Should Christians Learn Hebrew or Greek When Studying The Bible?

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

When it comes to studying the Bible many people take different approaches. For many, finding an easy to read version is the answer. For others, they want a more literal version. Yet still for some, they want to dig deep into the original languages. This leads most believers at some point to ask the question: “Should Christians learn Hebrew or Greek when studying the Bible?”

What is the goal of Bible study?

The first thing to consider when trying to answer this question is what is the goal of Bible study? The Bible tells us there are three things as follows:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The first goal is to show ourselves “approved unto God.” This means we should study to show that we meet God’s approval. How do we meet His approval? The answer is can be seen as follows:

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: (Acts 2:22)

Jesus was approved by God. God the Father demonstrated His approval by doing amazing things through Him. It makes sense then, that to be approved of God, we need to be like Jesus. How was Jesus approved of God? By faith. Faith that everything that God the Father promised was true. Faith that God the Father would raise Him up from the dead and that Jesus would raise us from the dead (John 6:37-40). Because of His faith, Jesus always did the will of His Father as the Father had taught Him (John 8:28-29).

We too are approved unto God by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). When we are approved of God, He demonstrates His approval by doing great things through us by His Holy Spirit. To be taught by the Father, we have to study His Word (2 Timothy 3:14-17), which changes us from the inside to become more like Him, willing to do God’s will, which demonstrates His approval (Psalms 119:11, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18).

The second goal is to become “a workman that needeth not be ashamed.” Being ashamed Biblically means to be defeated or disappointed. Bible study prepares and equips us to do good works without hesitation or hindrance (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

The third and final goal is to gain the ability to rightly divide the word of truth. This means that we are able to break down what we read into simple truths and applications given numerous Bible study factors. These factors include things such as the people involved, the context, audience, the time period in history, as well as other factors.

When these factors are considered, then we are able to compare Scripture with Scripture, line with line, and precept with precept to get a good understanding of what is being taught (Isaiah 28:9-10). However, there is one more thing that is important to know before we can answer the question if it is necessary to learn Hebrew or Greek when studying.

How accurate is the translation?

A simple visit to a Christian book store Bible section will show that there are numerous Bible translations. With all the different versions it is quite simple to see that when we compare the text, depending on the versions being compared, they can read totally different. So how do we know which versions are closest to the original texts?

This is when textural reliability must be considered. In other words, is the version we use translated as accurately as possible from the original Hebrew and Greek? To know this, we have to know something about the Hebrew and Greek used for the translation. Unbeknownst to most Christians there are different Hebrew and Greek manuscripts that are used by modern translations.

These manuscripts fall into two main sources: the originals, which were collected and preserved in Antioch, Syria (Acts 15) and corrupted copies, which were collected and maintained in Alexandria, Egypt centuries later. We know which the originals were because nearly all of the Apostolic Fathers of the first through third centuries quoted from the Antioch manuscripts.

Using tools such as a Strong’s Concordance (KJV) with a Hebrew and Greek dictionary or a King James Old English Word Definition Guide is helpful in Bible study.

Using tools such as a Strong’s Concordance (KJV) with a Hebrew and Greek dictionary or a King James Old English Word Definition Guide is helpful in Bible study.

The Alexandrian manuscripts are used by many translations today. However, it is easy to find errors in the corrupted texts by a simple examination of the translated text. An example can be found in Mark 1:2, which reads as follows in a translation, which uses an Alexandrian text.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” (Mark 1:2, NIV)

Although this is a well-known verse, the problem is that it misquotes who said it. Isaiah did not say this, Malachi did in Malachi 3:1. There are numerous other examples to look at (compare Isaiah 9:3 using a KJV and an NIV for example), but for now, we need to know that if there is going to be any examination of Hebrew and Greek, it is important to know what Hebrew or Greek is being examined.

For the sake of answering our main question, presuming we have the resources, should Christians learn Hebrew and Greek when studying the Bible? The answer varies depending on who you talk to. For a King James purest, the answer would be that everything that we need to understand a passage can be found in the King James English. However, as good as the translation may be of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, English is not as robust of a language as Greek or Hebrew.

An example can be found in John 21:15-17 when Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him. However, looking at the words for love in Greek shows us that Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him in different ways. The first two times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him He used the Greek work “agape,” which is an unconditional love. Peter did not directly answer that he loved Jesus, instead he replied, “you know I love you.”

After not admitting directly His love, Jesus then asked the same question using the Greek word “phileo,” which is a brotherly love. Only then did Peter say he loved Jesus. Without knowing those words in Greek, there is no way of knowing directly why He was asked the same question three time. A similar example can be seen when looking at the word “glory” in 2 Corinthians 3:18. Only by looking at the words in Greek can a clear understanding be gained.

Conclusion

So, with these things in mind, does this mean we must learn Hebrew and Greek when studying the Bible? The simple answer is no. Using tools such as a Strong’s Concordance (KJV) with a Hebrew and Greek dictionary or a King James Old English Word Definition Guide will help us to identify words in verses that may give us pause for understanding. On the other hand, scholars of Greek, and more so Hebrew, tell us that sometimes there are nuances in the language such as puns, word plays, etc. that can only be fully appreciated in the original languages. However, a good translation is what is most important.

More reading about Bible study methods: 5 Creative Ways to Study the Bible

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version



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