Contradictory meanings for the same word is a tough concept to integrate into one’s thinking. But to master Biblical Hebrew, we must do it.
Contradictory meanings for words are present in the English language, but we pay little attention to it. The phenomenon even carries two names Contronyms or autoantonyms. Funny, probably not, but both those words came up as errors in my spellcheck. Just goes to show how poorly known this concept is in our mother tongue. Here are more detail and some examples.
(Bible Course Unlock Bible Meaning with the 7 Keys to Master Biblical Hebrew, Key 2)
If this is practically unknown and untaught in English, I dare say; it is even more so in Biblical Hebrew. This is probably the least known key to mastering Biblical Hebrew, and certainly the most disconcerting. In the introduction, I mentioned that I took two years of online Biblical Hebrew studies with the Institute of Biblical Studies in Jerusalem. I felt the need to verify my study method because I hadn’t seen it expressed in these terms elsewhere. When I mentioned this point of a single word possessing opposite meanings, they didn’t agree. My claim surprised both fellow students and even the professor!
As we proceeded throughout the year, I pointed out some examples as we studied them for other purposes. By the end of the year, they could see this and were even pointing it out themselves. I had the verification I was looking for.
Contradictory meanings are more present than one thinks. You must understand not only the concept but especially the consequences. I’d even say that understanding how God and humans function relates to Key 2 of mastering contradictory meanings in the language of the Bible.
In Genesis 1:28, God gave humankind the primary purposes for which He placed them on Earth. They included two principal areas.
- First, relationships when He says to multiply (H7235) and replenish (H4390) the Earth.
- Second, the domain of rulership when He accords them the responsibility to subdue (H3533) the Earth’s resources.
Everything humans accomplish, and only humans, fall into these two fields. How we treat people and how we treat the planet are the subjects of Audit of the Universe and Audit of Humankind. In those two books The Explanation asks, is the glass of peace and prosperity on Earth getting fuller or emptier? Are relationships and rulership on our planet improving or degrading?
In this brief introduction to the basics of Biblical Hebrew, let’s look at the contradictory meanings we can attribute to the word subdue used to express how to rule Earth. Here’s the verse and the Biblical Hebrew.
And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish (H4390) the earth, and subdue it (H3533): and have dominion (H7287) over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
כָּבַשׁ kâbash kaw-bash’; a primitive root; to tread down; hence, negatively, to disregard; positively, to conquer, subjugate, violate:
KJV – bring into bondage, force, keep under, subdue, bring into subjection.
Notice how this subjugation can be both positive conquer and subjugate) and negative (disregard, violate (even if Strong puts it with the positive)). This corresponds to how humans can rule Earth. It can go both ways. That’s why we can do an Audit. There are articles about the environment and ecology daily.
Paul told Timothy study to show yourself approved (2 Timothy 2:15). I designed this course for you to master the Keys, not for me to spoonfeed you.
It’s time for YOU to study and find contradictory meanings. Go to UnlockBibleMeaning.com do a word search for subdue or in Genesis 1, find verse 28. Switch to Strong’s. Click on H3533, then hover your mouse over the bottom of the annotation in the right column. You’ll see Hebrew Concordance for H3533. Click it and you’ll get EVERY reference for subdue in the Old Testament. Study them to see both the positive and negative usages. That’s what Strong did, and that’s why he can rightfully affirm the existence of Key 2 to master Biblical Hebrew. Now that I’ve drawn your attention to this Key, you’ll see it more often during your study.
It also corresponds to the question about the glass getting fuller or emptier. As earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes slash countries around the world, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its report this October 2018 on the dire consequences of planetary temperature increase, as fracking is about to start in Britain, as the Noble Peace Prize is awarded to Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for fighting horrendous infliction of physical and mental injury on females, and the list goes on. This latter example would associate with God’s injunction about relationships. Sweden awarded the Nobel prize for POSiTIVE efforts in a NEGATIVE scenario.
Yes, we should ask, how are humans doing as they rule Earth? We should evaluate our individual and collective rulership and relationships. The contradictory meanings of Biblical Hebrew words reflect the two-sided nature of how humans function.
The Biblical Hebrew allows for vocabulary to express both the positive and negative through the same word. We can negatively disregard or positively conquer our Earth. That’s one of the 7 Keys to Master Biblical Hebrew. The very purpose God created humans to rule Earth has become a core planetary issue in 2020. If you don’t think the Bible is a contemporary work dealing with modern issues, then maybe you need to reevaluate.
Subdue reflects on how governors, remember, we all govern our part of Earth, can have helpful and harmful traits. Do you see the relationship with contradictory meanings?
When I read the above translations conquer, subjugate, and violate for כָּבַשׁ kâbash H3533, it’s hard to see the positive! However, look at the verse below.
He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue (H3533) our iniquities; and you wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
That’s the kind of positive subjection we want of all our faults and misgivings; this is governance with the right approach and frame of mind. This is the plus side of contradictory meanings, the total opposite of what’s going on in Lebanon as I write.
