If I told you I was a master of French literature, you would expect me to know French, but sadly that is not true for most preachers. A minister claims to be a master of God’s Word, the Bible, but the Bible was written in Greek and Hebrew, and most ministers, after a brief exposure to Greek and possibly Hebrew, have given up the hard work of language study. Why?
First, elders and congregations don’t expect their ministers to know the Biblical languages. Unless it is done very well, a minister who says, “In the original language,” instantly shuts off his audience. My grandfather was like that. “Johnny, that word could mean ‘peanut butter’ for all I know. That preacher is just showing off,” and Papa was right. It takes years of study to understand the subtle nuances, and preachers just don’t have time for that. At least that’s what they say, but I think that’s an excuse.
A little knowledge of Greek and Hebrew will allow you to use the finest tools, commentaries, and resources. Yes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Language and grammar are very subtle, especially if there is no one to check your conclusions before making your pronouncements, but it is a worthwhile beginning.
One of the great benefits of reading the original languages is that it slows you down. We are often so familiar with the English Bible that we race through the text and miss the gems. Likewise, by reading the original text, you can understand why the various translators made their choices.
Studying the very words of Paul – in his language – is a blessing. Ideas for sermons, classes, and illustrations abound. For example, James coins a new Greek word: dipsuchos (δίψυχος) in his epistle. It means a man with “two souls.” Poor Lot’s wife had this condition. She wanted to continue living in Sodom, but she also wanted to be saved. The conflict between her two desires turned her into a pillar of salt.
Finally, we live in an age of remarkable resources. Virtually anyone can learn to basics of Hebrew and Greek, so why not?
Of course, I remember one day at Abilene Christian University. I was a little depressed. I was a Greek major, and it was hard! Dr. Furman Kearley took me aside and said, “John, you know you don’t have to know Greek to go to heaven.” So I looked up and nodded my head, then he continued with a twinkle in his eye, “But of course, you will be bored when you can’t talk to anybody!”