Do We Need to Know Hebrew and Greek to Study the Bible?
Ministers who flaunt their knowledge of Hebrew and Greek often do more harm than good
As part of their training, many ministers must study Hebrew and Greek. Sometimes when they prepare a sermon, they go back to the Bible’s initial languages so they can study the words in its original tongue: Hebrew for the Old Testament and Greek for the New.
Then they talk about these other languages when they give their sermon. Sometimes this helps but other times it seems they’re just trying to remind us of how smart they are—or at least how smart they think they are. This often turns me off.
Yet other times I wonder if I would understand the Bible better if I could engage its words using Hebrew or Greek. It’s not that I want to learn another language; I have enough struggles with English. Instead this impulse occurs as I grapple with the English version of a particular text. I consult various translations and sometimes find clarity, but other times, confusion persists.
The Limitations When Studying the Bible
After all, when I read the Bible in English, I’m reading it through the theological filter of its translators. There’s no way for them not the color their work through the perspective of their beliefs. Some may call this a bias. I get that.
Yes, most everyone who embarks on a project to translate the Bible from its original languages into English—or any other language—strives for accuracy. Yet even the most sincere and conscientious still introduce the slant of their worldview into their work.
If only I could cut out the middleman and read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek.
Yet to do so, to read the Bible in Hebrew or Greek, would mean relying on others for their explanation of each Hebrew or Greek word. Again, their definitions would suffer from the influence of their perspectives and what they learned from other scholars, who hold their own biases and influences.
The reality is that studying the Bible in its original languages wouldn’t really help resolve my dilemma. It would still require me relying on the viewpoint of others to comprehend the text.
The only way I could gain real value by studying Scripture in Hebrew and Greek would occur if I understood these languages in the day and the culture in which the writing took place. And that’s impossible.
The Key to Studying the Bible
Though my desire to study the Bible in Hebrew and Greek carries an admirable intent, the reality is that I would still face frustrations; I would continue to struggle to understand its nuances. Yet, I have more resources available to help me engage with this holy text then at any time in history. There are scores of translations for me to consider. And for that I’m most grateful. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can study the Bible for ourselves. Click To Tweet
We, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can study the Bible for ourselves. We don’t need a Hebrew or Greek-speaking guru to guide us. All we need is the text, the mind God gave us, and the Holy Spirit. We can pray for supernatural insight and have faith God will direct the outcome.
Having religious experts tell us what the Bible says or what God means is an Old Testament mindset. Jesus changed this when he fulfilled the Old Testament. Through him, we become priests. And he sends us the Holy Spirit to guide us. That’s all we need to study the Bible. If you happen to know a little Hebrew and Greek, great! But if not, no worries.
We should all study the Bible using whatever resources we have and trust God to guide us in our journey.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.