Word roots are the most fundamental structure of all words in Biblical Hebrew. Find the word roots and you’re on your way to unlocking Bible meaning.
Word roots play an essential role in the construction of Biblical Hebrew. Grammarians limit word roots to language structure. Word roots go much deeper, they open the ground to profound unseen Bible understanding. Let’s dig for word roots.
(Bible Course, Unlock Bible Meaning with the 7 Keys to Master Biblical Hebrew, Key 6)
Here’s an English example via a list of words, spot the common stem: ocular, utrocular, monocle, monocular, binoculars, oculus, oculist. You might not know the meaning of all these words, but you can see the common denominator: oculus, pertaining to the eye. Therein lies another difficulty in English. oculus is a Latin root, so you’ve got to know some Latin!
In English, we rarely refer to the ‘common root’ of words, but in Hebrew we do. It is a fundamental key to understanding.
Though it is hard to believe, the Hebrew Bible contains only about 8600 different words repeated over and over to compose the text. Biblical Hebrew builds these 8600 words on about 2000 roots or fundamental building blocks. As we saw, an example is oculus from which we construct other words. Understanding this, helps us grasp the relationships between words, some of which are not clear at first sight.
Each biblical Hebrew word has a base, a root sometimes referred to as a stem, a common denominator on which it’s built.
All we’re doing is looking at the meaning of words. I’ve picked a verse with the most commonplace words you can imagine illustrating how roots function: chamber, wall, bed, table, stool, and candlestick.
Let us make a little chamber, H5944 I pray thee, on the wall; H7023 and let us set for him there a bed, H4296 and a table, H7979 and a stool, H3678 and a candlestick: H4501.
Please plunge into Strong’s Concordance over at UnlockBibleMeaning.com. Find the above verse, switch to Strong’s and then click on his numbers. Let’s start with table, of all things. Look at how complicated it is in English from Oxford Languages: Old English tabule ‘flat slab, inscribed tablet’, from Latin tabula ‘plank, tablet, list’, reinforced in Middle English by Old French table .
Now for the Biblical Hebrew.
שֻׁלְחָן shulchân shool-khawn’; from H7971 (שָׁלַח); a table (as spread out); by implication, a meal: KJV – table. H7971 שָׁלַח shâlach shaw-lakh’; a primitive root; to send away, for, or out (in a great variety of applications): KJV – ⨯ any wise, appoint, bring (on the way), cast (away, out), conduct, ⨯ earnestly, forsake, give (up), grow long, lay, leave, let depart (down, go, loose), push away, put (away, forth, in, out), reach forth, send (away, forth, out), set, shoot (forth, out), sow, spread, stretch forth (out).
שֻׁלְחָן shulchân shool-khawn’; from H7971 (שָׁלַח); a table (as spread out); by implication, a meal:
KJV – table.
שָׁלַח shâlach shaw-lakh’; a primitive root; to send away, for, or out (in a great variety of applications):
KJV – ⨯ any wise, appoint, bring (on the way), cast (away, out), conduct, ⨯ earnestly, forsake, give (up), grow long, lay, leave, let depart (down, go, loose), push away, put (away, forth, in, out), reach forth, send (away, forth, out), set, shoot (forth, out), sow, spread, stretch forth (out).
The root, generally three letters, sometimes two, is right there in the word. Often, with a prefix indicating a pronoun and a suffix denoting the singular or plural. The root might not be evident at first sight, especially for non-Hebrew speakers, but it gives you a direction. You don’t have to know or read Hebrew. The root is: שָׁלַח (always from right to left, shin, lamed, chet), just compare it with שֻׁלְחָן. Easy.
Remember Key 3, Biblical Hebrew words depart from the concrete to reveal the abstract. Well, roots always depart from a concrete action. They are a function, a verb. With שָׁלַח shaw-lakh, it is send away, In modern Hebrew it is the word for send. Notice that Strong adds, in a great variety of applications. That is Key 1, Biblical Hebrew words have multiple meanings. The KJV translators rendered it with about 20 main words and umpteen more phrases (cast away, cast out…). But, ALWAYS, at the root, the notion of send. Do you see the relationship between sending and casting away?
