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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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A. Nouns.

'âdâm (אָדָם, Strong's #120), “man; mankind; people; someone (indefinite); Adam (the first man).” This noun appears in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Punic. A word with the same radicals occurs in old South Arabic meaning “serf.” In late Arabic the same radicals mean not only “mankind” but “all creation.” Akkadian 'âdmu signifies “child.” The Hebrew word appears about 562 times and in all periods of biblical Hebrew.

This noun is related to the verb 'âdom, “to be red,” and therefore probably relates to the original ruddiness of human skin. The noun connotes “man” as the creature created in God’s image, the crown of all creation. In its first appearance 'âdâm is used for mankind, or generic man: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …” (Gen. 1:26). In Gen. 2:7 the word refers to the first “man,” Adam: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Throughout Gen. 2:5-5:5 there is a constant shifting and interrelationship between the generic and the individual uses. “Man” is distinguished from the rest of the creation insofar as he was created by a special and immediate act of God: he alone was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). He consisted of two elements, the material and the nonmaterial (Gen. 2:7). From the outset he occupied an exalted position over the rest of the earthly creation and was promised an even higher position (eternal life) if he obeyed God: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28; cf. 2:16- 17). In Gen. 1 “man” is depicted as the goal and crown of creation, while in Gen. 2 the world is shown to have been created as the scene of human activity. “Man” was in God’s image with reference to his soul and/or spirit. (He is essentially spiritual; he has an invisible and immortal aspect which is simple or indivisible.) Other elements of this image are his mind and will, intellectual and moral integrity (he was created with true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness), his body (this was seen as a fit organ to share immortality with man’s soul and the means by which dominion over the creation was exercised), and dominion over the rest of the creation.

The Fall greatly affected the nature of “man,” but he did not cease to be in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). Fallen “man” occupies a new and lower position before God: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5; cf. 8:21). No longer does “man” have perfect communion with the Creator; he is now under the curse of sin and death. Original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness are destroyed. Restoration to his proper place in the creation and relationship to the Creator comes only through spiritual union with the Christ, the second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). In some later passages of Scripture 'âdâm is difficult to distinguish from ‘ish—man as the counterpart of woman and/or as distinguished in his maleness.

Sometimes 'âdâm identifies a limited and particular “group of men”: “Behold, waters rise up out of the north, and shall be an overflowing flood, and shall overflow the land [of the Philistines], and all that is therein; the city, and them that dwell therein: then the men [used in the singular] shall cry, and all the inhabitants of the land shall howl” (Jer. 47:2). When used of a particular group of individual “men,” the noun appears in the phrase “sons of men”: “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded” (Gen. 11:5). The phrase “son of man” usually connotes a particular individual: “God is not a man [‘ish], that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent …” (Num. 23:19; cf. Ezek. 2:1). The one notable exception is the use of this term in Dan. 7:13-14: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man [‘enos] came with the clouds of heaven.… His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away …” Here the phrase represents a divine being.

'Âdâm is also used in reference to any given man, or to anyone male or female: “When a man [anyone] shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron …” (Lev. 13:2).

The noun ‘odem means “ruby.” This word occurs 3 times and in Hebrew only. It refers to the red stone, the “ruby” in Exod. 28:17: “… the first row shall be a sardius [‘odem], a topaz, and a carbuncle.…”

Geber (גֶּבֶר, Strong's #1397), “man.” This word occurs 60 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and its frequency of usage is higher (32 times, nearly half of all the occurrences) in the poetical books. The word occurs first in Exod. 10:11: “Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the Lord; for that ye did desire.”

The root meaning “to be strong” is no longer obvious in the usage of geber since it is a synonym of ‘ish: “Thus saith the Lord, Write ye this man ['ı̂ysh] childless, a man [geber] that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David …” (Jer. 22:30). Other synonyms are zakar, “male” (Jer. 30:6); ‘enos, “man” (Job 4:17); and ‘adam, “man” (Job 14:10). A geber denotes a “male,” as an antonym of a “woman”; cf. “The woman [ishshah] shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man [geber] put on a woman’s [ishshah] garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deut. 22:5).

In standardized expressions of curse and blessing geber also functions as a synonym for ‘'ı̂ysh, “man.” The expression may begin with “Cursed be the man” (geber; Jer. 17:5) or “Blessed is the man” (geber; Ps. 34:8), but these same expressions also occur with 'ı̂ysh (Ps. 1:1; Deut. 27:15).

The Septuagint gives the following translations: aner (“man”); anthropos (“human being; man”); and dunatos (“powerful or strong ones”).

'Îysh (אִישׁ, Strong's #376), “man; husband; mate; human being; human; somebody; each; every.” Cognates of this word appear in Phoenician, Punic, old Aramaic, and old South Arabic. This noun occurs about 2,183 times and in all periods of biblical Hebrew. The plural of this noun is usually ‘anashim, but 3 times it is ‘ishim (Ps. 53:3).

Basically, this word signifies “man” in correspondence to woman; a “man” is a person who is distinguished by maleness. This emphasis is in Gen. 2:24 (the first biblical occurrence): “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.…” Sometimes the phrase “man and woman” signifies anyone whatsoever, including children: “If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned …” (Exod. 21:28). This phrase can also connote an inclusive group, including children: “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword” (Josh. 6:21). This idea is sometimes more explicitly expressed by the word series “men, women, and children”: “Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates …” (Deut. 31:12).

