Monday, October 24, 2011

Lessons from Hebrew

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1
This verse says more than you might realize at first. In fact, there are things that are impossible for you to see in this verse when you read it in English. So here are three lessons from Hebrew to show you the depth of theology that is contained in just this one verse.

1) God

The Hebrew word that we translate into English as "God" in the Old Testament is "elohim." It's not technically a proper name. Even more peculiar is the fact that it's in plural form. Literally, it means "gods" in the most generic way. In other parts of the Old Testament, the same word is used for the false gods that are worshipped by the Gentiles and often by even Israel itself.

Why is this significant? From the very first verse of the Bible, we see this mystery of plurality referred to as singular. The singular God of heaven and earth is referred to in the Hebrew text as a God of plurality. From the very first verse of the Bible, we are being pointed to the doctrine of the Trinity, the truth that God exists as three in one: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2) Created

The Hebrew word that we translate into English as "created" in this verse is "bara." And it's only used in association with God. A different Hebrew word is used when we see the word "created" translated into English in association with man. That word is "asah."

Why is this significant? From the very first verse of the Bible, a very important foundation is being laid. Even though God will go on to create man who himself will have the ability to create as one who bears the image of God, the sense in which God creates is fundamentally different from the sense in which man creates. God creates out of nothing (hence, the popular Latin phrase "ex nihilo"). But not man. Man can only create using the materials that God created out of nothing.

3) The heavens and the earth

This one to me is most fascinating. The Hebrew word that we translate into English as "heavens" in this verse is "shamayim." Similar to "elohim," it's in plural form ("im" ending). But, more specifically, the "ayim" ending in Hebrew always refers to the number two. So, most literally, the word "shamayim" means "two heavens."

Why is this significant? The traditional evangelical view is that there are three heavens. The clearest evidence for this in the Bible is when Paul describes his experience of being caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2). The traditional evangelical view holds that the first heaven is the air we breathe (the earth's atmosphere); the second heaven is the realm of the sun, moon, and stars (outer space); and the third heaven is the realm where God dwells.

So how do we reconcile the traditional evangelical understanding of three heavens with the Hebrew text, which clearly communicates that there are two heavens?

From the human perspective there are three heavens. But from God's perspective there are two heavens, the natural and the spiritual. In other words, God sees the first two heavens (both in the natural realm) as the same.

Three lessons from Hebrew to show you the depth of theology in just this one verse, the first verse in the Bible. Imagine the depths we have to descend into in the entirety of the Old Testament.

3 comments:

leenakamura said...

Thanks for the lessons, brother! Will you be posting more lessons from Hebrew?

pilgriminconflict said...

Hey Lee,

Great to hear from you, brother! Perhaps in the future. But don't have any planned as of now. I love Hebrew!

Though I must say that it's gotten exponentially harder over the course of the weeks. And missing two weeks of class certainly doesn't help (I was out on a ministry trip to rural Northwest Kenya). I've still got alot of catching up to do!

leenakamura said...

I'm glad you're enjoying the class! I'd love to study Greek and Hebrew someday...

Miss you, brother!