While every believer must seek to know God, not everyone needs to know the biblical languages. Indeed, the Lord has graciously made his Word translatable so that those “from every tribe and language and people and nation” may hear of and believe in the Savior (Revelation 5:9; see Nehemiah 8:7–8; Acts 2:6). Furthermore, grasping the fundamentals of Hebrew and Greek neither ensures correct interpretation of Scripture nor removes all interpretive challenges. It does not automatically make one a good exegete of texts or an articulate, winsome proclaimer of God’s truth to a needy world. Linguistic skill also does not necessarily result in deeper levels of holiness or in greater knowledge of God. Why then do we need some in the church in every generation who can skillfully use the biblical languages?
- Using the biblical languages exalts Jesus by affirming God’s wisdom in giving us his Word in a book (God’s Word as Foundation).
In his wisdom and for the benefit of every generation of humankind, God chose to preserve and guard in a book his authoritative, clear, necessary, and sufficient Word. Jesus highlights the significance of this fact when he declares that he prophetically fulfills all Old Testament hopes: “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17–18). The very details of the biblical text bear lasting significance and point to the person and work of Christ. As such, we align ourselves with God’s wisdom and participate in his passion to exalt his Son when we take the biblical languages seriously in the study of his Book.
- Using the biblical languages gives us greater clarity that we have grasped the meaning of God’s Book (StudyGod’s Word).
Knowing the biblical languages helps one observe more accurately and thoroughly, understand more clearly, evaluate more fairly, and interpret more confidently the inspired details of the biblical text. Without Hebrew and Greek, ministers are:
* Forced to rely heavily on what others say in commentaries and the like without accurate comprehension or fair evaluation;
* Required to trust someone else’s translation;
* Left without help when translations differ (e.g., Deuteronomy 6:4; Proverbs 29:18; 1 Corinthians 7:36–38); and
* Compelled to miss numerous discourse features that are not easily conveyed through translation.
Knowing the languages neither makes an interpreter always right nor sets all interpretive challenges aside. However, through the biblical languages major hindrances to understanding are removed and occasions for numerous mistakes are taken away. Furthermore, the languages enable interpreters to more accurately track an author’s flow-of-thought through which the Bible’s message is revealed.
- Using the biblical languages can assist in developing Christian maturity that validates our witness in the world (ObeyGod’s Word).
Scripture is clear that a true encounter with God’s Word will alter the way we live, shaping servants instead of kings and nurturing Christ-exalting humility rather than pride. Sadly, practicing the Word is too often forgotten, thus hindering the spread of the gospel in the world.
Now, because our knowing God and living for God develops only in the context of the Word and because Bible study is best done through the original languages, Hebrew and Greek can serve as instruments of God to develop holiness, which enhances the church’s mission. Original language exegesis can help clarify what feelings God wants us to have and what actions he wants us to take. With this, along with opening fresh doors of discovery into the biblical text, the arduous task of learning, keeping, and using the languages itself provides many opportunities for growth in character, discipline, boldness, and joy. Hypocrisy hinders Kingdom-expansion, but biblically grounded study accompanied by a virtuous life substantiates the gospel and promotes mission, leading to worship.
- Using the biblical languages enables a fresh and bold expression and defense of the truth in preaching and teaching (TeachGod’s Word).
Saturated study of Scripture through the biblical languages provides a sustained opportunity for personal discovery, freshness, and insight, all of which can enhance one’s teaching. Moreover, the languages provide an unparalleled means for judging and defending biblical truth. The church needs earnest contenders for the faith, those who are able “to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). The biblical languages sharpen one’s teaching and preaching to make it as pointed, accurate, and penetrating as possible. Preaching without original language exegesis is like wielding a blunt sword.
For the Christian minister who is charged to proclaim God’s truth with accuracy and to preserve the gospel’s purity with integrity, the biblical languages help in one’s study, practice, and teaching of the Word. Properly using the languages opens doors of biblical discovery that would otherwise remain locked and provides interpreters with accountability that they would otherwise not have. The minister who knows Hebrew and Greek will not only feed himself but will also be able to gain a level of biblical discernment that will allow him to respond in an informed way to new translations, new theological perspectives, and other changing trends in church and culture. With the languages, the interpreter’s observations can be more accurate and thorough, understanding more clear, evaluation more fair, feelings more aligned with truth, application more wise and helpful, and expression more compelling.**
For more on this issue, see Jason S. DeRouchie, “The Profit of Employing the Biblical Languages: Scriptural and Historical Reflections,” Themelios 37.1 (2012): 32–50.
** For the pattern “observe > understand > evaluate > feel > apply > express,” see John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 191–98.
Jason S. DeRouchie (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as associate professor of Old Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN. He is passionate about helping Christians exalt Christ and treasure the hope of the gospel from the Old Testament, and his numerous publications include A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew and A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew: Workbook (B&H Academic, 2009), co-authored with Duane A. Garrett. DeRouchie’s resource website is www.derouchie-meyer.org.
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