Reformed Articles

A Simple Summary of OT Hebrew Words & Vowels (Schwab)

 I understand that not all Christians are interested in biblical Hebrew.  It’s certainly not a requirement that if you want to be a Christian you must learn Hebrew.  We should never make it seem like someone is a “better” Christian if he or she knows Hebrew (or Greek for that  matter).  However, since the OT is written (mostly) in Hebrew, it’s good for Christians to know something about it.  Here’s one OT Hebrew “thing” worth knowing; it’s put simply but well:

In the early stages of the written Hebrew language, vowels were not written. The vowels were learned through orally reciting the text. (This is why the correct pronunciation of God’s name YHWH has been lost—because the Jews stopped speaking it for fear of violating the commandment not to misuse God’s name—see Exod 20:7 and Deut 5:11.) The Masoretes added vowels in the form of dots (points) above, below, and within the consonants. (Some consonants, such as Waw and Yodh, are also sometimes used as vowels.) These points indicate how the word is vocalized—how to pronounce it when reading. When a scholar suggests changing these, it is called repointing (e.g., see note on 27:25).

The vast majority of Hebrew words are built on a three-consonant root. Consider the English word “song.” This word has three consonants that define its basic meaning, “s_ng.” Supplying a vowel (such as “a,” “i,” “o,” or “u”) produces a noun or verb associated with the basic meaning of the root, that is, a musical performance with words. Depending how the Masoretes added vowels, a group of Hebrew consonants becomes a noun (as with English “song”) or verb (“sing”) and so on. The many words that can be built on the same root are called cognates. …Sometimes translations differ in their identification of a word’s root and thus its meaning. In 26:10, for example, the NLT and KJV greatly differ due to identifying different roots for the same word….

Again, this is not essential for Christians to know, but it is helpful, worthwhile, and interesting!

This quote is found in the very helpful Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (on Psalms and Proverbs), p. 457.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002