In our current series of Soli Deo Gloria articles, we have been examining the greatest of books, the Bible. The Bible was originally written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. So the Scripture must be translated into our language in order for us to know what God has told us in its pages.
This process can be a difficult task. Aramaic is a ‘dead language,’ which means that it is no longer spoken. The Hebrew of the Old Testament is very different from the Hebrew language spoken today because all languages change over time. In fact, the Old Testament text did not have vowels, and vowels had to be added in order to be able to read the passages of Scripture.
The same tendency for language to change over time applies to the New Testament, which was written in Greek. This Greek is different from the language spoken today but also different from the Greek written in ancient times. This was the Greek commonly spoken by the people, different from the Classical Greek spoken by the upper class.
Some of the grammatical rules that applied to those languages are no longer in place today; some of the expressions of the time are no longer current, and some terms have changed their meaning. It is a difficult task to translate any ancient book, and, since the Bible is the Word of God, there is a tremendous responsibility to be faithful to the original intent and wording of the authors.
Should a believer be able to read the original words of the Old and New Testaments, that is, the actual words of the prophets and apostles? It would be of great benefit, but one scholar warns us not to ‘go half-way.’
At a recent Reformation Bible Conference at Grace Presbyterian Church in Troy, Jonathan T. Pennington, the Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Director of Research Doctoral Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recommended intensive study in New Testament Greek. He said that a little knowledge of Greek can be a dangerous thing because mistakes are easy to make. He recommended serious study.
It is a difficult task to try to read the ancient languages, but there is good news. We have a wealth of resources and many experts that can help us.
This author does not know much about the Biblical languages, but he finds many resources that are written by scholars which can assist with Bible study. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance contains a numbered system that allows a person to find the particular Greek or Hebrew word that was translated by many English words used in the Bible. A brief definition is also given. This word can then be researched with other tools.
Where does one go to conduct that research? The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Kittle, is available in a both a multi-volume set and a single volume edition. This book contains scholarly articles written by experts on most of the words of the New Testament. These articles cover how the words were used in ancient common Greek in both the Bible and in other places in ancient writings. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament is also available. (Please note that contributions to these two dictionaries are not always made by conservative Christian scholars.)
It would certainly benefit any believer to learn Hebrew and Greek, but you can be confident in the many excellent English translations, which God uses to communicate His truth in a reliable fashion today. Our next article will look at two different approaches to Bible translation and present some recommendations from those approaches.