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The biblical languages in life and ministry

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.
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