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Benefits of Learning the Biblical Languages for Pastors

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Among those who read blog posts like this, there will be many different groups of people. One may find learning languages to be fun and easy (an exceptional person, indeed). However, most view the learning of Greek and Hebrew to be difficult duties, and, perhaps, unnecessary burdens. I was required to study Greek and Hebrew in seminary to obtain a Master’s of Divinity. That is also the case for everyone I know, in every seminary that I am aware. Most of us began because our seminaries made us do it.

Those exceptional people who find happiness in this endeavor are greatly overshadowed by the far greater wave of seminarians who are either frightened by the prospect of Greek and Hebrew or look back on the period with dismay. Perhaps they were slammed with other important studies (theology, church history, etc.) or even work and family, to the extent that learning Greek and Hebrew became a bitter cup to drink. My first Hebrew class was a 6-week intensive, summer course (i.e., A brutal and unrelenting punisher). I distinctly recall one of the students who stated the wonderful reason why he was one of the few to sign up for such an unfortunate event, “This is my last course before I graduate, receive my degree, and move back home to England. I pushed Hebrew off until the end of my degree and want to get it done as fast as possible.” This man viewed Hebrew as a harsh master. And, from my experience, I have met others who thought the same way but did not express themselves so accurately or explicitly. Therefore, I desire to devote this post to something that will encourage the hearts of pastors and seminarians in general as they prepare for gospel ministry: The benefits of learning the biblical languages.

1. Protect the Sheep

Learning Greek and Hebrew is not just good for you. It is good for the people whom you shepherd and oversee in the local church. The people of God will benefit from your knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. You can test others’ conclusions to make sure that a unique viewpoint is grounded in the biblical author’s intention. If you have a question or lack of understanding of a passage in English, you can quickly check the Greek or Hebrew for help. Further, it helps you to protect the people you love from false teachers. A case-in-point is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ confusion and mishandling of the Greek to promote a false doctrine that assumes the Word in John 1:1 is not God. Knowing Greek helps pastors to easily refute their confused and false claims.

2. Encourages Accurate Theological Conclusions

Understanding the basis of our English words and where they spring from in the ancient Greek or Hebrew sources helps us to be accurate in our conclusions, particularly in sermon preparation and preaching. We must avoid two extremes: those who say that you cannot understand the Scriptures without the languages, and those who say that you do not need the languages at all to know the Scriptures. Without the languages, we can understand much, if not most of the Scriptures well. But there are certain points in the Scriptures that are dependent upon our understanding of the ancient languages. That is why trusted commentators reference the languages in their writing and do not merely work from English translations.

3. Studying the Languages Instills Confidence in Sermon Preparation

Living life in a foreign country can often be disorienting. There are different languages, customs, food, and locations, to get used to when living long term in a new country. The same happens when learning Greek and Hebrew. It can feel uncomfortable, difficult, painful, and challenging. However, less confusion arises in sermon preparation when one knows Greek and Hebrew well. They do not feel like they are walking through a minefield while studying (always tip-toeing around the foreign terms highlighted by commentators), and they do not feel like a stranger who accidentally shows up to the wrong party when opening the Greek Bible. Rather, knowing Greek and Hebrew well helps one navigate the Scriptures in multiple languages with ease, and gives us greater skill in accurately checking the different English translations.

Further, competence in Greek and Hebrew helps us read more advanced systematics with ease and comfort. Theologians will often reference Greek or Hebrew in their works. Knowing the languages will help pastors feel more comfortable in their study of these systematic works, especially when the authors provide whole verses or block quotes of Greek or Hebrew text.

4. It Saves Time

My last observation is that Learning Greek and Hebrew well saves time. How can time be saved when time is obviously spent (some would say wasted)? My first observation is that knowing the biblical languages well is a time saver. I put this last because it assumes that one is quite competent already with Greek and Hebrew. However, I am convinced that it is true. When preparing sermons or other teachings, one does not need to get bogged down by heavy lexicons and grammars. Opening up and reading sections of your Greek New Testament or Hebrew Bible with relative ease is possible! Yes, even the best of scholars may not be able to fully read Isaiah or Job in Hebrew with fluidity. However, that should be the time when grammars and lexicons come out. When you have approached the very difficult texts and cannot make it any further by yourself. There are large portions of text in the GNT and the Hebrew Bible that are comprehensible without scouring dense grammars. The goal is not to escape from lexicons and grammars, but to become less dependent upon them. This shows up in the fact that, as you become more confident in the languages, you will not have to look up the definitions of the same word in Greek for multiple years in a row. You will be familiar with them which will save you time in study.

Why is all this important? The less time we spend nit-picking through a lexicon, the more time we can be focused upon the message. Understanding grammar and vocabulary are merely means to understanding the message of the text. Grasping the message is the ultimate goal. Understanding the gospel of the glory of God in Christ is the goal, and to be occupied by that is far more satisfying than cracking BDAG (a Greek lexicon) or BDB (a Hebrew lexicon).

These are just a few of the many reasons to learn Greek and Hebrew well. There are also many wise men who have written about and advocated the same. Check out Ligon Duncan’s YouTube video on these matters with BibleMesh as a start.

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