Let’s take a second common word from 2 Kings 4:10, bed.
מִטָּה miṭṭâh mit-taw’; from H5186 (נָטָה); a bed (as extended) forsleeping or eating; by analogy, a sofa, litter or bier:
KJV – bed(-chamber), bier.
נָטָה nâṭâh naw-taw’; a primitive root; to stretch or spread out; by implication, to bend away (including moral deflection); used in a great variety of application:
KJV – + afternoon, apply, bow (down, -ing), carry aside, decline, deliver, extend, go down, be gone, incline, intend, lay, let down, offer, outstretched, overthrown, pervert, pitch, prolong, put away, shew, spread (out), stretch (forth, out), take (aside), turn (aside, away), wrest, cause to yield.
Do you see that Biblical word roots are action verbs, in this case bed comes stretched out. That’s what you DO on a bed. Notice the second translation of H4296, bier. That’s a coffin. What’s the relationship between bed and coffin? You’re stretched out in both! In one you’re alive, in the other you’re dead. That’s Key 2, Biblical Hebrew words have opposite meanings.
The study of Biblical word roots is fascinating. We learn how to build a full language starting from concrete actions that every human being makes. From about 2000 stems we obtain thousands of related words. Please realize, this is not conjecture, guessing, hypothetical, speculating… This is real Bible Study. We do not base it on correlation with other Semitic languages, nor do we depend on historical or cultural setting to understand what’s happening. I’m not saying that history and culture don’t play a role in comprehension. They do, but not a preponderant role.
We can understand the Bible, from word roots up, relying on INTERNAL information. We don’t have to go to third party books for background. Again, I’m not trying to denigrate such outside knowledge, I’m just showing you how COMPLETE God’s Word is, of and by itself. We need to respect it, as such, it is a faith-builder, when you look at it this way.
Watch the video below about the use of Bible word roots. It reveals their central role in the construction of Biblical Hebrew vocabulary. His diagram examples reveal the reason for also calling Hebrew word roots stems. The derivative words branch out from the stem, forming branches, twigs, and leaves. That’s how we reach multiple meanings, which is Key 1 to master Biblical Hebrew.
Avraham Ben Shalom renders a wonderful service with his videos on Hebrew grammar. The Explanation is not associated with him, his organization or his views. After viewing many videos about Biblical Hebrew word roots, I found his presentation the most relevant and readily accessible. We’re only interested in his language studies, for which we are grateful.
While we’re into the disclaimer discussing Hebrew word roots The Explanation has nothing to do Hebrew roots movements. That movement has a particular viewpoint on its Hebrew origins from which it draws its name. The Explanation reveals the entire plan of God, from the creation to the 21 century and on beyond to the Return of Christ through to the New Heavens and New Earth. Hebrew word roots is a term I use solely to represent the sixth key to master Biblical Hebrew. Nothing else.
Here’s the Biblical Hebrew word roots video. As you watch this, realize that all the 7 Keys to master Biblical Hebrew come into play. Often many of these Keys characterize EACH word root.
- All the rules come into play with roots
- Multiply. Above, One root, four words (among many others).
- Opposite –
- concrete, (action) to light + abstract, light of the Lord
- Male. Remember the creation, where the origin of the first human (adam) .
- literal, candlestick + figurative, one tribe
- names have meanings, a candlestick hold light.
Now we understand the reason Hebrew has such few words and, at the same time, such richness. We start with about 2000 roots. These are the stems for the 8600 words we find in the Hebrew Bible. Know that of this total number the Bible uses about 1400 words only ONCE. We find quite a few of these unique words in the book of Job which is much more than just a narrative of a suffering man. You can see the meanings of some of these unique root words in Origin of the Universe, in the Universe’s creation context. In most cases, the only way to understand these unique words is through their roots.
