Bibliotheca Sacra  121 (1964): 228‑235

    Copyright © 1964 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

               Hebrew Words for "Teach"

 

                                         Roy B. Zuck

 

CHRISTIAN education principles and procedures should be

based squarely on God's Word and be fully consistent

with it. Otherwise one may question if it is really Christian

education.

      Bible teachers and Christian education workers in churches

and schools should constantly be checking their teaching to

see that they are following Biblical principles.

     One of the ways Christian teachers can check their teach-

ing with the Word of God is through knowing something of

the Hebrew and Greek words translated "teach." What these

words mean and how they are used illustrates the teaching-

learning process as God designed it to be. This article will

deal with the Hebrew words, and a future article will deal

with the Greek words.

                                    Jlx ALAPH

The word Jlx occurs only four times in the Hebrew Old

Testament. Its basic meaning is "to become familiar with, to

accustom oneself to, to befriend." From this verb comes the

adjectival noun form Jvlx, "friend, companion." When used

of animals, Jvlx means "tame, docile."

      In the simple Qal form, Jlx means "to learn by being

familiar with." This is its meaning in Proverbs: "Make no

friendship with an angry man. .lest thou learn (Jlx, become

familiar with) his ways and get a snare to thy soul" (Prov.

22 :24-25). In its three other uses, all in the Book of Job, this

verb occurs in the Piel form. The Piel form usually intensifies

the simple Qal (for example, the verb "to ask" means in

the Piel "to beg, to ask repeatedly"), but here it has a causa-

tive force: "to cause to learn, to cause to become familiar

with."

     In Job 15 :5, Eliphaz stated that Job's mouth taught Job to

 

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                        HEBREW  WORDS  FOR  “TEACH”                     229

 

sin. In Job 33:33, Elihu stated that he would teach Job wisdom

(i.e., he would cause Job to be familiar with wisdom). And

according to Job 35:11 God teaches us more than He teaches

the animals.

                                                Nyb BIN

       The word Nyb means basically "to distinguish, to separate."

From this is derived the common meaning, "to discern, to see

distinctions, to perceive." In the causative Hiphil form,

means "to cause to discern, to cause to perceive."

      According to this verb, teaching is not simply imparting

facts (though it certainly includes that), but it is helping

others acquire the ability or skill to discern. Gabriel, for

example, caused Daniel to understand (Nyb)the vision of the

ram and the male goat (Dan. 8 :16). When Ezra opened God's

Word before the people, the Levites caused the people to

understand or perceive it (Neh. 8:7-9).  Joiarib and Elnathan,

"men of discernment" (Mynybm, Ezra 8 :16), were teachers.

The Levites were teachers-men who helped others discern

the things of God (2 Chron. 35:3). And some of them, includ-

ing Chenaniah, were music teachers; they helped others

understand and discern music (1 Chron. 15:22).

     Real perception into spiritual matters comes only from

God ("the Almighty giveth them understanding," Job 32:8),

and such insight comes only in accordance with His Word

(Ps. 119:109). Believers need spiritual insight and perception

from the Lord so that they may keep His law (Ps. 119 :34),

learn His commandments (Ps. 119:73), know His testimonies

(Ps. 119:125), and live (Ps. 119:144). Teaching, then, is help-

ing others grow in spiritual perception so that as a result,

they may live for God.

       It is striking that in some verses the verb Nyb is followed

by two accusatives--one the person, and the other the subject

matter (see Ps. 119:27; Isa. 28:9; Dan. 10 :14). In other

words, according to these verses both pupils and content are

to be "taught." God helps others have perception and discern-

ment, but it is with reference to divine content-His written

reveation.

 

                                    rhz  ZAHAR

     According to some writers this word originally meant "to

 



230                             BIBLIOTHECA  SACRA                  July, 1964

 

 

shine" or "to enlighten." With this meaning in mind, Powell

writes: "The teacher is to illuminate the pupil so that he can

see for himself. He is to have' a clear vision of spiritual reali-

ties and is to enable others to see."1 But Brown, Driver, and

Briggs question this meaning of rhz. According to them rhz

means "to warn or admonish."2 When teaching includes the

giving of a warning or admonishment, this verb is used. For

example, by His judgments (Ps. 19:9) God teaches or admon-

ishes His servants how they should live (19:11).

