Hebrew as a Tool Language

Our belief in the inspiration of the Bible makes the study of Hebrew particularly signifi­cant.

By H. E. SNIDE, Bible Instructor, Southern Junior College

The Seventh-day Adventists, who have a great work to do for God and but a short time in which to do it, there must be very practical reasons for spending our time in a certain study, whether it be Hebrew or any­thing else. Most foreign languages are studied as tools for use in some other branch of learn­ing. This is also true of Hebrew. A Seventh-day Adventist professor in the field of natural science once said that he had never studied Hebrew because the ground had been so thor­oughly covered that there was nothing new to find. But then his scientific honesty led him to volunteer the information that a friend of his who had recently begun to specialize in Biblical archeology was compelled to study Hebrew as a tool language. "So," the scientist admitted, "perhaps there is some practical value to He­brew after all."

Our belief in the inspiration of the Bible makes the study of Hebrew particularly signifi­cant. We who still believe that God "spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets," surely have every reason for learning exactly what He "spake." The converse is also true, for it is a fact that the rapidly increasing dis­belief of the Scriptures among Protestant theo­logians is definitely weakening their interest in the Biblical languages. As the last legion of the faithful in this faithless generation, we Seventh-day Adventists must grasp the falling torch of Biblical scholarship from the weaken­ing hands of apostasy, and let our light shine forth.

The inroads of infidelity make even standard lexicons unsafe at times, and we must be able to check them against actual Scriptural usage. It is not an unheard-of thing for a reference to be cited as showing the use of a word which is found to be woefully deficient in weight, or even to be capable of an entirely different meaning.

The destructive critics claim that their work can be understood only by those who know the original Biblical tongues. And those who do not read the originals, may, purely as an act of faith, deny the critical assertions, but they are in no position to disprove them. Without some knowledge of Hebrew, it is even impossible to appreciate or to use intelligently the remarkable works of such scholars as E. B. Pusey and Robert Dick Wilson. Doctor Wilson's book, "A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament," is a basic study in fundamentalist apolo­getics; yet the book can hardly be read, much less understood or appreciated, by one who has no knowledge of Hebrew.

Further Reasons Enumerated for Study

Seventh-day Adventists should be supreme in Biblical philology. First, in order to arrive at truth; second, because we have truth. For it is unavoidable that the conclusions of philolo­gists should often be affected by subjective opinions in the field of theology. In all places where the contextual meaning has a part in determining the identity of a word, where the form alone is ambiguous, one's theological ideas necessarily determine one's philological conclusions. In such cases, the purer one's theology, the more correct one's philology is likely to be. Thus, to the extent that Seventh-day Adventists surpass others in true Biblical understanding, they should surpass also in phi­lology wherever the philology is based in part upon subjective theological concepts. Such in­stances are not rare.

It may be a question of Kal (noncausative) or Hiphil (causative) in a pe-gutteral, lamed-he verb (71'.?;.0), where, in such forms as ',r.1 the spelling of both Kal and Hiphil is identical and the only determining factor is the context. (See Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, by Davidson. section 24, remark 16.) Accord­ing to "The Hebraist's Vade Mecum," this one ambiguous form occurs more than eighty times in the Old Testament. Or it may be a question of from which root a word comes, or it may be any one of many questions which are more likely to be decided aright by one who is theologically sound. Not only do Seventh-day Adventists need trained philologists, but phi­lology needs trained Seventh-day Adventists. In this, as in other things, we ought to be the head and not the tail.

It is not sufficient to depend" altogether on a lexicon. Our knowledge of the language should be adequate to enable us to check the accuracy of the lexicon if need be. Proofreaders are still fallible, and lexicons are certain to contain typographical errors. We should be able to detect them. A student at our Theological Seminary this summer reported seven such errors in "Bagster's Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon," which he found while read­ing the book of Genesis.

A woman who was in the habit of deciding on her own medicines for various real or fancied ailments, was taken to task by her physician. "But," she said, "I have a big doctor book that tells just what to take, and the dose and everything." "Yes," replied the doctor, "but some day you will die of a mis­print." We ought to know enough Hebrew not to "die of a misprint."

One of the most noticeable blessings one gains from the study of a Biblical language is the enrichment of the Scriptures, not only for didactic purposes, but for private devotional reading. Any translation is a dilution. There are shades of meaning and connotations of words which are untranslatable, and which therefore are necessarily lost in translation. In Hebrew, for instance, the intensive force of the piel and the pual is usually lost in trans­lation, and the causative idea in the hiphil and the hophal is often lost.

For example, in Genesis 32:28 where the reason is given for changing Jacob's name to Israel, the angel says, "For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.", In the Hebrew, "and hast prevailed" is (see PDF for the Hebrew text), the hophal form, causative, passive; literally "and thou wast caused to prevail." When we recall Jacob's unregenerate and futile efforts to prevail through his own strength, and when we realize that his final triumph lay in abandoning self-assertion and relying upon the Infinite, then we find a remarkable reflection of truth in the hophal form: not "thou hast prevailed" by thine own might and prowess, as the English translation would imply, but from the Hebrew, "thou wast caused to prevail" by that eternal Power on which thou hast learned to rely. Similar ex­amples could be multiplied indefinitely.