Aram (Genesis 2:25, 3:1)
One of the sparks behind my writing and this course is directly related to Biblical Hebrew root words. I started learning Hebrew as a youngster when I lived in South Africa. Later I spent a couple of years in Israel which anchored my knowledge of the language. My life took a radical change of direction and I spent 25 years in the Christian Ministry. During which time I preached using the meaning of the Biblical Hebrew. One day I was reading the end of Genesis 2 and the beginning of chapter 3, in Hebrew when I noticed that the English translations naked (Adam and Eve) and subtle (the Serpent) have the IDENTICAL word in Hebrew. Only one dot, representing the pronunciation, is slightly changed.
How could this be? I scratched my head for months! It’s all in word roots and, in this instance, the concrete and abstract, the literal and figurative. It was an eye-opener. I tell that story in a series of five videos which you can find on Youtube. I’ll also add them in the form of a Bible course over the next few weeks. It all revolves around the Biblical root word arom which means to make bare. We know that Adam and Eve were bare. The question is how was the Serpent bare? And how does that bareness relate to subtle? Frankly, it’s only through the Keys to master Biblical Hebrew that you can understand this enigma.
In English, you can’t even see the situation! Translation are generally correct but incomplete! The words and concepts are like a puzzle piece. Each part of the whole has multiple curves, ins and outs, and attaches to many other pieces. Each piece relates to all the adjoining parts. We have to understand that relationship. That’s coherent completeness.
Just one verse with the Hebrew word root, aram. Watch the playlist for the entire context.
Proverbs 1:4 To give subtilty (H6195 aram: nakedness, a bare or clean mind) to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
We all want and need this proper type of arom.
The Value of Strong’s Concordance
You’ll have noticed, or now will notice, that Strong always gives us the primitive root. He takes us back to the origin of words. Again, there’s no speculation here, it’s solid Hebrew grammar. All Hebrew scholars are in agreement with the existence of word roots.
Strong always relates words back to the primitive root.
- These relationships among words help us assemble ALL similar Biblical Hebrew words together
- Thanks to Strong, we can display the Englishman’s Concordance or what we can call an Original Language Concordance
- At UnlockBibleMeaning.com, find the word for which you need further information.
- At the bottom of the Strong’s reference mouseover and click on Hebrew Concordance for your number. ALL the references with that number display on the left
- In other words you group ALL the words with that root. You can can see the contexts and other translations for that word.
Let’s study the word candlestick from the first verse, 1 Kings 4:10. You’ll see that Strong refers to TWO word roots, H5214 (נִיר) and H5135 (נוּר). Notice the the two middle letters are slightly different, a yod and a vav. Both are vowels in these words.
מְנוֹרָה mᵉnôwrâh men-o-raw’; or מְנֹרָה; feminine of H4500 (מָנוֹר) (in the original sense of H5216 (נִיר)); a chandelier:
KJV – candlestick.
H5216 נִיר nîyr neer; or נִר; also נֵיר; or נֵר; or (feminine) נֵרָה; from a primitive root (see H5214 (נִיר); H5135 (נוּר)) properly, meaning to glisten; a lamp (i.e. the burner) or light (literally or figuratively): KJV – candle, lamp, light.
H5214 נִיר nîyr neer; a root probably identical with that of H5216 (נִיר), through the idea of the gleam of a fresh furrow; to till the soil: KJV – break up.
H5135 נוּר nûwr noor; (Aramaic) from an unused root (corresponding to that of H5216 (נִיר)) meaning to shine; fire: KJV – fiery, fire.
In an industrial world, the ‘gleam of a fresh furrow’ might not mean much, but to a farmer it is the assurance of livlihood. When the blades part the fertile soil leaving a shallow furrow with the soft moistened sides a little slick allowing the sun to glisten off the plowed trench just before the seed is planted and covered over. The beginning of the growing season. The Bible becomes very descriptive with the intricate use of word roots mingled with some of the other seven keys.
Word Roots lead to Abstract and Figurative
These word roots incorporate other keys, almost poetic, to reveal more profound meaning.
For you are my lamp, (H5216 used abstractly to portray God) O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness.
1 Kings 11:36
And unto his son will I give one tribe (Sam, the tribe of Judah), that David my servant may have a light (H5216 used figuratively to portray the one tribe) alway before me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there.
Sometimes you’ve got to go from one Strong number to another to get fuller meaning. This is part of unlocking Bible meaning.
