The following is a guest post by Todd Scacewater. He is a Teaching Fellow in Greek and New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and is completing his dissertation in the area of the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament.
“And 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 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; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments. If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall…lose the gospel… (Martin Luther).
One of the most difficult parts of graduating from seminary is the lack of educational structure that brings consistency to your language learning program. In other words, nobody’s making you study anymore! Life becomes filled with a full time job, children, family responsibilities, social activities, and more. While taking 10-30 minutes a day during seminary to practice your biblical languages may have been easy to do, the same amount of time after seminary may seem impossible.
But the biblical languages are incredibly important for your ministry and personal Bible study for several reasons.
- Evaluating English Translations. English translations make interpretive decisions. They are rightly considered “God’s Word,” but you can see different interpretive decisions in almost every verse by comparing various English translations. Knowing the biblical languages enables you to evaluate these interpretive decisions and to understand why each version translated as they did.
- Proper Interpretation and Teaching. Knowledge of the biblical languages equips you for proper interpretation and teaching of God’s Word. You can certainly teach the without knowing the languages, but you will not have the full benefit of seeing the heart of the Bible in its own language.
- Richness of Biblical Language. A basic knowledge of Hebrew and Greek vocabulary exposes the student to the rich nuances and complex meaning of many biblical terms as they are used and re-used by various biblical authors. Since English translations do not consistently translate the same Greek or Hebrew word groups, you may miss when an author is drawing off a rich conceptual history invested in a biblical word, such as the “redeem” word group that evokes so powerfully the Exodus.
- Exegesis. A working knowledge of the original languages helps the student determine the relationships between words and clauses in an effort to convey with integrity what God’s Word says.
- Humility. Knowledge of Hebrew and Greek allows you to see the ambiguity of language. This means not every verse’s translation in your favorite version is necessarily the best, even if your favorite doctrine is founded upon that translation. This does not mean there are no correct translations—there definitely are. But seeing the complexities of translating and interpreting the Bible instills humility within us as we deal more sympathetically and honestly with those whose interpretations we disagree with.
- Commentaries. A working knowledge of the biblical languages enables more fruitful use of many study aids such as technical commentaries, large parts of which would be incomprehensible without a working knowledge of the languages.
So “we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages,” as Luther said, and there are many reasons that knowing the biblical languages will benefit for your ministry and personal Bible study.
But how can you continue working on your languages when life is so busy?
Exegetical Tools is here to help. We exist to provide you with resources to help you consistently retain and improve your biblical language skills.
We want to invite you to begin learning with us by signing up for our Basic Greek for the Week E-mail. This weekly e-mail includes a basic paradigm for you to practice throughout the week, with brief explanation and some quick translation exercises based on the paradigm (answers included). Most e-mails will also include a free video teaching through the paradigm in case you want to re-learn it from scratch. You will also see optional opportunities for going deeper with Greek and links to the latest posts from our blog so you don’t miss anything!
B&H Academic also firmly believes that the biblical languages will enrich your ministry and personal Bible study. That’s why they are sponsoring a major book giveaway for all who sign up for our Basic Greek for the Week E-mail. Five winners will receive Greek resources that together retail for $108. These include:
- Learn to Read New Testament Greek by David Alan Black
- Colossians and Philemon by Murray Harris (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament; see review here)
- 1 Peter by Greg Forbes (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament; see review here)
- James by Chris A. Vlachos (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament)
David Black’s Greek textbook is a time-tested resource that is sure to help you learn, retain, or improve your Greek. The Exegetical Guides to the Greek New Testament are amazing resources to help you retain and improve your Greek, and you can read more about them by reading the reviews linked to above.
So sign-up today for our Basic Greek for the Week E-mail and enter to win one of these five Greek packages from B&H Academic. We’re confident that consistent, weekly practice of basic paradigms and translation exercises will not only help you retain your Greek, but also motivate you to study more on your own and deepen your knowledge of God’s Word for the sake of faithful ministry. Click here to sign up now.
Todd Scacewater is a Teaching Fellow in Greek and New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where he is writing his dissertation on Paul’s use of the Old Testament. He regularly blogs at Exegetical Tools, where he is developing Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic resources and videos to help students and pastors consistently practice and improve their biblical languages. Todd has contributed several peer-reviewed articles, book reviews, and encyclopedia entries in the area of Old Testament, New Testament, early Judaism, and church history. He is married to Dezi and they spend most of their time doting over their new son, Noah. After graduation, he hopes to pastor or teach or both, either in the States or abroad. You can find him on Facebook or Twitter.