Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Biblical Languages in Life and Ministry

My friend Marc Cortez wrote this blog on the Western Seminary's blog site and I thought it is worth reporting. I look forward to your response.

Thanks to the NT Resources blog I ran across an interesting post on Original Languages and the Priesthood of All Believers. Since most of us have spent a fair amount of time with the original languages in our academic development, I thought his would be worth reflecting on.

The article begins with the following statement:

The original languages of scripture can be a blessing and they can be a curse. They can help or they can harm the priesthood of believers. I have seen both happen.

He goes on to express high appreciation for the value of studying the original languages, but also a significant concern that we be careful how we use our understanding of the languages – especially from the pulpit.

The problem for the priesthood of believers comes when someone uses the Hebrew and Greek to set himself up as “the one with knowledge.” This may happen inadvertently, but it harms the church nonetheless. For example, when a pastor (who does almost all the preaching in the modern Western church) repeatedly says, “Well, in the Greek this means…” he is telling the folks of that church that he has special knowledge that they don’t have. While he may not mean it this way, this is the message that they receive. He is the expert and they are not.

What does this do to the priesthood? It can devastate it. It causes a passive church when it comes to reading and interpreting the bible. If the people think that the pastor is the one “who brings the word of God,” they won’t be motivated to study and think for themselves. Instead, they will wait for the expert to bring them “the message” on Sundays.

I have to say that I completely agree. This actually happens to be one of the soapboxes that I enjoy jumping up and down on in my Greek classes. We need to careful that we don’t set ourselves up as the new “magisterium” and reverse the important emphasis of the Reformers that the Word of God is for all of his people – not just the elite few.

But, having said, I wanted to reflect as well on the value of studying the original languages. Or, rather, I’d like to hear some of your thoughts. Most of you who read this blog have done quite a bit of work in both Hebrew and Greek. What did you get out of it? Was it just a hurdle that you had to jump through to get your degree? Has it been a primarily academic exercise that opened up new and interesting avenues for research and writing? Or, have you found that understanding the original languages has truly deepened your spiritual life and made you more effective in ministry? Of course, you might have some other response as well. Regardless, let’s hear it.


Bill, I only recently ordered and started studying your course available through the video and books you provide. I can not go to seminary for various reasons (jobs, time money, sure you heard them all) but have wanted to learn and understand the Greek that our Holy Bible was translated from. In the few short sessions I have gone through it has been a wonderful and blessed experience. I was really awakened by some of the true meanings (not to mention pronunciations) of words I had heard before but never really understood. I bought the ESV-Greek Interliner and am using it along with your course as well as comparing words and application in the KJV, NKJV and NASB. Probably have the cart before the horse, but I have been really awakened by some of the real value and true meaning of the Greek words giving much more clarity to the Scriptures. I teach Wednesday Night Bible study at our local church and have on accasion used some of the new insights to help us understand better what was being said. The class has also on occassion been surprised to find that they had a different perspective. In light of your blog about "The Biblical Languages in Life and Ministry", I would agree. Too much could be presumptious and showee, but I have found that researching and explaining certain key words brings tremendous insight. As a "novice" I am especially aware of this and try to only use what I can fully explain and believe will better support the passage being discussed. Thank you for making your class and material available to those of us in the "lay ministry". χάρις καί εἰρήνη Travis Cox