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4 Hebrew translations that help us see the Savior more clearly in the Book of Mormon

This article originally ran in the November/December 2020 issue of LDS Living magazine.

She is known as Sister Uzelac Hall to the classes of seminary students she substitutes for. But when she is not teaching seminary, she is your friend Tammy, the host of the Sunday on Monday Study Group who loves to discuss stories and insights from Come, Follow Me with anyone wanting to join the conversation.

As a lifelong student of Hebrew, Tammy can elaborate on familiar scriptural words in a way that opens up hidden levels of meaning. While Tammy shares a definition of a Hebrew word in nearly every episode, we’ve selected four of our favorites—each with special ties to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Read the translations below to help you better see the Savior in the scriptures.

Virtue

Let’s start with the word that sparked Tammy’s study of ancient languages: virtue. In episode 27, Tammy is joined by Robin and Carol McCulloch. They read Alma 31:5, which in part says, “Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” Tammy energetically invites listeners to mark the word “virtue” in their scriptures, explaining that “it changed everything for me when I found out what it means.”

Tammy points out that we sometimes instinctively associate virtue with chastity or women. But that doesn’t make much sense in Alma 31:5—try the “chastity” of the word of God? Misunderstandings about the meaning of virtue may come from teachings surrounding Proverbs 31:10, which says, “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.”

However, Tammy teaches that in not only Hebrew but also in Latin and Greek, virtue means “strength” or “power.” With that definition, the proverb becomes about the value of a woman with power—a woman with strength. Alma 31:5 also becomes clearer: Alma is suggesting to his fellow missionaries that they try the power of the word of God to help them in their efforts.

Connecting virtue with power as we read the scriptures can help us better understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For example, Doctrine and Covenants 38:4 says, “I am Christ, and in mine own name, by the virtue of the blood which I have spilt, have I pleaded before the Father for them.” With the Hebrew clarification in mind, we learn that the blood the Savior spilt provides Him with power in His role as our Advocate.

Repentance

In episode 20, we learn from Tammy that the Hebrew word for repentance is teshuva. To help convey the significance of that word, Tammy explains that in Hebrew, each letter has a meaning. For example, in Hebrew, the letter “alpha” means the head or beginning. Dissecting each piece of the word teshuva provides a powerful insight on the doctrine of repentance. The three Hebrew letters used in this word are tav, shin, and vaw. Tav represents a covenant, shin represents jagged teeth or devouring, and vaw represents a home. Tammy points out that when combined, those letters express the idea that to repent is to make a covenant that will devour your sins and bring you home.

Later in the episode, Tammy offers insight on another key aspect of repentance—one that is necessary to regain a sense of peace after transgression. Tammy explains that in Old Testament times, when someone committed a sin, they would go to the tabernacle to first confess their sin and then to offer a trespass offering (Leviticus 5:6).  Tammy explains that the word “guilt” could be substituted for “trespass,” making this a guilt offering. After the people confessed, they symbolically gave their guilt to the Lord through an animal sacrifice. As that animal was taken away by the priests, so could their guilt over their sin be taken away.

Tammy and her guests for the episode, Aliah Hall-Eggington and Fiona Givens, discuss how that ancient ritual could be applied to our own lives today—sometimes we don’t fully give up our guilt to the Lord even after we’ve repented. Instead, we carry around unnecessary feelings of shame. But it doesn’t have to be this way. True repentance is not always easy, but it can fill us with joy as we feel the pull to return home and choose to leave our guilt in the Savior’s hands.

Atonement

The translation for the word “atonement” comes up several times in Tammy’s discussions. The Hebrew word for “atonement” is kaphar, which means “to cover.” In episode 28, Tammy discusses with Laurel Christensen Day and Jenny Reeder how Alma 34:10 teaches that the Savior’s Atonement is infinite and eternal. To help further explain how the covering provided by the Atonement is infinite, Tammy reads a quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

When the prophets speak of an infinite Atonement, they mean just that. Its effects cover all men, the earth itself and all forms of life thereon, and reach out into the endless expanses of eternity.

In the episode, reading that quote sparks a powerful insight for Jenny about how the Savior’s Atonement covers weaknesses in our faith:

I love this idea of “infinite” because faith . . . [can be] a small seed, and it doesn’t require perfect knowledge. This infinite Atonement covers all—it fills in where we are missing. I think it goes along with the idea of Christ as the Author and Finisher of our faith. He starts it and gives us a reason to plant the seed, but then He finishes it. He fills it up where we are lacking or where we are missing.

Tammy goes on to elaborate on what it means for the Atonement of Jesus Christ to be not only infinite but eternal:

It’s eternal because there’s no beginning or end. But the key to [this word’s] definition is from the Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which I love using. The word “eternal” means “ceaseless and unchangeable,” like, it’s been the same—the Atonement will always do what it says it’s going to do.

Faith

What does it mean to have faith in God? Tammy, Laurel, and Jenny tackle that important question in episode 28. They turn to the Hebrew word for “faith” and its implications in a story from the Old Testament to find an answer.

The Hebrew word for faith is emunah. It means “firm,” “steadfast,” or “supportive” and implies action. Tammy explains that one of the first places emunah is used is in Exodus 17:10–12. In this chapter, the people of Israel are under attack and need God’s help. Moses tells Joshua to lead the fight while Moses goes to the top of a hill and raises his staff. The battle goes on, and as Moses raises his hands, the Israelites prevail, but if he lowers his hands, their enemies take the lead. As Moses grows tired, two men, Aaron and Hur, come and lift up Moses’s hands, enabling them to stay “steady until the going down of the sun” (Exodus 17:12). Emunah is translated as “steady” in this verse, but it can also mean “faithful,” changing this line to read, “His hands were faithful until the going down of the sun.” Tammy points out that it was Aaron and Hur’s decision to take action that made it possible for Moses’s hands to stay lifted and save the people. Likewise, our own faith will require action in order for it to grow and be effective. Tammy says, “For me, [faith in God] means I will do what I can to support God. It requires action on my part in order to have complete confidence and trust in Him.”

Like Aaron and Hur, we can search for ways to lift our faith. We can lift up the scriptures, we can try and lift up those around us, and we can lift up our hearts to God at all times. Each act of faith will increase our love for and trust in the Savior.

Lead image from Shutterstock

Have these definitions helped you understand the Savior better? You can go back and listen to full episodes on your favorite chapters from the Book of Mormon on the Sunday on Monday Study Group on Deseret Bookshelf PLUS+, or find full transcripts and reference notes for every episode at ldsliving.com/sundayonmondayPlus, your study of the scriptures doesn’t have to stop here. As a new year approaches, so does a new Come, Follow Me curriculum and a new season of the Sunday on Monday Study Group. Join Tammy as Sunday on Monday moves through the Doctrine and Covenants week by week and come to know the truthfulness of what Tammy cheerfully reminds listeners at the end of each episode: “You’re God’s favorite."

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