).

Hallelujah is another word that retains the original sound.  It means “praise the Lord.”  It appears about 25 times in Psalms exclusively.  The “hallelu” is the verb part that means praise.  It occurs nearly 150 times in the Bible.  “Jah” is an abbreviated way of saying the Lord.  Giving God praise demonstrates our rejoicing in acknowledging all God has done for us.  “Hallelujah” is frequently found in the imperative.  It is a command we give to one another as we enjoin one another to participate in giving God praise.  As such it is a call to remember and recount God’s goodness.

When doing a word study, we should consider if the sound of the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic word effects its usage.  Whether the sound is lost and the meaning in retained, or the sound is retained and the meaning is lost, paying attention to these details can add illumination to any word study.  Next Wednesday we will handle the second tip:  Remember the that original word may not have a precise equivalent in English.