on understanding the Bible

In my last post linking to Jim West’s blog post urging pastors not to lose their Hebrew and Greek, Robert commented and asked:

I have a question, so do you think it is not possible to learn what the passage means if read in an English translation?

Of course not.  While I strongly encourage anyone to learn the biblical languages, I understand not all are able to seize this opportunity for any number of valid reasons.  While it certainly helps and for many is a real eye opener (knowing the languages) I am not going to say with absolute dogmatism, that if you don’t know the biblical languages or know how to use them that you simply will not or cannot know or understand the Bible – to me that leans too close to gnosticism (a kind of spiritual and intellectual superiority complex). 

Here was my reply:

Robert, I understand.  Yes, thank God for English versions!  Yes, you can understand the Bible without necessarily knowing Hebrew and Greek.  I personally advocate Inductive Bible Study Methods to achieve this (observation, interpretation, application) and also the use of flow of thought analytical diagamming.  For learning to do word studies and such I’d suggest Gordon Fee’s NT exegesis book along with Doug Stuart’s OT exegesis which has good pastor helps.  Also think about getting Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies and Walter Kaiser’s Toward an Exegetical Theology (to help with diagramming).  For inductive method stuff, one good book on this is called Grasping God’s Word.  It’s college level but good nonetheless (and has a separate workbook).  The New Inductive Study Bible is also a resource. Precept Ministries also has lots of good stuff for use in the church for teaching Inductive Bible study.

There are lots of other resources to consider, these are jus a few. 

I hope that helps.

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6 responses to “on understanding the Bible

  1. I have been exposed to Greek in a classroom setting for the last few years – easy learn type reading etc… I would encourage all your readers to at least do some on-line basic study of the languages. As a Bible teacher for many years, my horizons in understanding the Greek text (and therefore the English) has been greatly enlarged.

    I plan to tackling beginning Hebrew in a few months. I do not have enough life energy to get really proficient in either of these languages (am an older student), but will do what I can. The Greek has really made a difference in what I am able to understand.

    One doesn’t “have” to do so – but it will greatly benefit you. Now I must know what the Greek has – my first line of study in the NT.

  2. Brian, I know that it is possible but I wanted to publicly have a discussion on this topic because sometimes I do feel like there is a lot of people who think that unless you know the original languages you will never fully understand it’s meaning. As you put it “…leans too close to gnosticism (a kind of spiritual and intellectual superiority complex)” and sometimes snobbery.

    I do study the original languages and make an effort to understand them, as well as own some of the books you mentioned. But I think that if we are not careful we can cause our congregations not to trust our English bibles, and diminish the work of translators.

    • Robert. I agree, we must be careful not to cause our congregations to mistrust the Bible, that is why I try not to say “the Greek (or Hebrew” here says (or means)…” that too is snobbery, unless one really feels it is needed help understand the text better – but even as Jim noted, he too says not to mention the Hebrew or Greek. I like how he put it: don’t bring the workshop into the sermon, bring the results. I also feel this way about being careful in comparing even English translations because it can lead to some confusion and again cause lack of trust. But that is me.

      Also, I think knowledge of the original languages is more important to the Bible teacher/pastor than to others. Certainly if one in the congregation wishes to learn I’d say go for it.

      • Brian, good stuff. I don’t mind comparing English translations in my sermons, I tend to present it like this “…The HCSB says it like this…” I do my best to not downplay a translation. At least that is what I have been doing in more recent days.

  3. Pingback: Is it Necessary to Know the Biblical Languages? « Participatory Bible Study Blog

  4. Pingback: Is it Necessary to Know the Biblical Languages?

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