Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Should we abandon the Greek and Hebrew . . .

. . . if we don't know what we are doing? I was recently involved in a class discussion that got pretty heated. A fellow student presented a paper, the thesis of which might be stated as follows:

Students of the Bible should dedicate themselves to learning the original Biblical languages.

During the course of discussing his position, one of my classmates suggested that we be trained to use various tools such as the latest Bible study software, and that such training would be an acceptable alternative to a full-blown lifetime study of the languages in the tradition of the greatest Greek and Hebrew scholars. Upon hearing this, I attempted to argue in favor of some ideas that were similar (if not equivalent) to the following:
Simply training people in the proper use of Bible software and other such tools is the most dangerous move of all. A little Greek and Hebrew is far more dangerous than no Greek and Hebrew. If people are not going to display an on-going dedication to learning the languages, then they would be much better off to exegete the English text, always remembering to take great care in not resting any argument upon an English grammatical structure or the semantic domain of any particular English word. They should simply share the main idea that the English text conveys.

As you can imagine, this sparked quite a "discussion." I do not want to give my justification for making these statements just yet. I would much rather hear your opinions. What do you think about my comments? Why do you think I would make such a statement? Where do you stand?


Alan Knox said...


I certainly agree with one of your concerns: a little Greek or Hebrew can be dangerous. Or perhaps we could say that a little Greek in the wrong hands could be dunamos... dynamite!

I'm really not sure where I stand on this issue overall. I recognize that our society has become much more specialized. Is this a good thing? I don't know. I think that general knowledge with humility (that is, recognize that I do not know everything) could also be good.

So, I'm going to withhold judgment... for now.


Lew A said...

Well... (now that's a deep subject)


Anyways, this is a tough subject. First, I do not think it is a requirement for anyone to learn Greek/Hebrew... speaking of that, I wonder what the speaker would say if you told him he should also learn Aramaic. I also wonder whether or not he thinks we should learn MT Hebrew or Ancient Hebrew.

I am not sure if there are any other languages in the Bible... anyways, the point is this, the general public could give two rips about Greek and Hebrew. I do not know anyone who rejected the Gospel because the sharer did not know what δουλος or בן meant.

At the same time, I do think it is good to have a basic understanding of Greek and Hebrew... but I would not go so far as to say that every Christian should be on a translation committee.

My rambling two cents...

Dan said...

In the NT we see alot of quotes from the LXX. It seems that the NT writers thought that the common language (Greek) was at least good enough to convey the original meaning of the text.
This could be way off but I feel that saying "all someone needs is some good greek tools" is dangerous because that seems to place an inordinate dependance on and trust in other scholars who could just as easily be mistaken as the next guy. To say "all someone needs" seems to indicate that you can get to the original infallible Scriptures as long as you have these tools. I think it would be better, as you say, to use the english, or even these tools, realizing that while the original text was infallible, all of these methods leave room for error. Not to mention that even with an extensive knowledge of Greek and/or Hebrew there is room for error since we have no original copies.
Maybe I'm crazy; probably.

Drew said...

I agree that knowing just a little bit of Greek or Hebrew is dangerous. I offer (to the readers of Alan's blog) as proof of this concept one word: kubernesis.

That being said I'm not sure what I think about all Christians learning original languages. I do know that some are not capable. Without having spent extensive study over this I will tentatively say that I agree with Gary. If you can't devotedly study original languages then you should just carefully use the English.

Skwirl said...

I want to say a few things and they probably won't be the most coherent ideas I've ever had, but here we go:
1)As I've always said, we don't speak in words, we speak in concepts. It doesn't matter what language we happen to be speaking in, communication will happen if the concept transfers. The problem, though, lies in connotations. Words in a certain language have been given a specific concept that can't be carried over into another language. Really, this doesn't serve to prove or disprove anything, but I think that it should be kept in mind in light of all this.
2) The Jews have passed down the Hebrew language for a long time but I think it would be safe to say that the average Jew isn't really any better at dividing scripture than the average Christian. this kind of ties into the first point in that I am in total agreement that we should be learning and teaching the original languages, and also that if it would be beneficial to the pastor then it would also be beneficial to the layman. However, a knowledge of the language will get you nowhere if the knowledge of what is being said is ignored.

Gary Harris said...


I really appreciate all of your comments. I have been re-examining my position in light of the discussion that is taking place here and in light of some offline conversations. I still don't know exactly where I stand. I certainly believe the core of what I originally stated, but I'm trying to understand what benefit (if any) historical background (both cultural and linguistic) would be to the one who studies the Scriptures but who is not a language scholar.

Thanks again for all of the thought provoking comments.


Alan Knox said...


I'm glad to see that you are coming around to the light side... Repeat after me: λυω λυεις λυει λυομεν λυετε λυουσιν