Bible Study

Should All Believers Learn Biblical Languages?

How important are Hebrew and Greek skills for interpreting the Bible well and thriving as a Christian?

It’s an important question, since we believe Christians ought to grow in their ability to interact directly with Scripture and discern truth from error—and not only feed themselves well, but hopefully teach and admonish one another well also.

Any learning that has the potential to further those ends has to be seriously considered.

Views on the languages question range from “all you need is good intentions and the Holy Spirit” to “nobody lacking Greek and Hebrew skills can get the Bible right.” Debaters tend to characterize one another as holding one of these two views, but the reality is that most attitudes fall somewhere between.

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Have You Considered Turning the Page?

We met, as we had often done. But this time it was different. He brought his Bible. I asked him what had changed. He explained.

I realized something as we’ve been meeting over the past months. You would share a passage of Scripture, turn to it, we’d read it, and discuss it. I found myself wanting to share some idea that I thought was found in Scripture. But rather than recalling the passage, I found myself pulling out my laptop, opening up my Bible app, and searching for something I vaguely recalled. And I realized I hadn’t been reading Scripture.

I know—that’s just anecdotal. No serious qualitative analysis; just an exchange between two brothers. But what my friend shared has come up in other conversations. Christians are “reading” the Bible in ways other than in a printed book, and it seems that it might be changing how we read.

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Lingua-Phobia Among American Preachers

Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com

Some weeks back, on a preachers’ discussion site, I shared an extended quotation from the great Greek scholar A. T. Robertson (1863-1934) on the extreme importance, even necessity, for Bible preachers to study and learn the Greek language, for the sake of their ministry. In part, that quote said—

The physician has to study chemistry and physiology. Other men may or may not. The lawyer has to study his Blackstone. The preacher has to know his Bible or the people suffer the consequences of his ignorance, as in the case of the physician or the lawyer. The extreme in each instance is the quack who plays on the ignorance and prejudice of the public.

It is true that the minister can learn a deal about his Bible from the English versions, many of which are most excellent. There is no excuse for any one to be ignorant of his English Bible, which has laid the foundation of our modern civilization. But the preacher lays claim to a superior knowledge of the New Testament. He undertakes to expound the message of the gospel to people who have access to the English translations, and many of these are his equal in general culture and mental ability. If he is to maintain the interest of such hearers, he must give them what they do not easily get by their own reading. It is not too much to say that, however loyal laymen are to the pulpit, they yet consider it a piece of presumption for the preacher to take up the time of the audience with ill-digested thoughts. The beaten oil is none too good for any audience.

Now the preacher can never get away from the fact that the New Testament was written in the Greek language of the first century A.D. The only way for him to become an expert in this literature of which he is an exponent by profession is to know it in the original. The difficulty of the problem is not to be considered. One will not tolerate such an excuse in a lawyer or in a physician. The only alternative is to take what other scholars say without the power of forming an individual judgment. Some lawyers and physicians have to do this, but they are not the men that one wishes in a crisis.

The preacher lets himself off too easily and asserts that he is too busy to learn his Greek Testament. In a word, he is too busy about other things to do the main thing, to learn his message and to tell it. Fairbairn says: ‘No man can be a theologian who is not a philologian. He who is no grammarian is no divine.’ Melancthon held that grammar was the true theology, and Mathias Pasor argued that grammar was the key to all the sciences. Carlyle, when asked what he thought about the neglect of Hebrew and Greek by ministers, blurted out: ‘What!? Your priests not know their sacred books!?’

(These words are taken from Robertson’s superb little book, The Minister and His Greek New Testament, pp. 80-83; I quoted them at greater length in AISI 2:11).

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What Is the Role of the Holy Spirit in Interpretation?

From Paraklesis, a resource of Baptist Bible Seminary (Fall, 2012). Used by permission.

We might better ask the question, “Does the Holy Spirit have a role in interpretation?” If the Holy Spirit does have a role, what is that role?

The purpose of this article is to propose first that the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation is not to enable the reader to grasp the meaning of a text. We will look briefly at certain verses which supposedly teach this to see whether they actually do teach this.

This article then proposes that a role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation is actually post-interpretation. The role of the Holy Spirit is to enable the reader to make a correct evaluation of the meaning of a text so that he can welcome or accept that meaning. The Holy Spirit also assures the reader of the truth of Scripture. A role of the Holy Spirit also may be to enable the reader to relate the meaning which comes from interpretation to his life. The article looks briefly at texts which seem to support these proposals and this suggestion.

The Holy Spirit does not enable the reader to discover the (author’s intended) meaning of a passage. He does not teach the reader the meaning of a text. The Holy Spirit does not help the reader to comprehend Scripture.

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Should Laymen Be Allowed to Read the Bible? Part 2

Reprinted with permission from As I See It. AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com. Read Part 1.

Many biblical passages either command or commend the direct personal hearing or reading of the Scriptures by everyone, without distinctions of age, education, office or gender. In addition, the Christian reader has the indispensable assistance of the Divine Author, the Holy Spirit, in reading the Bible.

John 14:26—“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.”

John 16:8—“When [the Counselor] comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.”

Acts 16:14—“A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention what was spoken by Paul.” Compare Luke 24:44-45—“Then He told them, ‘These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

1 Corinthians 2:9-16—“But as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, and what has never come into a man’s heart, is what God has prepared for those who love Him.’ Now God has revealed them to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the concerns of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? In the same way, no one knows the concerns of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, in order to know what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. For the natural man does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. For, ‘who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”

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