"…to the praise of the glory of His grace…" Ephesians 1:6

Do I need to know Greek and Hebrew to REALLY understand the Bible?

I often get the opportunity these days to talk with young men and women who are pondering the best ways to prepare for a life of ministry. A part of that conversation usually revolves around, “Do I need to go to seminary?” or “Do I need to get more formal bible training?” Those are tough questions and usually questions that reflect a heart that really wants to understand God’s Word better to serve Him more faithfully.

One of the common motivations for pursuing formal theological training is the mindset that unless I know the Greek and Hebrew languages that the Bible was originally written in then I won’t really be able to deeply understand the Bible. That’s a mindset that I think is misguided.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones said to some young preachers that the greatest thing you can do to prepare as a preacher was to know well the Bible in your own language. I think he is write. I spent 3 years studying the Greek language and a year and a half studying Hebrew and yet hardly know even enough to be dangerous. Twenty or thirty years ago there were a lot of language tools produced by Greek and Hebrew scholars that were fairly expensive and challenging to access. That is not the case today.

If you want to learn Greek or Hebrew – then definitely go for it. Just don’t buy into the mindset that it is the key to understanding the Bible. God has not reserved the understanding of His Word for an elite few but for any who will come in humility and tremble at His Word.

I found this blog post today by Justin Dellehay was a further blessing in articulating the wisdom of God in the way He has given us the Bible as a revelation of Himself. Dellehay’s article seeks to summarize some truths taught in a book by D. A. Carson.

You can read the entire article here:

3 Ways Not to Use Greek in Bible Study

Here are a few quotes from this article:

“When it comes to Bible study, many Christians seem to think that knowing Greek is like a magic bullet that will unlock all the secrets of biblical meaning. I once thought this, and then I began studying Greek. The main thing I learned in the first couple of weeks of class was that most of what I thought I knew about Greek was malarky. Turns out that agape and philos aren’t really different kinds of love after all, and the gospel isn’t really the “dynamite” of God. In many ways, Greek is much more mundane than I had thought. It resolves some questions but also creates others.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from studying Greek. In fact, I would encourage as many Christians to learn it as can. But the reality is that most believers don’t have the time or the ability. The good news, however, is that God never intended all (or even most) of his people to have to learn Greek in order to understand his Word. There is a happy division of labor. God is merciful—some people become experts in Greek and Hebrew so the rest of us don’t have to….the impulse that says, “I don’t want to be dependent on scholars” may be a latent form of pride. It may be the hand saying to the foot, “I have no need of you.” I’m not trying to turn translators into an infallible high priestly class. I’m simply saying that unless God expects us all to become language scholars, then he must have willed a division of labor. It won’t do to replace the cult of the expert with the cult of the amateur. We depend on scholars whether we like it or not.

Pride will chafe at this reality, and paranoia will invent conspiracy theories. But until we become omniscient, omnipotent, and omnicompetent, nothing will change it….

But for those who think they can’t understand the Bible at all unless they can read Greek, the good news is that nine times out of ten you will gain a better understanding of what a word means simply by reading it in its context.

Here’s what I mean by “reading it in its context”: don’t just zero in on one word. Read the entire sentence. Then read the entire paragraph. As a teacher once noted in a Sunday school class at my church, “Words shouldn’t be read with blinders on.” Most words don’t have a “literal meaning” at all—rather, they have a range of possible meanings (the technical term is “semantic range”). That’s why a dictionary usually lists several possible options. Only when a word is used in context does the precise meaning becomes clear.

The better you know a language, the less time you will spend zeroing in on individual words. Consider this sentence: “Cinderella danced at the ball.” The average American can read this sentence and understand it immediately. No fluent English speaker who knows the story of Cinderella is going to see the word ball and think, Hmm. I wonder what ball means. I better look it up. But imagine if a misguided non-English speaker were studying this sentence the way many people study the Bible. He might look up the word ball and think, Ah! Look at this! This word ball is rich in meaning! It can mean all sorts of things! A round object; a non-strike in baseball; a dance. Boy, this sentence is so much richer when you can read it in the original English!

But of course, as native speakers, we can immediately see the folly of this method. Yes, the word ball can mean all those things, but in this sentence it only means one of them. Which means that the other possible meanings are irrelevant at this point. Reading every possible meaning into a particular use of a word is sometimes called the “overload fallacy.”…

I’m not saying that Greek word studies are bad, or totally unnecessary (after all, we are not native Greek speakers). But unless you do them properly, they’ll simply give you the illusion of knowing something when you really don’t. Most of the time you’ll do better to simply compare a number of solid translations like the NASB, ESV, NIV, and NLT. After all, the people who translated these Bible versions understand Greek far better than you or I ever will. So don’t throw away their expertise. And as you read, pay attention to the context. An ounce of good contextual analysis is worth a pound of poorly done Greek word studies.

So take your English Bibles and read carefully. When you do word studies, avoid the root fallacy, take advantage of scholars’ expertise, and remember that context is king. In short, read, reread, and reread again. It’s not as flashy a study method, and it probably won’t make you feel (or look) as smart, but it’ll give you much more accurate results.”

Let’s all keep studying and asking the Lord to help us see Him more clearly through His wonderful revelation of Himself we call the Bible!