The Old Testament of the Bible was first written in Hebrew. While we have many excellent translations into modern languages, it’s a wonderful experience to learn even a few words from the Hebrew Bible.
Why learn to read the Bible in Hebrew?
When you learn some common Hebrew words in the Bible, you can’t help but focus on the God who first inspired these words.
Learning to read Hebrew words in the Bible helps you slow down and really absorb what you are reading.
Hebrew words are rich in meaning. By learning some Hebrew words in the Bible, you’ll have a deeper sense of what a passage or phrase means. Learning biblical words in Hebrew doesn’t change biblical truths, but it helps you see those truths in an even deeper way.
Most of our modern translations are excellent and have come from intense scholarship and tradition. But translation committees have to make decisions that limit how a word is translated. That’s one reason it’s so helpful to read from and compare multiple translations, to get a fuller sense of the original Hebrew words. When you learn some Hebrew words from the Bible, you can benefit from that fuller understanding of meaning, and you will also have a greater appreciation of the efforts and decisions made by those who have translated the Bible into your language over the years.
God speaks to each of us in our own language. After all, He wants us to understand Him. But there’s something disruptive about hearing a biblical Hebrew word from the Bible that gets our attention and brings a sense of deeper reverence for God. When we read or hear words in English from the Bible, it’s easy to gloss over because the words are so familiar — especially from a favorite or often repeated passage. If you include a biblical Hebrew word in your reading or prayer, it’s not something you can skim. It makes you stop and remember God is present with you in His Word.
For example, if you learn the biblical Hebrew word shalom, meaning peace, wholeness, complete well being, and if you read a passage in English but always say “shalom” when you see that word, you’re going to pause and dwell on the full meaning of shalom. You’re going to remember that it’s God who is telling you to be in complete peace and wholeness because of Him.
Biblical Hebrew reminds you of your need for God
When you start learning biblical Hebrew, you will need God’s help. The alphabet and the sounds are probably very different from your own native language. They’re even different from modern Hebrew, as biblical Hebrew is an ancient language no longer actively spoken except in reading the Hebrew Bible. So you’re going to need God to help you learn words from the Bible in Hebrew.
He will help you. You can be sure of that. But learning biblical Hebrew is a humbling process, and you will become even more aware of your dependency on God and His power to help you press through. This understanding and experience of depending on God will deepen your relationship with Him in a new way and will affect other areas of your daily life and walk with Him.
Can you really learn words from the Bible in Hebrew?
Yes, you absolutely can.
Even if you’ve never learned another language or have struggled with learning a language, you can learn words from the Bible in Hebrew.
Just start slowly. The beautiful thing about biblical Hebrew is it’s not about how many words you know. It’s about the experience. Learning even one word brings you into that amazing experience with God. That’s what it’s all about!
And you’ve already learned one word: shalom. See above where we talked about that word. So you’ve already gotten started. Just take one word at a time, and when you feel like learning a new one, choose your next word.
Start with your favorite or most familiar Bible verse. That way, you can compare the biblical Hebrew words with the translation side by side.
The Hebrew alphabet may seem strange to you at first. But as you keep learning new words, you’ll find the alphabet becoming more familiar. You’ll start to recognize letters without having to think about them. That’s a wonderful feeling.
You can also start with some of the more commonly and frequently used words in the Bible. That way you can learn a word that you will see more often.
You don’t have to learn grammar, either, to enjoy biblical Hebrew. While I do recommend eventually learning some basic grammar, so you can understand the different forms of words in sentences, you don’t need grammar to learn basic words or to have a deep sense of appreciation and amazing experience with God in the Hebrew Old Testament.
So, can you really learn words in biblical Hebrew? Yes, you can!
If you’re ready to dive in, I offer a self-paced online video course introducing you to the Hebrew alphabet and basic words from the Hebrew Bible. This course is for absolute beginners, and no prior experience is needed. To learn more, visit the intro page of the course at Beginning Words in Biblical Hebrew. (This link opens in a new window at the Adventures with God online school.)
Want to get a glimpse of the Hebrew alphabet? Here’s an overview of the first four letters.
To get a taste of biblical Hebrew, you might also enjoy these biblical Hebrew lessons on my blog.
If you’re going to start learning biblical Hebrew, you may also want to get a Hebrew Bible. I recommend this for all students of biblical Hebrew. Even though you won’t be able to read it at first, you will immediately start recognizing words as you learn them — you’ll start to recognize the word for “God” and “Lord” in the pages of Genesis. When you learn the word “shalom” in the Hebrew alphabet, it’ll stand out on the page. You can start to practice reading letters as you learn them. And you can compare the Hebrew words of a familiar verse with your favorite translation, and start learning a word or two that way. So if you want to learn biblical Hebrew, I recommend getting a Hebrew Bible from the beginning. You’ll grow into it as you go along, and you’ll find it helpful at every stage of learning, even right from the start.
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia by Karl Elliger, Willhelm Rudulph, et al. This is the Hebrew Bible I use for my studies. It’s a paperback, so it’s easy to carry around. The Hebrew lettering is clear and large enough to recognize words with ease. The vowels are marked, which will help you sound out the words as you’re learning. Remember to use your Hebrew Bible from right to left, as the Hebrew language reads in that direction.
I pray that God will bless you immensely as you begin your learning of biblical Hebrew.
I invite you to visit the next page in this series: Basics of Biblical Hebrew.
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