Another advantage of a knowledge of He­brew is the added confidence it gives in expounding the Scriptures. If one has ever suffered the experience of preaching from a text as given in translation, only to be informed later that the meaning in the original would in no wise sustain the point emphasized, then he will appreciate the sense of safety and security that comes from the ability to consult the original for himself. Although one need not and should not often refer publicly to the original, yet occasionally such reference is in place, pro­vided it is not too technical and confusing.

And it is certain to become known among those for whom one labors that the pastor or the president or the Bible teacher can read He­brew, and this will add to their confidence in their minister.

Against all these advantages, the only dis­advantage that can well be imagined is the difficulty of the language. This difficulty is partly real and partly imaginary. Such diffi­culty as there is has been grossly exaggerated.

After taking two summers of Hebrew at the seminary, a student said he believed that with the same effort put forth in study, one could more quickly become able to read Hebrew than Greek, and that is probably true. Students should not be frightened with stories of the great difficulty of Biblical languages. To get a good grade in Greek or Hebrew, a student need study no harder than he would to get the same grade in French or German. Even though the ancient languages are intrinsically more difficult, yet no more hard labor is re­quired of a student for a year's work than for a modern language. The difference is that at the end of his course he may not have mastered the language quite so well.

The Biblical languages are the most practical languages that can be studied by a Seventh-day Adventist. Most of those who study Spanish, French, or German, never use those languages when their school days are over. But a knowl­edge of Biblical languages is a daily lifelong delight in the devotional reading of the Scrip­tures, in studying Sabbath school lessons and Morning Watch texts, and in preparation for giving the third angel's message to others.

The statements in the Spirit of prophecy dis­couraging the study of ancient languages will be seen, if read thoughtfully, to apply to the study of the old pagan classical literature, and do not refer to proper study of the Holy Scrip­tures in their original tongue. Our young peo­ple spend from two to eight years learning one or more foreign languages, only to abandon their knowledge unused. If the same effort were expended on Biblical languages, there would be gained in the process a profound and accurate knowledge of Scripture, and there would be acquired a tool for, the further study of Scripture—a tool which could ever be used to the glory of God.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By H. E. SNIDE, Bible Instructor, Southern Junior College

September 1939

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Reducing Losses and Retaining Gains

How can we reduce our losses and retain our gains?

The Early and Latter Rain—No. 1

Biblical exposition help for your consideration.

Reaching the Women of India

Can we not get a vision from this of one way to break down prejudice against Christianity and build up strong favorable impres­sions?

Training an African Ministry

It is now more than forty-five years since our mission work began among the Afri­can people. Ever since, it has been the object of our missionaries to train the Af­rican to bear responsibility.

Personality Involves A Pleasing Voice

Probably no greater compliment was ever paid to a man than Mark paid to Jesus when he wrote, "The common people heard Him gladly." But it was not only what Jesus had to say; it was also how He said it, that caused the common people to hear Him gladly.

Are You Hitting at Nothing?

A Searching Question for Each Worker

Music in Present-Day Evangelism

Music is a handmaiden of religion.

Qualifications of Ministers

Vital "Testimony" Counsels

Three Schools of Prophetic Interpretation

There are three leading systems of prophetic interpretation current in the reli­gious world. Each of these systems has many eminent advocates, and each group, of course, thinks its own system to be the only correct one.

Editorial Keynotes

True Friends Greatly Needed

Fundamental Advertising Principles

Behind every method for bringing goods to the notice of the public are certain sound principles.

The President's Leadership

The wise president, with the interests of the young people pulsating in his heart, will seek to know the youth

The Missionary Nurse in Burma

It is my firm conviction that no class of worker has filled a more useful place in the Lord's work in Burma than has the consecrated missionary nurse.

Maintaining Rhythm in Digestion*

Perhaps no laws of physiology are more commonly disregarded than those relating to digestion.

Institute at Paradise Valley

I have always wanted to be in some type of work where I could help our own church members learn the principles of proper diet and healthful living, so that they could prac­tice these principles in their homes. My op­portunity came when I had the privilege of conducting the nutrition classes in connection with the institute for church workers held at Paradise Valley Sanitarium in April of this year.

Loma Linda Nutrition School

A report from a recent institute held at Loma Linda from April 9 to 13.

Faithfulness in Health Reform

If ever there was a time that required and demanded the top point of efficiency in activities and endeavors, the present day does.

Clean and Unclean Meats

The question arises, Is there confusion in teaching that the record of clean and unclean meats of Leviticus II should be observed today, and at the same time teaching that the ceremonial law as a whole is done away with?

Dealing With the Tobacco Habit

Many of the men and women who come to our meetings, and have a desire to accept God's message, are apparently help­lessly bound by the tobacco habit. How can they find help?

Bible Teaching in Our Schools—l

The secret of successful teaching of the word of God lies in the character of the teacher.

Editorial Postscripts

From the Ministry back page.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - NAD Stewardship (160x600)