No one expects you to be a Bible scholar, but let me ask you this. What is your favorite pastime? Sewing? Cooking? Baseball? Golf? And what do you do with those things? Maybe you subscribe to a certain magazine. Maybe you watch certain TV shows or sporting events. Maybe you read books on the subject. Whatever it is you enjoy, you spend time learning more about it, don't you? Maybe not as much as a professional, but certainly more than the average Joe—or Josephine. Not only do you enjoy being able to talk about it, you do not want to look foolish when you can't even define the basic terminology or know the rules of the game.
So in that spirit, as Christians, disciples of the Lord, children of the Father, we should want to know the basics about certain subjects. We certainly ought to know the Handbook inside and out. I would hope I don't need to even mention that, but what about the original languages it was written in? If we don't know the ABCs, so to speak, we may make some embarrassing errors or worse, lead someone astray with faulty arguments.
I don't know Hebrew. I don't read Hebrew. It all looks like chicken scratch to me. But over the years I have learned a few things about it.
First, you read it right to left, not left to right as we do. That means when you have a book written in Hebrew you will read it back to front. I suppose to Hebrew readers it is front to back and we are the ones doing it back to front, but you get my point. The first time I picked up a Hebrew book and found the title page in the back (front to them) it really threw me for a loop. You ought to find one just so you have that experience.
Second, there were no written vowels in Hebrew for centuries. Some liberal scholars have tried to make hay with this. Just imagine English without vowels. The word "RD" would give you fits. It could be read, red, rad, raid, road, rod, rid, ride, rude, and maybe a few others. Some people have done their best to make it seem that knowing exactly what the Hebrew says is impossible, but they are wrong. All those centuries ago the common people did not have access to written scrolls. They were read aloud to the people, people who could memorize at the drop of a hat—it was their culture to do so. The tradition of how a word was read was passed down through the years. They would have instantly known it when someone tried to put a different word in there.
Along came the Masoretes who developed a system of "pointing" around the consonants to indicate which vowel went where. In addition to that, Origen, one of the so-called Church Fathers, included the transliteration of the Hebrew Bible into Greek when he compiled six Ancient versions of that Bible in the second century AD (the Hexapla). In many places these match what later became the written vowels in the Masoretic text, further validation of the Old Testament we have today.
Another interesting thing is word groups. Most Hebrew words are based on a three letter root, which is easily seen even when transliterated into English letters. For example, Shalom, Solomon, Jerusalem, and Shulamite are all SLM words, which tells you they are related somehow. I have no idea how many roots there are, but I bet I can find quite a few now that I know that little trick.
The last thing I want to mention is the use of repetition in the Hebrew language. While there are a few intensifying words, they are rare. The Hebrew language prefers to use word order and repetition to create emphasis. The "(singular) of (plural)" repetitive construction will often be used, as in "Lord of Lords" and "King of Kings." It doesn't actually say "Most Holy Place" in all those passages about the tabernacle and the Temple. It says, "Holy of Holies." If your Bible includes a "most," that is the translator's decision because that is how we would ordinarily say it in English. The point is this: repetition equals emphasis in the Old Testament. "Abraham, Abraham" would have gotten that patriarch's attention much more readily than a single "Abraham," sort of like using all three of your child's names when you are angry with him. Be careful when you try to make some point involving these phrases or the fact that words are repeated. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord," does not mean you are required to say "Holy" three times whenever you refer to God. That was their way of saying, "The Lord is the Most Holy."
I hope these little nuggets of information have interested you enough to learn a little more on your own. You can never know too much about the Word of God.
Next time we'll talk about Greek.