     The Hiphil form3 suggests that teaching is causing others

to be warned or admonished. Jethro, Moses' father-in-law,

suggested that Moses teach the Israelites God's ordinances

and laws, i.e., that he admonish them by calling to their at-

tention God's commands (Ex. 18 :20).

      God told Ezekiel to warn (teach by admonishing) the

wicked to turn from their iniquitous ways (Ezek. 33 :8-9).

                                   

                                    fdy  YADAH

     This verb in the simple Qal form is the common word

meaning "to know." In the causative form the verb means

"to cause to know" and, therefore, "to teach." No one can

teach the Lord (Isa. 40 :13), for in His omniscience He has

full knowledge.

     The Authorized Version sometimes translates this verb

by the words "to show." But these words fail to convey the

thought of causing to know. Two examples of this are Exodus

18 :20 (the same verse in which the verb rhz occurs), "show

them [cause them to know, teach them] the way wherein they

must walk," and Psalm 16:11, "Thou wilt show me [teach me]

the path of life." Christians are guided by the Lord into paths

of godly living as they are taught by Him.

      Sometimes an impersonal object follows the verb fdy

("teach the statutes of God," Ex. 18 :16; "multitude of years

should teach wisdom," Job 32:7). Other times a personal

object follows ("teach a righteous [man], and he will increase

in learning," Prov. 6:6; "teach them that know not," Ezra

 

      1 Ralph E. Powell, "From the Professor's Desk," Baptist Herald, 41 :16,

September 12, 1963.

     2 Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, 11 Hebrew and

English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 264.

     3 This verb is used only in the Niphal (simple reflexive or passive) form,

which is the form in Ps. 19 :11, and in the Hiphil (causative) form.

 



                        HEBREW WORDS FOR "TEACH"                         231

 

 

7:25). And at other times the verb is followed by an infinitive,

which suggests that the acquiring of knowledge is for an in-

tended purpose ("So teach us to number our days," Ps. 90:12;

"such as taught to sing praise," 2 Chron. 23 :13).

 

                                    rsy  YASAR

      This word commonly means "to chasten, to correct." In-

cluded in the verb is the idea of teaching by correcting, or

giving instruction that involves chastisement. Chenaniah, head

of the Levites, was a music teacher, one who corrected voice

students in their singing (1 Chron. 15 :22).

     Lemuel the prophet was taught by his mother (Prov. 31:1).

The intensive Piel form suggests influence by Lemuel's

mother.

      According to Jeremiah 6 :8, Jerusalem needed to be taught,

but not simply to acquire more knowledge, as the wording in

the Authorized Version wrongly implies ("Be thou in-

structed"). The inhabitants of the city needed teaching that

would result in a correcting of their ways.

      Teaching, then, is a process of involving the correcting

of pupils' wrong ways or ideas. In this sense education is dis-

ciplinary, guiding pupils to discipline themselves in the right

ways.

 

                                                 hry  YARAH

     This is one of the most interesting words in this series,

for it refers to teaching that "points the way."

     In the simple Qal form hry means "to throw, to cast" (cf.

the shooting of arrows, 1 Sam. 20 :36). But in the causative

Hiphil, the verb means "to direct, to point the way" (cf. the

throwing out of one's finger to point the way, Gen. 46:28,

ASV). Teaching or educating is a matter of guiding, directing,

pointing the way.4

     This word. is frequently used with reference to the direction

or teaching given by the priests m religious matters. Interest-

ingly, from the verb hry comes the noun hrvt (Torah), meaning

 

       4 Since only the Hiphil of hry means "to teach," it seems wrong to base

a definition of teaching on the Qal form as Van Horn does. This indicates

the teacher's responsibility to cast out or present new ideas to the pupils

(Leonard T. Van Horn, "Teach, Teaching, Teacher," Baker's Dictionary of

Theology, 512). The Hiphil form means "to direct" in the sense of throwing

out one's finger to guide, not throwing out new ideas.

 



232                 BIBLIOTHECA  SACRA                              July, 1964

 

"direction, instruction, law." The Torah (law) points men to

God's holy standards.