God, in talking with humans, uses a second word to convey rulership, dominion. You can read more details about that here. Unlike subdue and Strong’s statement of positive and negative here, he says nothing. Remember, Strong’s is a tool and doesn’t give us all the details, all the time. Check H7287 for yourself. We know that God wants us to rule positively. Look at Strong’s annotation crumble off which is his interpretation. That doesn’t give the impression of sound government! Is he right or wrong? And see one of the translation prevail against. It doesn’t transpire much positivity either. Dominion is another word with contradictory meanings.
Go over to UnlockBibleMeaning.com and look at ALL the verses. There are barely 30 to peruse quickly. You must draw your own conclusions. See Key 2, contradictory meanings, to master Biblical Hebrew.
רָדָה râdâh raw-daw’; a primitive root; to tread down, i.e. subjugate; specifically, to crumble off:
KJV – (come to, make to) have dominion, prevail against, reign, (bear, make to) rule,(-r, over), take.
Look at Isiah 14:6, a very famous verse because of whom it refers to. And Jeremiah 5:31. These verses reveal negative ruling and corroborate Key 2 about contradictory meanings for the same Biblical Hebrew word.
Replenish the Earth
I’m focusing on the first chapters in Genesis in this course because The Explanation series of books comments at length on all these verses. It’s the first five minutes of the Bible story and by reading them you can see more closely the contrasting nature of these Hebrew words. Staying in Gen. 1:28 let’s note another such word, replenish. Again, reading it in English, we only think of filling the glass. Notice particularly, Jeremiah 25:34, there’s nothing but negativity in this verse. I have only included the negative side of replenish here. Obviously, there’s the positive side too, which means it has contradictory meanings.
Gen. 1:28 “And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish (H4930) the earth…”
מָלֵא mâlêʼ maw-lay’; or מָלָא; (Esther 7:5), a primitive root; to fill or (intransitively) be full of, in a wide application (literally and figuratively):
KJV – accomplish, confirm, + consecrate, be at an end, be expired, be fenced, fill, fulfil, (be, become, ⨯ draw, give in, go) full(-ly, -ly set, tale), (over-) flow, fulness, furnish, gather (selves, together), presume, replenish, satisfy, set, space, take a (hand-) full, + have wholly.
You know the exercise now. Look up replenish and its Biblical Hebrew. Go through the verses containing this word and draw your own conclusion. Note that Strong does not talk about positive and negative, no mention of contradictory meanings. Your Bible Study can and should be conclusive about Key 2 we’re discussing here.
Job 16:10 “…they have gathered H4390 themselves together against me.”
Jeremiah 51:11 “…gather H4390 the shields the LORD has raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for his device is against Babylon, to destroy it…”
Isaiah 40:2 “Speak you comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry to her, that her warfare is accomplished H4390, that her iniquity is pardoned…”
Jeremiah 25:34 “Howl, you shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, you principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished H4390; and you shall fall like a pleasant vessel.”
In summary, God inspired three words (there are others in this context), subdue, dominion, and replenish. They represent governance and relationships. God’s implication is to practice these traits positively. The contexts show that there’s room for negative application. From a human perspective and our proclivity of being two-faced, these three words represent humanity’s doubled-sided, split approach to social relations and government at all levels, from personal to international. We can say that all of our dilemmas of the 21st century fall into these two categories. We subdue, dominate, and replenish INcorrectly. The words reflect our contradictory meanings perfectly.
This course is not the place to get into it. But, isn’t it amazing that in these two key areas of human existence, we have no explicit instruction of a path to follow? Nobody has a clear vision of government and relations and what and why they exist. Who knows, practices, and teaches the right form of governance and social relations for peace and prosperity. The very things people around the world crave, world leadership is incapable of providing. That’s the paradox of the 21st century.
The second key to master Biblical Hebrew, contradictory meanings, majestically illustrates this paradox. The opposition of meaning of the SAME word incorporates the clash of governance and relationships, the contrasting positions of those who think, “I’m right.”
Subdue conveys the dual reality that humankind can both enhance and ruin relationships and the environment. Individually and collectively we can properly use or abuse that which we have control over. It can go positively or negatively. It can go from positive to negative and from negative to positive. We can change direction anytime we want. These are the continual choices each of us and society make.
This is not the place to develop the free choice and the ability and plasticity humans have of changing their minds to follow a better or worse path. There’s also the major question of what are the consequences of our acts? These are major subjects that the Bible answers and which The Explanation develops in the Genesis Commentary Series.
What do you do with an impenitent individual? Someone to whom you give all opportunity to take an upward swing but who has resisted and rejected every effort. This person has set their mind in seditious ways.
Here’s a Bible verse with which most people are familiar, the creation of the first man. What they are unfamiliar with is the meaning of the Biblical Hebrew words and their very deep meaning. The English obscures the contradictory meanings of this passage.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed (H5301) into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
It is clear from the above verse that what God breathed into the man gave him life. This is the most positive event in these opening verses of Genesis, the culmination of God’s creation, that of humankind. However, notice the duality of this word in Biblical Hebrew.
