Open My Eyes That I May See
My friend was a young man, perhaps the youngest member of the adult Sunday school class that he taught, yet everyone agreed that he was an excellent teacher. I was a few years older, and a seminary student. He was a first year Bible college student. Nevertheless, I marveled at his level of knowledge and ability to teach, but he had not yet acquired all the tools he needed to be his best. Evidently, he recognized that he needed an education ⎯ at least a degree. However, he disdained some degree requirements. For example, he saw no reason to study the Greek language although it is the language of the New Testament. “I am an Englishman,” he declared when the topic came up. “Why do I need to learn Greek,” he asked? He continued, “I speak English and I read an English Bible. The people I teach all understand English. Why do I need to know Greek?” He went on to argue that he could understand everything that he needed to know about the Bible by reading good “English” commentaries. I didn’t argue with him at the time, but I profoundly disagreed.
Over 40 years have elapsed since that conversation, and I disagree even more so, today. What I believed was true then, I now know to be true in practice. Just as a preacher needs to have a knowledge of theology, he also needs a working knowledge of the original languages ⎯ Hebrew and Greek. The Greek language is a very precise language, and Hebrew a very ancient one. Both offer their challenges to a modern interpreter, but both unlock a treasure trove of knowledge that simply cannot be ascertained from an English translation and most commentaries. There are a lot of good commentaries, but commentaries are also notorious for skipping over the hard to understand sections. Be it a commentary, or some other reference, there are no adequate substitutes for a knowledge of the original languages.
Obtaining a working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is difficult enough in a classroom setting. It is even more difficult to achieve through self-study or taking an online course. However, it is highly important to access whatever help you can get. If you can take a class or audit one, do it, even if you are unable to pursue a degree. If you can only access online training, take advantage of it. If you have someone who will mentor you, by all means take advantage of that.
I would also add the following advice. Don’t fret too much over learning vocabulary. You will need to learn the alphabet and some basic vocabulary words. However, you can always look up the meaning of a word. The easiest way is to use the interlinear text found on biblehub.com. Hover over the transliterated the Greek word spelled out with English letter equivalents, and a brief English definition of the word will pop up. Click on the same word and it will take you to the Englishman’s Concordance showing usage of the word in multiple contexts. Finally, from the Englishman’s Concordance page, click Thayers in the bar above to access the word in an online version of Thayers Greek Lexicon for a full dictionary analysis of the word. If you are dealing with the Hebrew text, click on BDB which will bring up the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew English Lexicon.
Do not assume that Greek word meanings are all you need to know. The grammar is far more important. Start with a beginning Greek grammar text such as Beginner’s Grammar of the Greek New Testament by William Hershey Davis or Basics of Biblical Greek by William D. Mounce. From there, move on to a grammar textbook like A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Dana and Mantey that is available, used, on Amazon. Understanding Greek grammar is the key. Learn the various types of Greek verbs and their meaning. Then, learn the uses of the nouns, participles, infinitives, and prepositions. Having a working knowledge of the grammar is essential for accurate interpretation. A. T. Robertson’s classic work, Word Pictures in the New Testament, is an indispensable tool for understanding Greek grammar issues in interpretation. It is available free online. Armed with even a rudimentary knowledge of Greek grammar, you can then use an interlinear Greek text such as is provided on biblehub.com to identify Greek verb forms, participles, infinitives, and so on. Then by referring to your own knowledge and utilizing a helpful tool such as Word Pictures in the New Testament a vast amount of interpretive information is opened up to you. Word Pictures is available free of charge online. Follow the same process for understanding biblical Hebrew beginning with a basic grammar such as Introduction to Hebrew by Moshe Greenburg. It is out of print, but available used on Amazon..
The Bible wasn’t written in English. The Bible was completed a good 1400 years before the King James translation was made. You and I may be Englishmen, so to speak. And there is much to be learned about God’s Word from reading and studying an English translation. However, serious expositors who access the original languages can dig deeper, mine far more golden truths, and deliver the exceeding riches of God’s Word in a far more accurate way to their listeners.