Discern is definitely a Christian term and we hear it often. We hear we are to discern between good and evil and to recognize the times we are living in. Yet, I feel like many followers of Christ don’t have a full understanding of what this word entirely means. That’s why I want to look at what does the word discern means in Hebrew and Greek.

All scriptures are taken from NKJV unless otherwise marked.

“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

– Hebrews 4:12

What Does The Word ‘Discern’ Mean In Hebrew?

biyn- to understand; discern.

Biyn can mean to mentally separate or distinguish. It’s translated into the word ‘understand’ 62 times.

It means to understand, deal wisely, pay attention to, regard, consider, notice, perceive, inquire, and discern. Biyn appears in the following passages as these various translations:

  • Jeremiah 9:12 as “to understand.”
  • Job 6:30 as “to discern.”
  • Deuteronomy 32:7 as “to consider.”

yada- to know.

Firstly, yada means to know by reflecting and observing. For example, we can know things through our experiences. Therefore, it’s sometimes paired with other words such as hear, see, and perceive.

“And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;”

– Exodus 3:7

The heart plays an important role when it comes to knowing. We can simply “know” things in our hearts. In Deuteronomy 8:5, it says the Israelites knew in their hearts that God was disciplining them as a father cares for a son.

However, such knowledge can be distorted by a wrongly positioned heart such as described in Psalm 95:10.

Yada as a verb speaks of the type of knowing which one learns enough to share with others. For example, little children who cannot speak yet do not know the difference between good and evil in the sense that they cannot tell you what it is
(Deuteronomy 1:39) nor distinguish between the two.

In some cases, the “knower” has had actual involvement with or in the object of knowing.

This is used in Genesis 4:1. Adam knowing Eve refers to the direct physical contact with her in a sexual relationship.

Also, God says He knows Abraham in the sense that He knew Him intimately and personally (Genesis 18:19).

To know God means to have an intimate, experiential knowledge of Him.

nakar- to acknowledge.

This word means to scrutinize; acknowledge; look intently; care for; be acquainted with; revere; respect (or with suspicion applied) to ignore; disregard; reject, or resign.

ra’ah- to see.

This word is used in the following ways:

  • to see with one’s eyes;
  • to observe (Judges 16:27);
  • to perceive or be consciously aware of (Deuteronomy 4:28);
  • to reallize or get acquainted with.

It can also be used in extended meanings such as “to perceiving or ascertaining something apart from seeing it with one’s eyes.”

Related: What Does The Word ‘Abomination’ Mean In Hebrew And Greek?

shama- to hear intelligently.

Shama means to give undivided attention to something and can simply imply to gain knowledge. It’s also used to describe not only to hear what is said, but to obey or agree with what is being said.

What Does The Word ‘Discern’ Mean In Greek?

diakrisis- estimation.

diakrino- to decide; to hesitate.

dokimazo- to test; to approve.

“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.”

– 1 Thessalonians 2:4


All in all, the word discern is used in many different applications and variations. Yet, they all seem to tie in together with one likeness. All the meanings have to do with observing, thinking, and deciding. Not only does discern mean “to learn”, but to understand with such deep knowledge as to be able to spread that understanding with others.

Also, the word means to test or to approve. Therefore, don’t just accept things the way they seem to be, but test them against the Word of God. Do they go against God’s word or confirm it? Nevertheless, this is a skill that every Christian should master. That’s what the word discern means in Hebrew and Greek.

I hope you found this article helpful. Please share any thoughts in the comment section below and feel free to share this post with others. Thanks for reading!

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Thanks for sharing!