      The priests were the chief instructors in the days of Israel.

They taught God's judgment, God's law (Deut. 31:10), and

God's statutes (Lev. 10:11). Jehoida the priest directed Jeho-

ash, the seven-year-old king, into the ways of Jehovah (2 Kings

12 :2). In the days of Asa, Israel had been without a "teaching

priest" (2 Chron. 15:3). Also Zadokite priests and Samaritan

priests were teachers (Ezek. 44:23; 2 Kings 17:27-28). The

priests' teaching carried with it a note of authority, for they

were God's representatives (Deut. 17:11-12).

      Bezaleel and Aholiab, skilled craftsmen, were filled with

the Spirit of God to direct others in those skills (Ex. 35:30-35);

and Moses himself was a teacher, pointing others to God's

commandments (Ex. 24:12).

      The verb hry also frequently refers to God as a Teacher.

The psalmist often prayed that God would teach him His way

(Pss. 27:11; 86:11; 119:33; cf. 119:102). In the millennium

God will teach others His ways (Isa. 2:3; Mic. 4 :2). (Also see

Ex. 4:12,15; Judges 13:8; 1 Kings 8:36; Job 6:24).

Teaching, then, according to this word is guiding others

into the ways of God. Actually only God Himself can do this

("Who is a Teacher like Him?" Job 36:22), but He has com-

missioned others to teach for Him and therefore to teach

authoritatively (i.e., with His divinely bestowed authority).

 

                                    dml  LAMAD

     Whereas the verb dml means "to know" and in the Hiphil,

"to cause to know," dml means "to learn" and in the Pii1, "to

cause to learn."5 The former verb indicates the acquiring of

knowledge, but the latter indicates the training to do the

right thing.6

     In the Qal dml basically means "to beat" in the sense of

training animals with a goad. For this reason the noun dmlm

is an ox-goad used in training cattle (Judg. 3 :31). From the

idea of training animals (see Hos. 10 :11) the word came to

be used of soldiers trained for war (1 Chron. 15 :18). An ani-

mal trained by the goad or a soldier trained for war accustoms

 

      5 Cf. Deut. 4:9b (dml) with Deut. 4:10b (31"). Also see Ps. 25:4a (fdy

and 24:4b (dml).

      6 This is the verb from which comes the word Talmud (dvmlt).

 



                        HEBREW WORDS FOR "TEACH"                         233

 

himself to his situation; therefore the verb means "to learn

by being accustomed to.”  (“Learn not—don’t accustom your-

self to--the way of the heathen," Jer. 10:2. "Learn to do well

--accustom yourself to doing well," Isa. 1:17. Also see Jer.

2:24; 13:25.)

       Rather than using the causative Hiphil, dml uses the causa-

tive Piel form, which means "to teach, to train in the ways

of."7 The psalmist pleads, "Teach me thy statutes" (Ps. 119 :12,

26, 64, 68, 124, 135; cr. 119:171); "teach me thy good judg-

ments" (Ps. 119:108).  He knows that being taught God's law

brings blessing (Ps. 94.12).

       "Obedience was the greatest result expected from this

type of instruction along with consistency with the will of

God."8 This desired result is stressed in Deuteronomy. 4:1

(“Now therefore hearken. . . unto the statutes. . . which I

teach you, for to do them") and in Psalm 143:10 ("Teach me

to do Thy will").

      A disciple is a learner or one who is taught (as in Isa. 8:16

and 1 Chron. 25:8).9

 

                lkW  SAKAL

     The causative form of this verb means "to give insight, to

cause to be wise," and is therefore sometimes translated "to

teach.”

      God by His Holy Spirit gave the Israelites wisdom in the

wilderness (Neb. 9:20), and today God gives believers insight

into (teaches them with regard to) the way they should go

(Ps. 32:8). David received wisdom from the Lord with regard

to the pattern for the temple (1 Chron. 28:19), and Daniel

was given insight from the angel Gabriel Into the prophecy

of the seventy weeks (Dan. 9:22).

       In the authorized Version of Daniel 12:3, 10 the participial

form of lcw is translated "the wise." But it could just as well

be rendered "the teachers" (those who cause others to be

 

     7 Sometimes the verb takes a single accusative, sometimes a double accusa-

tive and an infinite, and other times an accusative with the preposition "to."

