This week I have the responsibility of introducing the latest Irish Baptist College student intake to New Testament Greek. Undoubtedly one of the first questions in their minds (as it was in my mind when I started six years ago) will be ‘why study the Biblical languages?’ There are many answers to that question, but here are four brief reasons for studying the Biblical languages.
Bible Translations Aren’t Perfect
There is an inherent difficulty in translation work – that difficulty is that something is always lost in translation. Lots of English translations of very good and accurate. However, there is always a choice to be made – should the translation follow a word-by-word philosophy or a functional (phrase-by-phrase/meaning) philosophy. Either the translators sacrifice the flow of the English language or they make an interpretive decision (which isn’t always accurate).
The question is how can we have an assurance on what the Biblical text says and means? The answer is read it in the Greek or Hebrew – in doing so you don’t have to rely on a translator’s interpretation or attempt to decipher an awkward English sentence. Instead,
if you know the Biblical languages, you can make those decisions yourself.
Develops a deeper Biblical Understanding and Discernment
Being competent in the Biblical languages also leads to a developing of a deeper Biblical understanding and discernment. This is of course predicated on the above point. In being able to go to the original language instead of relying on a translation gets us closer to the Biblical text. As we do so our understanding and discernment grows with our familiarity.
The benefit of this is that we are capable of assessing new Bible translations, the next innovative theological trend and the novel developments in Church and culture. There won’t be the same necessity to go seeking for other’s opinions and assessments of particular translations, theological trends and developments in Church and culture. (That being said listening to other experts is always advisable – just not necessary as such).
Offers Confidence in Preaching and Teaching
The previous two reasons give rise to this. Knowing the Biblical languages offers us confidence in preaching and teaching the truths of Scripture. This is not just something for pastors and preachers, but for all of us who have responsibility in opening God’s word and explaining it to others. Instead of relying on commentators or scholars to explain things for you, to in turn explain things for others. To be able to speak with first-hand knowledge of issues offers a confidence that can’t be found as we offer second-hand opinions!
The Church Need Textual Critics
This final reason isn’t perhaps the first thing that might come to mind. The church is in vital need of pastors, missionaries, Bible Teachers, elders, deacons, ministry leaders, and so on and so forth. However, the church also need textual critics. Textual critics are the people who seek out ancient manuscripts, spend endless hours reading and reproducing them and finally deciding which variants and the best options. It is textual critics who offer us the latest information for our ever better Bible translations. But this skill requires a deeply intimate knowledge and understanding of the Biblical languages. Being a textual critic is not glamourous, but it is ever so important for the church as they ensure we have the most accurate manuscripts informing our Bibles.
In 1524, six years after posting his “Ninety-five Theses,” Martin Luther (1483–1546), father of the Protestant Reformation, charged his contemporaries:
Let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the spirit [Eph. 6:17] is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored…if through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall…lose the gospel.
Also see Bitzer was a Banker!