Knowing the Original Languages: Is it necessary?

Christianity Today posted an article last week entitled What the Bible ‘Really’ Means (12 April 2013) that addresses the “original language” dilemma existing in the minds of many believers today.

What’s this Original Language Stuff About, Anyway?

Author Josh Zetzsche, a translator and therefore someone with working knowledge about translations, basically makes the statement that when it comes to a better understanding of the Bible and its message to us from God, being able to read in the original language is not necessarily crucial to understanding that message.

In fact, he goes a step further and states that all the translations that are, literally, within our grasp (or are within the reach of a click of the mouse button), “are integral to the ongoing and primary expression of God’s message to us.”

This means that all the work that the translators have done for us and the various translations that have resulted from their work is really not to be diminished and that the product of their work is something that is essential, indispensable, and even necessary to our study.

Equally Relevant to God” is a section that you would do well to read  if you have any interest at all in the subject. He concludes this section with:

In English alone, we’ve had more than a dozen new mainstream translations in the past 20 years alone. But instead of this confusing the meaning of Scripture, it actually gives English-speaking Christians a rich, multilayered resource for gaining fresh insights on the Word of God.

My Opinion

As romantic as learning an ancient language is, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Zetzsche.  I must confess that I, like many Christians, have considered knowing the original languages of the Bible to be of utmost importance when digging out the “hidden truths” of the message. As a result,  I have attempted to learn Greek, getting to the point of being able to get through 1 John and I am able to translate that book as I (ever so slowly) read. I am also familiar with the characters of the Hebrew alphabet, but have not made an attempt to learn the language – the letters are very foreign to my eyes and I have trouble assimilating them. But I learned from my efforts.

  1. I learned that most modern translations track very closely to the meanings of the original text;
  2. What I was attempting to do was re-invent the wheel – my desire is to get closer to God, not to Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic.  They can do nothing to improve my life or save my soul – only Yahweh can do that.

In Conclusion …

There was a time that Latin and Greek were required courses in education.  The value placed on a classical education has been lost with our modern philosophy of education.  As a result we must rely on people like Josh Zetzsche to do the hard work for us so that we are able to continue down our own path of research and discovery.

I do not think it a waste of time, however, if you were to do some studying of the ancient Biblical languages.  For one thing, it is valuable to know the letter shapes and the alphabets of Hebrew and Greek to facilitate looking up words in the lexicons and dictionaries that are available to us. Knowing a little about how the sentences and words are put together also helps when reading an interlinear Bible.

Today, with the internet and computers these books are available to us free of charge, in most cases.  We really ought to take advantage of these resources that were available only to scholars and in graduate school libraries just a few short years ago. You may even come to enjoy the it!  There are many words in the English language that originate with the Greek and many of our prefixes and suffixes are borrowed from that language as well – so it isn’t as foreign as you might think.

God Bless!  and Thanks for Reading!

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