One of my pleasures as a faculty member at BCSA is working with my friend, Chris Fresch (of Greek Verb Fame). Chris and I frequently discuss the biblical languages. Most of the time our discussion are on matters of exegesis that the biblical languages highlight. And at times we lament that many pastors and students believe (or are being told) that knowledge of the biblical languages is unnecessary for faithful pastoral ministry and therefore do not pursue to learn them.
I don’t think that a working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are absolutely necessary for faithful ministry, or that it is the only skill needed for Christian ministry. To believe that would be naive of the heavy burden of pastoral ministry. But I’m concerned by the number of pastors and students who determine them unnecessary and seek to find ways to avoid them in theological college.
One excuse for not valuing the languages in ministry is because we possess an abundance of English translations of the Scriptures. But is it true that an abundance of English translations mean that the need for learning the languages are obsolete? Dennis Johnson from Westminster California argues that the abundance of English translations actually makes the mastery of the biblical languages more necessary. He writes:
“The abundance of English translations of the Bible available to our churches may appear to make knowledge of the original languages less necessary. Actually, they make it more essential. I have participated in home Bible studies in which we had around the circle the Living Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the King James Version, the New International Version, the Revised Standard Versions, and others. At many points, naturally we had different wording; and at certain points our versions came up with significant variations in meaning! What do we do? Vote? Happily, we had somebody there who could look at the original, suggest why the versions diverged, and tell the rest why one translation was more accurate than the other. God’s people need the confidence that their own shepherds can guide them through the labyrinth of modern translations.”1
I think we all can relate to Johnson’s experience. The abundance of translations with different text-critical decisions and different translational goals can create quite the confusion for a group. The answer isn’t to look toward another translation, but the need for someone the capacity to explain why translations diverged and explain why one translation was better over another. This sort of knowledge and explanation is more than the ability to look up parsing information and glosses in a software program like Accordance or Logos. It requires someone who has laboured over the Scriptures in order to gain a deep knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
Let us continue to do the hard work because we love and treasure the Scriptures in order to serve God’s church.