Why study the biblical languages?

The two main languages in which the books of the Bible were originally written were ancient Hebrew and Koine (Common) Greek. Our English versions today are translations from these original texts. Learning these languages is not required for knowing and walking with the Lord, but there are several advantages to taking up their study.

But there are two important caveats which I should mention. First, knowing Greek or Hebrew will not answer all your questions about the Bible. Many difficulties we face in studying the Scriptures are resolved on other levels, such as biblical theology, or the wider context of other passages. This is referred to as the analogy of Scripture, whereby other passages give us light on the more difficult ones.  

Secondly, proficiency in the ancient languages will take time and discipline. This is true of gaining expertise in any language. We should beware of wanting to say, "the Greek means this," when we don't actually have that proficiency. We wouldn't do that, say, for what a French phrase means in Pascal's writings, just because we took a couple years of French in college. How much more careful should we be in handling what the original text of the Bible means. You'll find that our English translations are really very good.

Okay, now that I've talked you out of studying the original languages, let me give you six reasons why you should study them.

1) These are the languages in which God has given his revelation to us. Any study that will help you gain clarity and insight into his word is good. It's just plain worth it because God's word is worth it.  

2) You'll learn to be more attentive to the biblical text in whatever version or translation you are reading. Becoming aware of basic grammatical rules, word usage, and the syntax of the original language will help you in your reading of the English translations. You'll be more observant and attentive to details.

3) You'll be able to better understand commentaries which refer to the original Hebrew or Greek text. You'll begin to understand why some English versions differ in how they translate a passage. You'll be better equipped to interact with biblical commentators.

4) As you grow in proficiency you will begin to experience the benefits of knowing something of the original language -- like greater clarity, color, depth, and emphasis in your study of Scripture.   

5) You may discover that you have entered a lifelong love of these languages, and so will continue to grow in your proficiency. Thirty-five years out from my seminary completion I still enjoy studying passages in the original languages.

6) And finally, the time and discipline spent in learning a biblical language will keep you from wasting too much time on Netflix and social media! You will become so excited to study semantic domains and genitive constructs that you will forget about watching The Office reruns for the umpteenth time!  :)

There you have it! That's my pitch for learning the biblical languages. I hope you'll be able to join us for one of our fall classes beginning Thursday, September 9, at BCF.




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