Understanding Hebrew Root Words

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Question:

I’m studying biblical Hebrew and Greek and wonder if you could give me some tips on understanding the Hebrew “roots,” in particular. For example, what is an “unused” root?

Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s Answer:

As far as a study on Hebrew roots is concerned, probably the best work available in English right now is entitled, The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament. However, it is very hard to properly study Hebrew roots unless you know a bit of the Hebrew language and how to look up specific words.

What is meant by “unused” root is that though the root of the word has a specific meaning, you will not find that root meaning in literature. Only its derived meanings will be found. Knowing the root meaning of a word, then, is only the first step. The root meaning of a word may be exactly as it says, but that root may not even be used in biblical literature. Only derived meanings might be used, and, therefore, you must learn to distinguish between the root meaning and its derived meanings.

For example, the root meaning of the Greek word parazeilao is “to boil, to seethe, to flame, to make red hot.” This root meaning, however, is never found in the New Testament. But its three derived meanings are “to be envious,” “to be jealous,” and, “to be zealous.” Thus, in Romans 11:11-14 parazeilao is translated in its derived meaning — “to provoke to jealousy.” Getting at the root of the word will help to expand its meaning, but the final issue really is: How is the word used?

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