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What is a Word Picture?

Word pictures are a great way to communicate concepts. In English, we normally use illustrations or incidents to endeavor to "paint a picture" that a listener can relate to. For example, if I was teaching about justice, I would describe an incident involving a legal case and the people involved and what the verdict was to try to show whether there was a just handling of the case.

In the Eastern Semitic languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, the illustrations are built into the language itself. There is usually an action verb that is the root or foundation word picture that forms the basis for all the nouns related to that verb. A simple example of how these word families work in Aramaic is one of the words for salvation. The root verb means "to give life to [something or someone]." So the word savior means literally, "life-giver."

In Western languages, we have word families similar to Hebrew and Aramaic, but there are many concepts which do not have an action verb as a root. For example, the word meekness is related to the verb, to be meek or humble, but the concept of meekness is still fairly vague to explain.

When I was in Bible school in the 1970’s, I took an introductory class in Aramaic, using materials that had been developed by Dr. George Lamsa. He was a pioneer in helping to make known the understanding of the Aramaic language to people in the United States. This class started a lifetime adventure for me of studying the language of Jesus and the apostles. What excited me about the class was how picturesque and beautifully simple the language was. Every word picture gave me a foundation to hang my understanding on, as one would hang a coat on a peg so that he could always find it again. (By the way, THAT was how we would explain something in English!)

The Bible was written by Eastern people who lived in an Eastern culture. Understanding the Aramaic text of the New Testament will give us a basis of understanding the culture and from the “flavor” of the language, we as Western people will have a glimpse of the Eastern culture and how the people of the Bible thought .

Marvin Wilson, in his book, Our Father Abraham, states: “The Bible contains many Hebraisms in which abstract thoughts or immaterial conceptions are conveyed through material or physical terminology.” (p.137)

In linguistics, this difference between the Eastern and Western languages is called dynamic vs. static understanding. Below is a simple chart that shows the differences.

Dynamic thinking means that there is an underlying action in the thought.

Static thinking is that even a concept is stationary and can be described only with additional unrelated words.

Another pithy quote from Our Father Abraham describes the type of people who were the writers of the Bible as those who “use vocabulary which is highly colorful, dynamic, and action-centered.”

Let’s look at some examples.

DYNAMIC

STATIC

Pen – writes letters

Pen – an object with ink

Bible – holy men of God moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21)

Bible – collection of writings or books

God – the strong, mighty one

God – the name of the Creator

Lord – master, the “Boss”

Lord – owner, someone overseeing

 

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Laying a foundation for Biblical study

 We provide information regarding customs, figures of speech, and the Aramaic text of the New Testament, in order that the Bible may be understood more clearly.

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