Bibliotheca Sacra 121 (1964): 228‑235
Copyright © 1964 by
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
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.
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
In Job 15 :5, Eliphaz stated that Job's mouth taught Job to
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 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. ). 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 ), 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. ).
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. ). 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
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 ().
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. ).
God told Ezekiel to warn (teach by admonishing) the
wicked to turn from their iniquitous ways (Ezek. 33 :8-9).
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
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
(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 , "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. ; "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,
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. , and in the Hiphil (causative) form.
HEBREW WORDS FOR "TEACH" 231
). 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. ).
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. ).
Lemuel the prophet was taught by his mother (Prov. 31:1).
The intensive Piel form suggests influence by Lemuel's
According to Jeremiah 6
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
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
They taught God's judgment, God's law (Deut. 31:10), and
God's statutes (Lev. ). Jehoida the priest directed Jeho-
ash, the seven-year-old king, into the ways of Jehovah (2 Kings
12 :2). In the days of
priest" (2 Chron. 15:3). Also Zadokite priests and Samaritan
priests were teachers (Ezek. 44:23; 2 Kings -28). The
priests' teaching carried with it a note of authority, for they
were God's representatives (Deut. -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. ,15; Judges 13:8; 1 Kings ; Job ).
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).
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
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. ). From the
idea of training animals (see Hos. ) the word came to
be used of soldiers trained for war (1 Chron. ). 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. . Also see Jer.
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.
and 1 Chron. 25:8).9
The causative form of this verb means "to give insight, to
cause to be wise," and is therefore sometimes translated "to
God by His Holy Spirit gave the Israelites wisdom in the
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. ).
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
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" ().
Teaching, then, also includes the idea of making others
wise, of giving them insight.
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-
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.
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.
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,
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Please report any errors to Ted