Furthermore we’ve just witnessed another interesting phenomenon with Biblical Hebrew word roots. They can be related to ONE ANOTHER. In other words, each root is NOT independent. They reflect on each other. They add more meaning than the one root demonstrates.
Interrelated Word Roots
Another factor to do with the 2000 roots is that some inter-related, further enhancing the relationships and meanings. I will elaborate on this in the seventh and last Key.
When studying word roots, always look at the words before and after to see if they have the SAME LETTERS. In this example of a primitive root, H7673 is shevet, שָׁבַת, we see that H7674 and H7676 are its derivatives. But, nested at H7675 is a word with IDENTICAL LETTERS based on ANOTHER root, H3427 יָשַׁב, How can this be. To cut a long story short, both these roots have TWO letters in common the שׁ (shin) and the ב (beth). This is a TWO letter relate to another prime root H7725 שׁוּב, which also has the same TWO letters.
That makes ALL these words, and some others, from THREE different roots inter-connected. Next week, we’ll see what this means.
שָׁבַת shâbath shaw-bath’; a primitive root; to repose, i.e. desist from exertion; used in many implied relations (causative, figurative or specific):
KJV – (cause to, let, make to) cease, celebrate, cause (make) to fail, keep (sabbath), suffer to be lacking, leave, put away (down), (make to) rest, rid, still, take away.
שֶׁבֶת shebeth sheh’-beth; from H7673 (שָׁבַת); rest, interruption, cessation:
KJV – cease, sit still, loss of time.
שֶׁבֶת shebeth sheh’-beth; infinitive of H3427 (יָשַׁב); properly, session; but used also concretely, an abode or locality:
KJV – place, seat. Compare H3429 (יֹשֵׁב בַּשֶּׁבֶת).
שַׁבָּת shabbâth shab-bawth’; intensive from H7673 (שָׁבַת); intermission, i.e (specifically) the Sabbath:
KJV – ([phrase] every) sabbath.
יָשַׁב yâshab yaw-shab’; a primitive root; properly, to sit down (specifically as judge. in ambush, in quiet); by implication, to dwell, to remain; causatively, to settle, to marry:
KJV – (make to) abide(-ing), continue, (cause to, make to) dwell(-ing), ease self, endure, establish, ⨯ fail, habitation, haunt, (make to) inhabit(-ant), make to keep (house), lurking, ⨯ marry(-ing), (bring again to) place, remain, return, seat, set(-tle), (down-) sit(-down, still, -ting down, -ting (place) -uate), take, tarry.
שׁוּב shûwb shoob; a primitive root; to turn back (hence, away) transitively or intransitively, literally or figuratively (not necessarily with the idea of return to the starting point); generally to retreat; often adverbial, again:
KJV – ((break, build, circumcise, dig, do anything, do evil, feed, lay down, lie down, lodge, make, rejoice, send, take, weep)) ⨯ again, (cause to) answer ([phrase] again), ⨯ in any case (wise), ⨯ at all, averse, bring (again, back, home again), call (to mind), carry again (back), cease, ⨯ certainly, come again (back), ⨯ consider, +continually, convert, deliver (again), + deny, draw back, fetch home again, ⨯ fro, get (oneself) (back) again, ⨯ give (again), go again (back, home), (go) out, hinder, let, (see) more, ⨯ needs, be past, ⨯pay, pervert, pull in again, put (again, up again), recall, recompense, recover, refresh, relieve, render (again), requite, rescue, restore, retrieve, (cause to, make to) return, reverse, reward, + say nay, send back, set again, slide back, still, ⨯ surely, take back (off), (cause to, make to) turn (again, self again, away, back, back again, backward, from, off), withdraw.
Look at all those translations from ONE root word. And to think root words interrelate. Meditate on the understanding that opens to us.
Biblical Hebrew root words are captivating study that unlocks Bible meaning. The Explanation resorts to the root words to unlock Bible meaning and bring you a more profound understanding of God’s Word and His plan for Humankind.
This blog post is an excerpt from Key 6 of the Bible Course Unlock Bible Meaning with the 7 Keys to Master Biblical Hebrew.
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