What Language Study Has Taught Me About The Bible

School-wise, this semester has been (and will continue to be) a challenging one, so my posting here has had to take somewhat of a backseat. Sorry about that.

I have written before about my (mis)adventures in the study of languages, and this semester is a continuation of that trend, as I am simultaneously taking my final Greek class and my first Hebrew class. 

The two languages are different enough that, so far, I haven’t gotten them too mixed up in my head, but studying both at the same time has been difficult and has required a lot of my brainpower. Greek is now pretty familiar (this is my fourth class in it) and I actually enjoy working and translating it, but Hebrew is just so foreign that it has been a strain.

Having said all this, I am repeatedly struck by three significant lessons that I have learned from language study:

(1) We owe such a debt to those who have gone on before us and have translated the Scriptures into our own languages. Language study takes a lot of patience, diligence, and perseverance. Translating from one language to another is difficult, and is especially more difficult when you are translating from hard-to-read ancient texts. There was a time when the vast majority of church-going people were unable to read the Bible for themselves, and were completely reliant on what others told them about it. We are in such a position of privilege to be able to read Scripture in our own tongue, and to do so with a great degree of confidence that what we are reading is an accurate portrayal of the original.

(2) It is important to read from and consult multiple translations. As I mentioned above, translating from one language to another is difficult. Anyone who has engaged in the process knows that often, a certain Hebrew or Greek word can be translated in multiple ways in English, and the different options have to be weighed. Ultimately, a lot of opinion and subjective interpretation comes into play when translating from one language to another, not because people are biased or dishonest or irresponsible, but simply because there is no other way to translate. A certain degree of interpretation is inherently involved. One of the great things about consulting multiple translations is that they tend to have a way of correcting the biases and weaknesses of one another. In other words, if you’re holding onto a particular doctrinal position based on one translation which is in disagreement with all others, you probably need to reevaluate your position.

(3) The Bible is a masterpiece. Studying the Bible in its original languages emphasizes to me how awesome it is. It is so intricately woven together, with certain words or literary devices emphasizing themes or creating links between different stories, books, and even between the Old and New Testaments. It has reinforced to me the unity and diversity of Scripture: composed by dozens of human authors whose individual voices shine through, but ultimately inspired by the Spirit of God, who works all pieces together into a complete and complementary whole.

To sum it all up, while studying biblical languages has been (and will continue to be) a challenge, it has also been a blessing because of these important lessons I have learned (or relearned). Hopefully they will bless your lives as well.


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