Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hebrew and cheese: the pragmatic necessity of the biblical languages

So, here is a not so surprising confession: I love Hebrew almost as much as I love cheese, which is a lot. One of my overarching purposes in life is to promote the value of utilizing the biblical languages for the task of ministry. This means that I am committed to reading the Bible in the original languages and proclaiming the gospel based on an understanding and close and reading of the Bible. You may or may not be convinced that the biblical languages are that important. You may be of the position that only specialists and scholars should concern themselves with the languages, whereas is sufficient for the pastor and the layman to understand the gospel from an English translation. I would suggest that it is certainly necessary for the layman, but not sufficient for the pastor. Why?

This morning I would like to make my case merely from church history. Luther was able to recover a clear understanding of the gospel on the basis of a first-hand reading of the Scriptures in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic. This made the Reformation possible. In other words, his rediscovery of the gospel may have been the spark that ignited the Reformation, but that spark needed thrown on kindling before turning into a bonfire. There were other pre-reformers who make similar rediscovery of the gospel, which did not result in a all-out reformation of the church. Think of John Huss among others. So how was the Reformation brought about? (I realize that this is a large question, which can be answered from a wide variety of factors such as socioeconomic conditions, political climate, technological advance, historical precedent, the sovereignty of God, etc.). I would suggest that the publication of a Bible in the language of the people published the Reformation. In other words, a Bible translation spread the Reformation throughout Germany. This means that the Reformation was humanly speaking contingent upon two things: a first-hand reading of the Scripture and the readable translation of the Bible.

So why not merely and continue to rely on a good readable translation? I would suggest that we should not do this because a translation is subject to ambiguity and change over time. A translation can capture the meaning of the text of Scripture, but it will only do so as a snapshot. Over time as languages change and evolve, then the meaning of certain words terms and even grammatical constructions become subject to misunderstanding. This is essentially what happened with the Latin Vulgate. In other words, we must be constantly vigilant about the meaning of the Bible in relation to published and readable translations of the Bible. This is not the responsibility of the average churchmen, but the responsibility of church leaders, pastors, missionaries, and Sunday school teachers.

If we wish to continue the work of the Reformation, then we must do the work of the Reformation. We must continue to publish the Bible in a readable and accessible language, but we must also continue to correct and edit those translations as we become subject to error, which is an inevitability.

For those of you who are completely convinced of the value of Hebrew, here's an interesting blog article I happened across yesterday: