It's all Greek to Me? Fun with Bible Languages!
Have you hit “zoom fatigue” yet? I have been spending so much time on camera lately! Between video calls and filming for church, zooming for family life, I am on camera several hours a day. It gets tiring looking at your own face for that long.
Even though my habit has been to record a video tea time chat each week, I decided I should take a break from being on camera today (minus my three video calls and meetings...oh, well…)
I’ve been wanting to share a really cool website that might help you go deeper in your bible study and today seems like a good day for it.
As you know, the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) are written in biblical Hebrew and the New Testament is in biblical Greek (Not to be confused with spoken Hebrew and Greek. It’s kind of like comparing Chaucer’s English to the way we speak. Just not the same). And, you know we pastors in our sermons will always say stuff like, “Well, in the English it says nonsense but in the Greek text it really says anoisíes...blah blah blah…”
As pastors in our denomination, we have some specialized training in the biblical languages. But, I think it’s really helpful for anyone who wants to read the bible well and deeply to try to get a sense for the original language. There is a great website called www.biblehub.com that can help you explore the Hebrew or Greek.
When you go to www.biblehub.com and open up the page, you will see a search bar like this one. Type in the verse you want to explore. I put in Matthew 22:37 (the greatest commandment).
If you want to see the biblical Greek, click on “Interlin” (NOT on “Greek”). “Interlin” gives you the Greek in “interlinear” form, which means it’s right in line with the English text. (Note: the Hebrew text reads right to left!)
Next, if you want to go deeper into the word, click on the little number above it. This will take you to a dictionary page where you will see the simple definition, every usage of the word in the Bible, and a longer more complicated dictionary entry. Let's look at the word "love":
Clicking on the number takes you here:
Here's where you can see all the usages of love or agape in the bible:
Here's where you get the more complex dictionary definition:
I think looking at the language gets really fun when you get to a passage that is tricky. If you read a passage in a parallel bible either in real life or online, you might notice that translations can vary widely. This is a clue that there is something hard to translate in a text. You can go into www.biblehub.com and take a look for yourself at the original language.
Take John 3:16, for example. We usually hear it translated as “For God so loved the world…” but that word “world” actually is cosmos which means more than just the world. It can also mean “universe.”
One more note to keep in mind as you dive in: translators are people...and all people bring their own perspective and bias to a text. So, a translator’s background and culture may influence their translation choices, which in turn can truly influence an understanding of a text. For example, in Genesis 2:7 (then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground), the Hebrew word translated as man is “adam.” Adam is a play on the word ha adamah (the ground) and means something closer to “earthling.”
Adam could be translated as “human” rather than “man.” "Humus" is a type of soil, so you could argue that thinking of "human" and "humus" keeps the spirit of the biblical wordplay of "adam" and "adamah" better than "adam" and "man", and therefore "human" is closer to the original intent.
Take a look at the text of Genesis 2:5-9, and using your imagination, replace “man” with “human.” Does this change how you understand the text?
"In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed a human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into the human's nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there God put the human whom God had formed. 9 Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." I hope you enjoyed this foray into ancient biblical languages!
May the Lord bless you and keep you.