Should Pastors Use Greek and Hebrew?

The original languages the Bible was written in, Hebrew and Greek, have fallen on hard times in the Church. The percentage of pastors who use the Greek and Hebrew in their sermon preparation is very low. One pastor asked several other pastors who had been in ministry more than ten years if they still used Hebrew in preparing sermons. Not a single one did. Greek is probably more used than Hebrew, but no doubt there is only a small minority of ministers who use it regularly.

John Currid’s book, Calvin and the Biblical Languages, addresses this particular problem in the church by taking us back to the Reformation. He shows how the Reformation leaders were men who knew the original languages and used them in their exegesis and preaching. Going back to Greek and Hebrew was an essential part in planting the seeds of the reformation and subsequent spread of it across Europe. The book is short and worthy of your time.

Currid says, “First and foremost the neglect of the original languages is a movement away from the centrality of the Scriptures in our churches and away from the pastor’s main duty to teach the Scriptures.”

At the end of the book, Currid lists six reasons a pastor should learn and use the original languages in his ministry.

1. “The Holy Scriptures were revealed by God through his prophets in Greek and Hebrew (and Aramaic). Why would the pastor as interpreter not want to study God’s Word in its original linguistic revelation and form?”

2. “There is an abundance of English translations of the Bible. Some of them are solid and good, but as Waltke points out with an Italian proveb, “Traduttore traditorre,” “translations are treacherous.” How does a pastor know which is the best translation of a text without knowing how to translate?”

3. “There are many excellent commentaries on the market today. The pastor often thinks that because there are so many that the labor has been done, and he need not go over well-furrowed ground. Hafeman discerningly responds: “It is precisely because there are so many excellent commentaries available today that the use of the biblical languages in preaching becomes more important, not less.” The proliferation of commentaries means a proliferation of opinions, views, and interpretations of the text. Without the languages the pastor’s abililty to examine commentaries and to discern what is good and true is severly hampered.”

4. “Ability in the biblical languages aids in refuting false teaching…the biblical languages are a sword to be unsheathed against heresy and false teaching.”

5. “It can not be proven that there is no difference between a prepared, studious sermon based on the biblical languages and one that is not…the reality is that when one wrestles with the text and has direct contact with the Word of God in the languages in which it was revealed, a certain depth and richness pervades the study, one that would not have been there otherwise.”

6. “It is true that the maintaining of and the use of the biblical languages throughout time and ministry requires diligence and discipline. It may be difficult to do, but the rewards can be immense. For these labors foster discipline, depth of character, commitment and conviction in ministry. The work leads to solid, accurate and fresh preaching and teaching. Pastors have been called to guard the sacred deposit and stand against any misuse: this may be hard and strenuous work. The biblical languages are one of the weapons that we have been supplied with to make such a stand.”

The last point by Currid is probably the main reason pastors do not use the original languages more. It is very hard work and we often think our time would be better spent doing other things, such as planning. But in the end we will be judged based on our fidelity to God’s Word and thus knowing Greek and Hebrew is really not optional.

George Grant on Reading the Bible

George Grant is a pastor in Franklin, TN. He is one of my favorite thinkers, especially on issues like abortion and social justice. He is also a prolific writer and speaker. He has several blogs, but one of my favorite is his Eleventary Blog. There he makes lists of eleven things that vary in subject matter. Recently he listed eleven things he tries to remember while studying the Scriptures. I found it very helpful, even printing it out to read as I study God’s Word. You can find the list here.