Why Study Biblical Hebrew?
Today we have our second session of BSE’s very first Biblical Hebrew 1 course. Now, I am actually pretty outspoken in my assertion that you don’t need to know original languages to study the Bible carefully, accurately, and enrichingly. Unlike the Muslim doctrine of the Quran – where you have the Quran, which is in Arabic only, and translations of the Quran, but there is no such thing as an English Quran – the traditional Christian doctrine of the Bible makes room for God’s revelation to be fully accessible even in translation. The English Bible is as much God’s Word as the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek originals. In short, this is because we believe that God’s self-revelation within the Bible is not simply the words on the page, but it is those words activated in the heart of the believer by the agency of the Holy Spirit. So even though it is possible, even likely, to come to some inaccurate understandings of isolated biblical passages when reading English translations exclusively, we believe that the Bible is generally transparent (especially in matters critical to faith and practice) and that the Holy Spirit works within the heart of a conscientious, believing reader to activate the words of the Bible in accordance with the will of God.
So, this being the case, why would I still argue that study of the original languages is important? I could probably wax grandiloquent on this subject for many thousands of words, but, as brief as I can be, there are three basic reasons (at least that I can think of right now) to study original languages, generally, and Hebrew, specifically.
To eliminate inaccuracies
Translation errors do occur. Even the best English translations will have quirks, questionable translations, or even outright mistakes. This is why I urge my students/customers not to limit themselves to one single translation. Rather, we have all these translations available to us in English – why not use them? By comparing multiple translations you can often identify where a disagreement occurs, but even so you may not be able to understand why the disagreement occurs. Is it a legitimate ambiguity in the text, or has one or more of the translations made an error? Knowledge of original languages lets you get behind the differences in English translations and become a participant in that conversation.
Also, sometimes an error occurs not so much in translation but in interpretation. It is possible to misread even a well translated English Bible. And, as much as I hate to admit it, some people willfully misread the Bible in order to support a doctrine that, more often than not, is abusive and not gospel. While it is also certainly possible to misread the original languages, too, learning original languages can equip you to guard yourself and your family against such willful misreadings.
Because its fun and challenging
Finally, we learn in Genesis 1 and 2 that humans were made to grow and learn and work. What better way to grow and learn than to challenge yourself with learning the Bible’s original languages? You don’t have to become an international expert in Hebrew to become proficient in it and to enjoy its benefits. When January comes around, you might be looking for an achievable New Year’s resolution. I cannot imagine that there would be many things more intellectually and spiritually satisfying than learning Greek or Hebrew. It’s a great resolution because it really does improve your life, it’s measurable (unlike resolutions like “I’m going to be a better person”), and once acquired you never lose it (unlike fitness goals).
Because we love the Bible
And if you don’t, I want to teach you to love the Bible. There is no other text that so rewards careful and diligent study. And the more you study it, the more you come to love it. I find that for many Christians, original language study is a natural progression of their love for the Bible in their native language.
And why not? Living in the modern world, and especially in America, you have access to resources to aid you in Bible study that have been unheard of for most of Christian history. Many of those resources give you access to the Bible in its original languages. Life is short, and regardless of precisely when or in what manner Jesus returns the New Testament perspective is that time is short. Let’s be about the work of the Kingdom in every way possible, especially in mastering the biblical text and hiding it away in our hearts. Let’s use all the resources at our disposal to lovingly study God’s good news to us in the Bible.
If you are in the Houston area, especially on the East side, it’s not too late for you to start this Fall! Session two is tonight, Thursday September 15, 2016 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. We meet at the Pentecostals of Crosby Fellowship Hall (502 Pine St., Crosby, TX, 77532). The class is $150 per semester (Hebrew has two semesters).