When used. with two accusatives dml means. to teach someone something.

This is similar to Nyb with the double accusative.

     8 Van Horn, op. cit., 512.

     9 In 1 Chronicles 25:8 the Authorized Version inadequately translates the

adjective dymlt by "scholar." A better rendering would be, "disciple" or

"learner."

 



294                 BIBLIOTHECA  SACRA                              July, 1964

 

 

wise). "They that teach shall shine as the brightness of the

firmament" (12:3), and "none of the wicked shall understand

but the teachers shall understand" (12:10).

      Teaching, then, also includes the idea of making others

wise, of giving them insight.

 

                                    Nnw SHANAN

       This interesting verb is used only nine times in the entire

Old Testament, and its usual meaning is "to sharpen, to whet,"

as a sword (cf. Deut. 32:41). Only once in these nine uses is

it translated "teach"--in Deuteronomy 6:7, and there the Piel

(intensive) form is rendered by the English words, "teach

diligently." "And thou shalt teach them (God's words, Deut.

6 :6) diligently unto thy children. . . ."

      Brown, Driver, and Briggs suggest that the verb be trans-

lated "teach incisively"10; Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown state

that it refers to "assiduous, earnest, and frequent instruc-

tion."11 The Berkeley Version has this translation: "impress

them deeply upon your children." Perhaps one of the most

beautiful renderings is the German einscharfen, "to inculcate,

to teach with a driving home force." Parents are commanded

by the Lord to be intense, diligent, earnest, and consistent in

teaching their children God's Word, so that it is applied to

their children's hearts and inculcated into their lives. Parents,

as teachers of the things of God, dare not be haphazard,

negligent, or halfhearted in the training of their children.

 

                                                SUMMARY

      This study of nine Hebrew words for "teach" suggests

several key principles for Christian education.

      1. One who teaches must be first of all a learner--and an

intense learner (cf. the Piel form of the verbs "to learn").

He cannot teach what he himself does not know. And con-

versely, intense learning should result in teaching.

      2. The causative form of these Hebrew words indicates

that Christian teaching is helping to learn (or causing to

learn). Based on these nine Hebrew words, Christian teaching

is (a) making others familiar with divine truths, (b) giving

discernment, (c) warning, (d) imparting knowledge, (e) cor-

 

       10 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, op. cit., 1042.

       11 Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary

Critical, Experimental, and Practical, I, 637.



                        HEBREW WORDS FOR "TEACH"                         235

 

 

recting, (f) guiding, (g) training, (h) giving wisdom and

insight, and (i) inculcating.

       3. The Hiphil form may also show that teaching is helping

pupils be what the teacher already is, and helping pupils know

what the teacher already knows. In other words, a teacher

cannot get his pupils to gain in discernment, knowledge, and

insight if he himself does not possess that discernment, knowl-

edge, and insight.

      4. Christian teaching includes the imparting of Biblical

content. It is causing others to have a knowledge of and dis-

cernment in God's Word and ways.

      5. Pupils learn as they are familiar with facts, open to

correction, willing to be guided, interested in gaining insight,

and anxious to grow in wisdom.

      6. Learning spiritual truths is ultimately a matter between

God and the pupil. In the final sense, only God is the Teacher.

      7. Teaching that is lasting and effective must be done with

diligence and ardor.

      8. Teaching in the home may need to include a correcting

of wrong conduct and/or wrong concepts (Prov. 31:1), and it

should be done with enthusiasm, repetition, and purpose (Deut.

6:7) .

       9. Learning God's Word is to be of a transforming char-

acter. It is to help pupils be more obedient to the will and ways

of God, so that they may do His will and thus glorify Him.

What a high privilege then to be engaged in teaching

others God's precious Word! To be effective in his teaching,

every Bible teacher and Christian education worker should be

a student of God's Word, and should pray with the psalmist:

"Teach (hry) me thy way, O Lord" (Ps. 27:11; 86:11), and

"Teach (dml) me thy statutes" (Ps. 119:12, 26, 64, 68, 124,

135).

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204          

www.dts.edu

 

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu