Dream interpretation and the bible: Greek and Hebrew thinking

How the biblical concept of Greek and Hebrew thinking can help with the dream interpretation process.

Do you find your dreams confusing… or feel frustrated because they don’t make sense? If so, then maybe it’s because you are looking at them from a Greek mindset!

Some of the principles we use to study the bible can help with dreams – and this article explores the concept of Greek and Hebrew thinking.

Discover how Greek and Hebrew thinking can both help the dream interpretation process and be a hindrance – with a real dream example and practical tips..

I approach dream interpretation from a biblical perspective. My belief is that our dreams can come from God, and understanding them is best understood within the context of an ongoing relationship with Him.

If you have just come across this post and are new to dream interpretation, it is worth mentioning that dreams are symbolic in nature. You might find it helpful to read Understand your dreams: A bible-based introduction to dream language and my 3 step dream interpretation method to give you a foundation.

What are Greek and Hebrew thinking?

One thing that I quickly learnt when studying the bible is that mostly the authors did not think like me. In order to understand them correctly I had to set aside my Western thinking, and learn how they structured their literature.

The bible-study subject of Greek and Hebrew thinking can help us bridge the gap between how we think today and how the ancient bible-writers thought.

  • We sometimes call our Western mindset Greek thinking because its origins are in the Ancient Greek culture.
  • And we call a biblical mindset Hebrew thinking, because its origins are in the Ancient Hebraic language of much of the bible.

Greek and Hebrew thinking’ can bridge the gap between how we think today and how the bible-writers thought.

Greek thinking in the bible

Ancient Greek culture has had a huge influence on how we think and act in the Western world.

Greek thinking tends to be more logical and analytical, and focuses on knowledge and understanding. The ancient Greeks loved philosophy, concepts and linear order in their writing.

The gospel of Luke is unusual in the bible because it is written by a Greek-thinking person (Luke, the non-Jewish physician). It is written in a logical, chronological order. See what he says about his gospel:

  • Luke 1:3, NIV With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account…

This is typical of Greek thinking. But most of the bible is not like that!

Hebrew thinking in the bible

By Hebrew thinking we mean an Ancient Hebraic way of thinking, such as we find in the Old Testament writings.

Much of the Ancient Hebraic mindset is based on their relationship with God – which is why it is so helpful.

The bible tells a story of God choosing the Israelites as a people He would specifically relate to and focus on. The purpose of this was for them be a light to the world and point us all to God. That didn’t always go too well, but we DO know that much of their thinking and writing is based on their relationship with God – which is why it is so helpful for us to understand.

  • Genesis 22:18, NLT [to Abraham] And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed…
  • Isaiah 29:6 NLT [about Jesus] I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.

Hebrew thinking tends to focus more on action and reality, and is a very colourful language. In the Ancient Hebraic writing we find poetry, metaphors and illustrations (much like the language of dreams). it is more cyclical than linear.

Ancient Hebraic thinking is more cyclical than linear.

For example, the writers often placed the important events in the middle of the passage rather than in time order – and they had many additional non-linear ways of structuring their literature.

This is very confusing to our Western mindsets unless we understand it. I have often read something in the bible that seemed to make no sense, until I realised that it was arranged in a specific way, which I did not understand at first. For example:

  • Mark’s gospel is arranged around the central point of Peter’s confession of Christ.
  • John’s gospel is structured around various signs to show that Jesus is the Son of God.
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To ilustrate this point, consider how Jesus descibed himself in this parable in John 10:

  • Jesus enters by the gate (v2).
  • Jesus is the gate for the sheep (v7).
  • Jesus is the shepherd (v10) who leads the sheep (v27).

So is Jesus using the gate, or is he the gate? Is he the gate, or the shepherd leading sheep through the gate? It’s confusing.

But he is all of these things in the same paragraph!

To grasp what Jesus is saying we have to quickly shift thinking from one sentence to the next. Dreams can be like that too.

Left-brained and right-brained thinking

Another way of looking at the way we think is the concept of being more left-brained or right-brained.

  • By left-brained, we mean being predominantly logical and mathematical in our thinking, which aligns more with the Greek mindset.
  • By right-brained, we mean being more creative and intuitive, which aligns more with the Hebrew mindset.

For a bit of fun, you could try the following test to see whether you favour left-brain or right-brain thinking: https://www.mentalup.co/blog/right-brain-left-brain-test

In Western culture, we tend to encourage and value a more logical, left-brained approach – just like we tend to value Greek thinking.

Picture of lady smiling, and picture of Greek philosopher statue head, with text: Both Hebrew and Greek minsets are useful for studying the bible

Both ways of thinking have their place in bible study

The reality is that both Greek and Hebrew (and left-brain and right-brain) ways of thinking are useful when we want to understand the bible and what God is saying through it.

The poetic, creative, colourful, metaphorical language of much of the bible is a powerful way of communicating profound truths in a way that moves our heart and goes beyond mere words. We need our creativity and intuition to appreciate this language.

The action-focused, experiental Hebraic way of thinking helps us to apply God-inspired biblical principles to real life – plus experience the spiritual realities they describe – rather than making them into abstract theologies.

‘Knowledge’ to the Greek mind is information. But to the Hebrew, you cannot know anything without experiencing it. It is all about knowledge through spiritual encounter. 

FreedomArc blog no.53, Breaking off the Greek mindset

But we also need our logical minds to process those truths and communicate them to others. We need them to be able to understand, plan, and put what we have received into practice.

What do these mindsets mean for interpreting dreams?

I believe that dreams are carefully crafted by our Creator God and contain personal messages from heaven.

If this is the same God who historically chose to relate to humanity through the people of Israel and inspired the bible – then it makes sense that there would be some similarities between dream language and the language of the bible.

Therefore, understanding the Hebrew mindset and how that differs from the modern Western (Greek-inspired) mindset can help us with the dream interpretation process.

Understanding Greek and Hebrew mindsets can help with the dream interpretation process.

Picture of colourful mosaic pattern, with text: dream language is similar to the colourful, creative language of the bible

Dream language is more Hebraic in style

We all know that dreams often seem crazy and can seem to make no sense. This is probably because we are looking at them from the perspective of a Greek (and left-brain) mindset – but dream language is commonly more similar to the Ancient Hebraic style, for example:

  • Dreams have themes which relate to real-life situations and have practical applications.
  • They can relate to our relationship with God.
  • The themes jump around.
  • They are more cyclical than linear.

When I first started trying to interpret dreams, I made the mistake of assuming they were like logical stories, with one thing happening after another. I got very frustrated and soon realised I needed to change my approach – and started looking out for different patterns

Here are a few non-linear things that can happen in dreams:

  • Different scenes are usually about the same thing, but providing extra insight, or saying it different ways. For example, one part may set the context, the next give an encouragement, and another give something to overcome. But not necessarily in that order!
  • Dreams often repeat the same message several times, but using different symbols or illustrations. To interpret the dream we need to make the connection between the various parts.
  • One part of a dream can be expanded in another part. This is like taking a magnifying glass to one particular bit, and then expanding it in a different part (or scene) of the dream.
  • Some elements appear simply to give us confirmation. They highlight important points, repeat important symbols, and confirm the interpretation. In those parts we have to abandon trying to be too precise and just receive the confirmation.

Embracing our creative side to interpret dreams

All of this means we need to embrace our creative, intuitive, right-brain side to interpret dreams successfully. Being more creative helps us in many ways. For example, it helps us:

  • Come up with different ideas about what a dream symbol could mean.
  • Make connections with different parts of a dream.
  • Quickly jump to potential meanings.

If we are more left-brained, Greek-thinking people it can be hard to do this, but there are things we can do to help ourselves overcome this challenge – and help us get in touch with our creative side as we work on a dream. For example:

  • Drawing the dream (either on paper or on an app).
  • Handwriting the dream (ideally in addition to keeping a digital record). E.g. I use a handwriting app on my ipad (I use Nebo) that converts it to text afterwards.
  • Mind-mapping the dream. (Thanks to Latoya for suggesting this free mind-mapping tool, miMind).
  • Playing gentle background music while thinking about the dream.
  • Practising relaxation and prayerful meditation while praying through the dream.

There are also some things we can deliberately do in the dream interpretation process:

  • Look for repeating themes. Doing this deliberately can save time, and help us see whether different parts of the dream are repeating the same message, or linking up.
  • Brainstorm ideas for various dream elements: Think of potential meanings for each of the dream symbols: anything and everything we can think of.  Then look and see if any of them seem to jump out, or if there are repeated themes amongst the ideas. (This is particulaly useful when we’re stuck).

The usefulness of Greek thinking and dreams

As a more left-brained person, I have sometimes been amazed by how intuitive types can quickly make connections and jump to God-inspired dream interpretations. I am also often frustrated by my own slowness; I usually have to work through a longer, more logical process to get to the same conclusion.

But I have also observed that it is just as easy to quickly jump to wrong conclusions – and, being a logical person, I can quickly see when an ‘interpretation’ doesn’t add up. This is where Greek thinking comes back into play.

Although dreams are not linear, all the different elements DO match up in a logical way and help confirm the meaning.

Just like the messages in the bible, dreams are very carefully crafted messages with great attention to detail.

I have found that interpreting dreams is similar to doing a cryptic crossword puzzle – in the way that you know for sure when you have got the right answer!

If we fail to check whether our interpretation fits with all of the dream elements we could fall short of the true interpretation or miss out on the assurance of a right understanding.

We need Greek thinking in dream interpretation, to:

  • Check that all the elements of a dream really do match up with our interpretation.
  • Explain the dream meaning in an understandable way.
  • Keep records of dreams and symbol meanings.
  • Make plans to put our dream messages into practice.

Breakthrough comes when we suddenly see how the dream applies to our life. Then all the different parts of the dream line up and make sense. At this stage Greek thinking is actually helpful, and becomes a blessing, because we can explain the meaning in a logical way.

Both ways of thinking are needed for dreams

Obviously we need to keep both of these ways of thinking in balance.

  • If you are naturally more Hebraic in your thinking, you will probably have already realised that you think in a creative way and you can easily make connections in your dreams. This is a real asset and will help you interpret dreams quickly.

    Your challenge is to make sure you check out your interpretation to make sure it really does fit the dream (the whole dream!), and to develop a system for recording and remembering your dream messages.
  • If you are more naturally Greek-thinking, you can think of dream interpretation more like doing a crossword puzzle or wordle game, and your logical side will be an asset.

    But you will also need to get in touch with your intuitive/creative side to help you embrace the more Hebraic nature of dreams. This will help you think of different potential meanings, and make connections.
Picture of hand filling in crossword clues, with text: If you enjoy doing puzzles you will enjoy interpreting dreams

The vital key of God’s Holy Spirit and dreams

There is one factor that we haven’t mentioned so far, and that is the help of God’s Spirit in the dream interpretation process. We know that we need the Holy Spirit when reading the bible, but it is also true for interpreting dreams.

I have found that the Holy Spirit often drops ideas and pictures into my mind to help me when I’m stuck – which is an awesome way to become more creative in my thinking!

The God of the bible – who is both master of Hebraic thinking and master of Greek thinking – personally mentors us in the dream interpretation process and helps us in our weak areas if we are willing to listen and learn.

There is no better way to work around a Greek mindset than to spend time in God’s presence, and allow Him to inspire us.

And, just like reading the bible, the whole point of biblical dream interpretation is to experience a living relationship with God, by encountering Him in our dreams and hearing His voice through the messages they contain.

Real dream example

This is one of my dreams, which had me puzzled for a while!

Try and imagine the scenes as you read, and have a go at thinking about what the dream could mean before you move on to the explanation.

Scene 1: A secret room with a bed

I dreamed I was in a house. There was a secret room with a single bed in it. The bed folded down from inside a wardrobe. The other people in the house didn’t know about this room, but I was staying in it. It was lovely and bright with a window, and I thought it could be really useful.

Scene 2: Swimming with a turtle

My husband and I went to the beach. I was worried about going in the sea in case there was something dangerous lurking that I couldn’t see beneath the surface. My husband went in for a swim, and I was looking under the water. A turtle came floating along which was lovely. Then a cat came out of the turtle (which turned out to be just a shell) and bumped my husband’s leg, so he quickly got out of the sea.

Then we saw a red snake on a rock next to where we were swimming. It must have been near us all the time!

Scene 1 explained

I knew this house represented an area of my life; the single bed indicated that is was about me personally. So initially I thought that this room must be something I didn’t know about that God wanted to reveal to me. But then I realised that I was taking the dream too literally. When I started to think more creatively, I realised that two of the items in the room matched up:

  • The secret room was not literally secret, in the sense that it wasn’t something I didn’t know about. ‘The secret place’ is a term that Christians sometimes use for spending time alone with God.
  • The bed in the wardrobe: Christians talk about the ‘prayer closet’, which is also about spending time alone with God.

So this scene was an illustration of how helpful it would be for me to spend time alone with God, and be at peace/rest.

Picture of a single bed in a room

Scene 2 explained

This scene appeared to be about my husband, but since the first scene was about me, I thought maybe this scene was also about my own life. I was very confused and thought I might have done something wrong because of the snake! Let’s look at some of the symbolism:

  • The sea usually represents people: the world, and what people are saying, for example on social media.
  • A turtle usually represents peace. This turtle appeared very peaceful, but then a cat came out and I realised it was just a shell. I understood that this was signifying losing my sense of peace.
  • A snake usually represents a lie. This snake was overlooking the scene indicating that there were lies circulating out there in the world!
Picture of turtle swimming

Matching up the two scenes

Initially the two scenes seemed totally different. Breakthrough came when I made a shift in thinking, and realised that both of them were saying the same thing from opposite angles:

  • The secret room scene was saying that I needed to have time alone with God to find that place of rest/inner peace.
  • The turtle scene showed me that listening to the world and the media was causing me to lose my peace, and whenever that happens I should have time away from it (come out of the sea).
  • The snake overlooking the sea was just giving further detail; it was the things I was reading in the media that were not helping me!

In order to keep my peace and a Godly perspective, it was necessary for me to take some time out from social media, and spend time alone with God, listening to Him.

Conclusion

We have seen that dreams are more in-line with Ancient Hebraic literature, in the sense that they jump around, have repeating themes, and different parts link up. They have themes with real life application rather than abstract ideas.

We have seen that to interpret dreams we need to hold those Greek mindsets loosely, and learn to embrace our intuitive side – otherwise it can get quite frustrating! Just like the bible, dreams are not always chronological, nor can we always analyse them logically.

But we do need our logical understanding to make sure we check out our interpretations properly, explain the dream message clearly, keep dream records, and make plans to put their messages into practice.

In our own personal dream life, we can become aware of the way we naturally tend to think; we can work to our strengths and learn to overcome our weaknesses.

We can play to our strengths and work around our weaknesses.

And we have God’s Holy Spirit who knows us, loves us, mentors us in this process, and helps us understand His night-time messages to us!

So relax, have fun with your dreams, and enjoy the journey!

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I hope you found this article helpful. If you want to know more, do subscribe to emails to receive regular dream interpretation tips.

The purpose of this blog is to provide solid biblical foundations for interpreting dreams, change mindsets in the church, and encourage others to make their own dream journey. I am primarily a writer and bible teacher – who loves dreams, and I hope you will be inspired to learn to interpret your own dreams.

It is not currently my aim to routinely engage in dream interpretations or provide training, except through writing blog posts. You can read my most up to date position on interpreting dreams here: Requests for dream interpretations.

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