נָפַח nâphach naw-fakh’; a primitive root; to puff, in various applications (literally, to inflate, blow hard, scatter, kindle, expire; figuratively, to disesteem):
KJV – blow, breath, give up, cause to lose (life), seething, snuff.
You can’t help but notice the positive and negative consequences of breathing, both in Strong’s annotation and in the King James Version translations of this word. Positive: inflate, kindle, blow, breath. Negative: scatter, expire, cause to lose (life), seething, snuff.
How can a simple word like breath have such opposite meanings? Notice that it is impossible to see this in English. That’s why we must get into some Biblical Hebrew. Note that it is not Sam Kneller interpreting this word, forcing it into a positive and/or a negative. First, the KJV translators interpret it that way. Strong acknowledges what they did, and The Explanation points out this double confirmation of the principle that Biblical Hebrew words can have both positive and negative connotations.
Yea, I will gather you, and blow H5301 upon you in the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst thereof.
You can’t get more negative than that! God blows with the fire of His wrath, which will be a huge trial. God can breathe to GIVE life and to TAKE life. Here Strong did not point out negative/positive. The Explanation shows you the positive and negative actual use of this Biblical Hebrew word. The contexts confirm this usage of contradictory meanings. Please realize there’s no interpretation here. The KJV translators, Strong, and the context confirm Key 2. Also, note that we’re not talking about some hidden code or counting the value of letters or the positions between letters. We are using the meaning of the original Biblical Hebrew words and applying some straight forward Keys of comprehension that I’d classify as common sense.
The very brief answer to the question of what to do with a recalcitrant individual who has set their ways on the dark side, comes clear in this duality principle. Right from the start, when God created humans, He left Himself the possibility to expire them, to snuff them out. For those of you who know some basics of the Bible, the meaning of נָפַח nâphach (H5301) reveals how God is going to accomplish this; with seething heat as indicated in Revelations 21. Sorry, but no elaboration here, you’ll have to read the Genesis series.
This is what I mean by mastering the keys to Biblical Hebrew to unlock Bible meaning. When we extract a fuller comprehension of naphach (H5301) it becomes clear that when God created humans, He left Himself the possibility of giving them an ultimate eternal life and eternal death. That is the symbolism of the two trees in the Garden of Eden: Life and Death. Genesis 2:7 reveals God’s power to both kindle and extinguish!
Pursue this study for yourself. Read the 12 verses that use this Biblical Hebrew word. Forge the full meaning of this word and see its duality for yourself. This verse, Genesis 2:7, is one of the most incredible and most MISunderstood in the entire Bible. If you get the first five minutes wrong, you’ll jumble the rest of the story. To understand Genesis 2:7 you must understand Key 2 to master Biblical Hebrew, contradictory meanings for the SAME word.
Breathed and breath of life
Note that we have two references to breath (breathed, breath of life) in this verse, displaying the same verb in English. In Biblical Hebrew there are two different and unrelated verbs to express how God breathed and what the breath of life is.
This verse is extremely important, I’m not exaggerating because it is the only verse dedicated to the creation of man. Breath of life is the translation of nishmat chaim. Check H5397 for yourself and its origin H5395. It carries both the sense of vital breath and blow away or destroy.
I’ve devoted half a book just to The Explanation of this word. Neshama is what confers on human beings their humanity. All our singularities that differentiate us and set us apart from animals draws from the neshama. Only we humans possess this essence of God, animals do not, hence the insurmountable gulf between us. Yes, animals have their attributes, even resembling and crudely imitating some human characteristics. But it is a far cry from what humans can accomplish.
In English, it is impossible to distinguish the difference between God breathed and breath of life. Practically all the meaning of both words is overlooked. I’m not suggesting you spend your time learning the grammar and vocabulary of the Bible language. I am suggesting you grasp some basic keys, which is what you doing via this document. Further books and courses with The Explanation elaborate extensively on this point.
The Value of Strong’s Concordance
Strong shows the positive and negative usage of Biblical Hebrew words, often. This is not always the case, but it is safe to say he understood this principle and transmits it throughout his work. His short annotations prior to the list of KJV translations can be of help. Strong’s concordance is not an inspired work in the sense that the Bible is. His concordance exhibits errors. But that limitation does not take away from the overall value we can garner from using this study tool. most users of this Bible study tool overlook and don’t understand this second key, contradictory meanings.
Credit where credit is due, Strong understood this Biblical Hebrew principal. One might ask, did he hypothesize or guess at this idea? What evidence, I hesitate to use the word proof, but it is proof that the 2nd Key is valid? Despite what Hebrew language scholars might propose or conclude. Once pointed out, you’ll see Strong’s reference to Key 2 more often.
This blog post is an excerpt from Key 2, contradictory meanings, from the Bible Course Unlock Bible Meaning with the 7 Keys to Master Biblical Hebrew.
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