Learn English

I was speaking to a friend yesterday who told me that he’s interested in Hebrew and Greek. He said that he’s been using Strong’s for his study and wanted to know if that was the best resource. I told him that it wasn’t and that there have been significant advancements in what we know about the languages since Strong wrote and I suggested a few resources. But after I made all of my suggestions I suggested that he just focus on English unless he has the time to actually learn the languages and learn them well.

My basic point was that English translations are produced by teams of scholars who have been laboring in these languages for a long time. We can trust them for the most part. But I told him to compare a number of English translations and then, when he notices differences that seem significant, turn to resources that help to explain what’s going on in the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek source. At the end of the day I’d prefer a preacher who knows his English Bible really well over one that dabbles in Hebrew and Greek and couldn’t parse or conjugate their way out of a paper bag.

To my mind there are few things worse than someone who picks up a lexicon and thinks that they’ve uncovered all the secrets that translators have kept hidden. I cringe when I hear someone who doesn’t know the languages say, “Now what this really says is…” or “They’ve mistranslated this word; it should say…” Their intentions might be pure but it ends up sounding like hubris. So again, my advice to those who don’t have the time to learn the languages well, is to learn English, i.e., learn the Bible you can read.



4 thoughts on “Learn English

  1. Matthew 28 verse 18 is a case in point. But here, you need to know that the way Greek expresses a command is more flexible than the way it is expressed in English.

  2. My Greek tutor once said in a sermon that if someone can’t read a sentence in Greek then they have no business telling us that the Greek means this or that…….I can’t say I agree with him though…………

  3. Drew: I see his point. If you can’t translate it then it’s kind of hard to speak with any authority on what it should say or really means. But there are times when someone is well versed in a certain subject and is familiar with the variety of options for any given translation and can speak to the reasons that they believe one is better than the others.

    David: Sounds pretty reasonable to me for the most part.

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