The richness of old languages

A note in one of our Bibles mentions that the Hebrew word usually translated as “vanity” in Ecclesiastes is also the word for “vapor”. Doesn’t this add to the imagery in the statement that “all is vanity and a striving after wind”? I love being able to linguistically identify an abstract word with something concrete, I feel like it gives the word more meaning for me. I have a lot of “a-ha” moments when I realize the original or older meaning of some English word, but sometimes the origin of our words isn’t clear, or requires several centuries of tracing to be found out. Older languages often make the connection more directly.

I’m still reading Alcorn’s Heaven book, almost done now, and he provides another sort of similar example.

God is not a tribal deity. He transcends all cultures yet is evident in all. Each culture has a memory of a time when people knew about God. Consider, for instance, the ancient Chinese language. The character meaning “create” consists of other characters for “speak,” “dust,” “life,” and “walk.” The character meaning “devil” consists of “secret,” “man,” and “garden.” The character meaning “boat” combines those of “vessel,” “eight,” and “people,” highly suggestive of Noah’s ark. Chinese believers consider these and many other examples as evidence that their five-thousand-year-old language goes back to a time when biblical truths were well known in their culture.

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