Why Should I Learn Greek and Hebrew?
I always struggle somewhat with invoking Greek and/or Hebrew when discussing Scripture. On the one hand, I don’t want to give people the impression that one must know Greek and Hebrew in order to understand what the Spirit has revealed through the Word of God. However, on the other hand, the older I get, the more convinced I am that a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is an invaluable asset when studying and teaching Scripture. The example I often use—which seems to be helpful to people—is watching the Super Bowl. Would you rather watch the Super Bowl on a 13inch black and white TV (yes, I remember them well) or on a 50 inch HD flat screen?
In both cases you will understand what is happening, but there is so much more color and definition in the latter. Similarly, with a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, one experiences so much more color and definition—nuance, emphases, metaphor, etc.—of Scripture than without.
A couple of examples of the benefit of knowing biblical Greek surfaced last week in an exegesis course on the gospel of John. In English, verse 11 reads something like, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him.” The content of the gospel writer’s point is evident. However, when reading it in Greek, and paying attention to discourse features, a better reading would be as follows: “He was in the world, and the world through him came into being, but the world him didn’t know.” The author’s focus is on “through him” and “him,” emphasizing the contradiction of the idea that what the Logos created didn’t even know it’s creator.
Another example surfaced in the next verse. An acceptable English translation would be: “He came to his own, and his own didn’t receive him.” However, when reading it in Greek, one sees more in the statement than in the English. A more detailed rendering of the verse would be: “To his own things he came; even his own people didn’t receive him.” Once again, the author’s focus on the contradiction becomes evident in the Greek. Thus, as a reader, we can understand that John is particularly focusing on the incongruity of it all that the Creator wasn’t recognized by his creation, and wasn’t received by his own people.”
So, is it worth the effort and years of study to learn biblical languages? My response is an emphatic “yes,” and particularly for those who are training for ministry. That is why we at Virginia Beach Theological Seminary requires a minimum of 30 credit hours in Greek and Hebrew. We believe that seeing the “color and definition” of Scripture allows one to more fully communicate the authorial intent of the biblical authors/Author. And what can be more important than helping people gain a more full understanding of what God has to say to them?