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Mounce Archive 1 — How Do We Know What Greek and Hebrew Words Mean?

Categories Mondays with Mounce


Everyone needs a sabbatical once in a while, and Bill Mounce is taking one from this blog until September. Meanwhile, we’ve hand-picked some of our favorite and most popular posts for your summer reading and Greek-studying pleasure.

Here’s the first in the series, a post so elemental that it almost never occurred to Mounce to write it:

How do we know what Greek and Hebrew words mean?

Read an excerpt below of how he answered the question, and then go read the full post to better understand how Bible scholars and interested Christians alike can know what the Bible's original words mean.

How We Define Greek Words: For a language like Greek, there has been a long tradition of lexicons and translations. From these, it is relatively easy to find the meaning of most Greek words. When a sentence is translated from, let’s say, Greek into Latin, since we know Latin, it is relatively easy to work back into Greek and see what the Greek word means. We can also look at the ancient lexicons and see how they define the Greek words.

Because we have so much Classical and Koine Greek literature, we have enough occurrences of the common Greek words to see them used in context, and from those many contexts see what they mean...


How We Define Hebrew Words: Hebrew is a different animal, and although this is a Greek blog, let me say a few things about Hebrew.

The problem is that we have far less data for Hebrew than we do Greek, and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Testament) is sufficiently different from the Hebrew text that we cannot reverse translate with confidence.

Professors specializing in the Hebrew Testament spend a large part of their time learning the other Semitic languages like Aramaic, Akkadian, etc. Like English, a Hebrew word is made up of consonants and vowels, and it is the consonants that carry the meaning of the word. Hebrew scholars look at how those same consonants are used in the other Semitic languages, and use that context to help define the Hebrew word...

Continue reading the full post, here.



William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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