As part of my seminary education, I have had the opportunity to learn both Greek and Hebrew (with my Greek being far superior to my Hebrew). During this course of study, the realization that I am learning the very words of Moses used to recount the creation of the world and reading the very sentences that Paul wrote down to encourage and reprove the early churches has struck time and again and has brought me to realize what a great privilege and honor toiling in the biblical languages is. Rather than causing a seminarian or pastor to become puffed up and prideful, this course of study should be humbling.
And as I have rubbed elbows with “the guys in the pew”, I have seen predominantly two reactions when they learn that I, or someone else, knows Greek or Hebrew. (Of course, I am generalizing here for the sake of time.) The first response is adoration and thankfulness. Many people are glad that ministers care enough about the Bible to know what the original documents said and that apparently this knowledge is not high enough to be locked in an ivory tower somewhere.
The second response usually involves the person saying something along the lines of, “Well, all that seminary does is turn good young men into snooty, bible-thumping Greek scholars who try to show off how much they know in every sermon.” I am not denying that this happens. I have come across my fair share of seminarians (and pastors) who do not mind brow beating a congregation into the ground with their knowledge of the biblical languages, or theology, or philosophy. This is not how it should be. But more often than not, the men and women who I have met who do know Greek or Hebrew work hard to ensure that their sermons and lessons are not ostentatious displays of their theological knowledge. They work hard to communicate on a level which relates to both the guy working the fryers at McDonalds and the college professor.
So, as a guy who knows Greek and Hebrew, I have a couple of things to say to the guy in the pew:
- First, you do not have to know Greek and Hebrew to be a good interpreter and expositor of the Bible. You do not even have to be a pastor to be a good interpreter of the Bible. With a little knowledge of how to interpret the Bible (the discipline that theologians call hermeneutics), anyone can learn what the Scriptures mean and how to apply them. This is not to denigrate pastors and their office, but instead it is to encourage you, guy in the pew, to read the Bible confidently, knowing that you can truly understand what the Bible is teaching. Does this mean that every text is clear and easy? By no means! But what is does mean is that there is no secret formula, no secret knowledge to interpreting the Bible. The Holy Spirit has inspired a text which is clear and can be understood.
- Second, acquaint yourself with Greek and Hebrew. But wait, you just said that you don’t have to know Greek and Hebrew to be a good interpreter of the Bible? And you don’t. But that does not mean that you will not benefit and benefit greatly from learning some about the languages in which the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible to be written. So take a little time and learn something about Greek and Hebrew. The ESV Study Bible has an excellent appendix that discusses the biblical languages and provides and overview of them. Figure out how to work Strong’s Concordance to take advantage of his numbering system for Greek and Hebrew words. Or if you feel up to the challenge, audit a seminary course in Greek or Hebrew, or take an online course. Or buy a textbook and work through it. Through learning the languages, even on a very basic level, you will improve your understanding of the Scripture and your teaching of them.
- Third, be thankful for the seminaries (such as Southwestern, Southern, New Orleans) that teach future ministers and scholars how to learn the languages and interpret the Bible well. My Hebrew professor made that statement that he was glad to be teaching at an institution that required all M.Div students to take the biblical languages, because there are institutions that have such little regard for the Scriptures that they do not even require their students to learn the languages anymore.
Thanks be to God that He has given us His Word and the ability to understand it!