‘Ish is often used in marriage contexts (cf. Gen. 2:24) meaning “husband” or “mate”: “Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters …” (Jer. 29:6). A virgin is described as a lass who has not known a “man” (“husband”): “… And she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man” (Judg. 11:38-39). The sense “mate” appears in Gen. 7:2, where the word represents male animals: “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female.…”

One special nuance of 'ı̂ysh appears in passages such as Gen. 3:6, where it means “husband,” or one responsible for a wife or woman and revered by her: "[And she] gave also unto her husband with her: and he did eat.” This emphasis is in Hos. 2:16 where it is applied to God (cf. the Hebrew word ba’al).

Sometimes this word connotes that the one so identified is a “man” par excellence. As such he is strong, influential, and knowledgeable in battle: “Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews …” (1 Sam. 4:9).

In a few places ‘ish is used as a synonym of “father”: “We are all sons of one man …” (Gen. 42:11, RSV). In other passages the word is applied to a son (cf. Gen. 2:24). In the plural the word can be applied to groups of men who serve or obey a superior. Pharaoh’s men escorted Abraham: “And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away …” (Gen. 12:20). In a similar but more general sense, the word may identify people who belong to someone or something: “For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled” (Lev. 18:27).

Infrequently (and in later historical literature) this word is used as a collective noun referring to an entire group: “And his servant said, … Should I set this before a hundred men?” (2 Kings 4:43).

Many passages use 'ı̂ysh in the more general or generic sense of “man” (‘adam), a human being: “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death” (Exod. 21:12). Even if one strikes a woman or child and he or she dies, the attacker should be put to death. Again, notice Deut. 27:15: “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image.…” This is the sense of the word when it is contrasted with animals: “But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast …” (Exod. 11:7). The same nuance appears when man over against God is in view: “God is not a man, that he should lie …” (Num. 23:19).

Sometimes 'ı̂ysh is indefinite, meaning “somebody” or " someone” (“they”): “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered” (Gen. 13:16). In other passages the word suggests the meaning “each” (Gen. 40:5). Closely related to the previous nuance is the connotation “every” (Jer. 23:35).

The word ‘ishon means “little man.” This diminutive form of the noun, which appears 3 times, has a cognate in Arabic. Although it literally means “little man,” it signifies the pupil of the eye and is so translated (cf. Deut. 32:10, NASB; RSV and KJV, “apple of his eye”).

'Ĕnôsh (אֱנוֹשׁ, Strong's #582), “man.” This common Semitic word is the usual word for “man” (generic) in biblical Aramaic (This meaning is served by Hebrew ‘adam). It occurs 25 times in biblical Aramaic and 42 times in biblical Hebrew. Hebrew uses 'ĕnôsh exclusively in poetical passages. The only apparent exception is 2 Chron. 14:11, but this is a prayer and, therefore uses poetical words.

'Ĕnôsh never appears with the definite article and at all times except once (Ps. 144:3) sets forth a collective idea, “man.” In most cases where the word occurs in Job and the Psalms it suggests the frailty, vulnerability, and finitude of “man” as contrasted to God: “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth” (Ps. 103:15). As such “man” cannot be righteous or holy before God: “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?” (Job 4:17). In the Psalms this word is used to indicate the enemy: “Arise, O Lord; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight” (Ps. 9:19). Here the parallelism shows that 'ĕnôsh is synonymous with “nations,” or the enemy. They are, therefore, presented as weak, vulnerable, and finite: “Put them in fear, O Lord: that the nations may know themselves to be but men” (Ps. 9:20).

'Ĕnôsh may connote “men” as weak but not necessarily morally weak: “Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold of it” (Isa. 56:2). In this passage the 'ĕnôsh is blessed because he has been morally strong.

In a few places the word bears no moral overtones and represents “man” in a sense parallel to Hebrew ‘adam. He is finite as contrasted to the infinite God: “I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men” (Deut. 32:26—the first biblical occurrence).

Bâchûr (בָּחֻר, Strong's #970), “young man.” The 44 occurrences of this word are scattered throughout every period of biblical Hebrew.

This word signifies the fully developed, vigorous, unmarried man. In its first occurrence bâchûr is contrasted to betulah, “maiden”: “The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs” (Deut. 32:25). The strength of the “young man” is contrasted with the gray hair (crown of honor) of old men (Prov. 20:29).

The period during which a “young man” is in his prime (could this be the period during which he is eligible for the draft—i.e., age 20- 50?) is represented by the two nouns, bechurim and bechurot, both of which occur only once. Bechurim is found in Num. 11:28.

B. Verb.

Bâchar (בָּחַר, Strong's #977), “to examine, choose, select, choose out, elect, prefer.” This verb, which occurs 146 times in biblical Hebrew, has cognates in late Aramaic and Coptic. The poetic noun bâchar, “chosen or elect one(s),” is also derived from this verb. Not all scholars agree that these words are related to the noun bachur. They would relate it to the first sense of bhr, whose cognate in Akkadian has to do with fighting men. The word means “choose or select” in Gen. 6:2: “… and they took them wives of all which they chose.”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Man'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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