A friend told me she was going to be reading the following verse to some ladies as part of her introductory talk: "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
"Issues?" I knew the verse with different wording than "issues". The word I knew was "wellspring". I asked her why she liked her version, asked her what "issues" meant to her. She had definitions of "issues" that seemed like decent guesses, considering the english word "issues" we're familiar with. She also noted that "issues" had a nice sound to it. It was a bit like poetry in that sense.
Hmm. How was it that one translator could come up with "issues" while another came up with "wellspring"? And were any of her guesses (based on her definition of the english word "issues") on the right track? I was curious to know more about the hebrew word behind this. And so I used the free online tool to get insights for myself. (You may have seen one of my long-ago posts where I explored another word, the word "delight": The mysterious delight word)
In both cases, I used a free online tool to get insight. A key point of this post: You, too, can do this. You can do it right smack in the middle of a church service, if you have a computer or smart phone with access to the online tool. Do it!
Guessing the meanings of words or just assuming that "the english probably means such-and-such" is really unwise. And I really want to teach you right now how to use an online tool that can take away so much guessing and get you on the right path of knowing what a passage is about. The online tool is part of the web site blb.org
GETTING STARTED WITH BLB
In a browser, go to blb.org (this short name then turns into blueletterbible.org for you)
There is a search box and a dropdown for you to choose a translation, if you wish.
In the search box, type the reference of the verse of interest. (In my case, it was Prov 4:23)
Verses in that chapter are listed. Yours may be at the top right now.
STARTING TO EXPLORE A SPECIFIC VERSE
For each verse, you see "TOOLS" and the verse number. Select the verse number.
In the resulting display, the verse is spread out vertically, with one phrase or word per line.
Each line starts with the english word or phrase. Sometimes it is followed by "PHR". And there is a "Strong's" number, and then there is a hebrew or greek word.
If you see PHR, that means that the english on the left is a *paraphrase* of the raw hebrew or greek. There is something about the hebrew or greek that could not be directly translated to english.
You know the phrase "white caps" which refers to white peaks seen on wind-swept waters? Russians have their own name for the same peaks. The word-for-word English translation of the Russian name would be "white horses". But that would be unclear to an English audience because we understand "white caps" and don't know about "white horses". In this case, a *paraphrase* helps. It is a kindness if a Russian person says "white caps" so that his English audience understands. So, sometimes an English paraphrase is used because it is easier to understand than how the Hebrews or Greeks would have talked about hte same concept.
There are also some hebrew and greek words that scholars aren't so sure about. They may wrestle among themselves about the right interpretation. And their choice of english words might be the result of their best guess at the meaning.
(In my case, there is indeed PHR for the phrase that includes "issues". "Why was it a paraphrase?" I wonder.)
RESEARCHING A SPECIFIC WORD OR PHRASE
It is the number that we're interested in. Click the number to see details about the original hebrew or greek word. (In my case, I clicked on H8444.)
The resultant display contains many sections.
My eye naturally jumps first to the dictionary-like section, the section titled Outline of Biblical Usage.
It is more than a dictionary: it is a listing of the many ways that this particular hebrew or greek word is used in other places in the bible. (In my case, I saw four lines in outline style).
NUMBER OF TIMES
There is an important section to combine with this, and that is the section just below this outline. The section is the "KJB translation count," that is, how many times the word is translated one way versus another in the King James Version.
Maybe we should wonder, "hey, it's just one hebrew or greek word--why didn't the translators use the same english word every time? Why am I seeing that this one word ended up in several different english forms?" That's a good question... Pursue that!
Let's stick with this point about "several different english forms" for a moment longer: scroll down lower until you see a bunch of verse lines that each start with TOOLS. Note how the verses are from all over the bible. A tiny number appears in the middle of each verse there. That tiny number draws your attention to how the word got translated for that particular verse.
(In my case, I was pursuing the english translation, "issues". Here I see definitions about "outgoing", "source" and "escape". What I do not see in these definitions is "issue". Interesting! And now I wonder "why did the translators decice that 'issues' was part of a good paraphrase of outgoing/source/escape?)
The next thing that I like to skim through is the portion that looks kind of like text in an old newspaper. It has a lot of italics in it, and it mentions verses by their reference number, etc. This is information extracted from scholar material. If you read it, you may get a little more insight into the more concise list of definitions above it. This section is helpful sometimes just because there is just a little bit more explanation.
(In my case, the scholar mentioned that the hebrew word has something to do with "a place from which something goes forth" like a "gate or a fountain", like a "fountain of life". Aha, perhaps that's the insight behind "issues of life" and "wellspring of life". When I now know that the emphasis may be about "source", then I can understand that "issues" does not mean "problems" (like "that man has issues") but rather "issues" is an old-style word meaning the place something comes from. You may be familiar with the old phrase about a woman having "an issue of blood", that is, blood flowing. I'm making progress on my word study: the core concept here is "source". Or at least I like that so far. Alert: I see the scholar then says that this same word can also mean "exit" or "escape". Hm, I don't know what to do with that. It can mean "source" AND it can mean "exit"? Well, we have our own english words that, depending on the context, mean different things. So, I'm trusting that the translator picked the right use here, "source".)
I enjoy seeing where words originated. You know the word "cardiology". Where did that word come from? It has two root words: "cardia" (greek for heart) and "logy" (greek for "study of"). From the root words, we understand "study of the heart.
At the top of this section is a Root Word box. It has one or more numbers. You can click each of those and learn more about the formation of your original word of interest. Caution: when you get there, what you find is NOT to be taken as "the meaning of the first word I was looking up." No, this is the meaning of some other word. That other word somehow plays into the formation of your particular word. Read it for insight into your word.
Another example: the phrases "NOT GIVEN TO WINE" and "NOT GIVEN TO MUCH WINE"
Timothy was instructed by Paul in how to choose elders and deacons. There is some overlap, some similarities; and there are key differences.
These english phrases "not given to wine" and "not given to much wine" are different by one word. That's a significant differece in english. So, I want to know the greek origin for this idea of "much". Also, I am curious what "given to" means and whether there is more insight (akin to "issues" actually being about the source or origin of something).
Before researching with the approach described above, I had assumptions: I expected to see the same greek words in both verses, and I expected to see a little greek addition which turned into "much". Thus my first (big) surprise was learning that the greek words are completely different and not similar at all. That makes me wonder "what happened?" regarding the translator using identical words in the english (okay, in at least one translation/version of the bible). At the moment, I am pretty convined that "given to" is a confusing way of translating the greek concepts. While I can understand how a translator could *choose* those words to convey meaning, I still think it wasn't the best choice. (This is akin to choosing "issues" when the words are really about "source/origin".)
The next surprise for me was what the greek phrases mean. Each seems to have a fairly specific meaning, at least as best as I could figure out from the scholars notes. Why would Paul pick out two very specific concepts, not related to each other, one for elders and a different one for deacons?
See also my discussion about context, Hey, that's not the context.