Peter James Silzer and Thomas John Finely provide a wonderful guide on learning Hebrew and Greek. In chapter one we are given five key characteristics of language. These key characteristics help us to grasp a greater understanding of our need to learn the Biblical languages.
The first characteristic of language is systems. Every language has certain patterns. Language is an organized system of sounds, words, and patterns. The English language, for example, has about forty-two sounds that are used to make up thousands of words. These words follow a simple basic pattern. Just as in English, Hebrew and Greek also has certain patterns for words, phrases, and clauses.
A second characteristic of language is Conventionalized Symbols. These symbols are used in a conventional way. Only certain sounds and combinations of sounds are understood by speakers of a certain language. These sounds, however, cannot predict the meaning of a word. There is no exact relationship between the sound of a word and its meaning. When it comes to language, a group of people agree that certain sounds will be used to indicate particular meanings.
Thirdly, languages are used by people groups. Have you ever wondered who decides the meaning of a word? It is a social group that defines words for their time. Social groups change over time. Because of this, words will also come and go and change meaning over time. This is very important in studying the Bible. This is also the problem that persists with Bible translations. For example, there are words that may be used in older Bible versions, such as the KJV, that does not mean the same thing that it means today. This is why careful examination of the original languages of scripture is so important. One can easily misinterpret the Bible due to the lack of understanding what a certain word meant at the time it was written.
Another characteristic of language is to communicate and express their identity. What does language do for a society? It is a means of communication. People are able to express their thoughts and ideas through language. The use of language helps to identify a person or society. There are eight ways that people communicate: 1. Expressing Creativity. 2. Thinking. 3. Stirring Emotions. 4. Expressing emotions. 5. Stimulating Action. 6. Informing. 7. Relating to Others. 8. Changing the World around us.
A final characteristic of language is that language is productive and creative. The ability we have to use language to creatively express ourselves reflect the aspect of the image of God in us. The possibility of combinations of words to form sentences and thoughts is infinite. There is always the possibility of forming a new sentence that has never once been heard in the universe yet is understood by those who speak that language.
A good student of the Bible will seek to understand and know the language of the Bible. God chose to give us His Word in Hebrew and Greek and some Aramaic. It is those original manuscripts written in those original languages that are inspired by God. May we take the study of languages seriously as good stewards of God’s Word.