Second Timothy chapter two and verse fifteen says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” As Christians, we have a God-given responsibility to be diligent in our study of God’s Word. In order to properly interpret and appreciate God’s Word, an understanding of the Biblical languages is of great importance. One does not necessarily have to be a language expert. In our modern society, we are blessed to have numerous resources that aides us in understanding the meaning of the words of scripture as they are meant to be understood. There is really no reason for us to not be able to ‘rightly divide the word of truth.’ It is the goal of this article to show the importance of considering the original languages of scripture when engaging in Biblical interpretation. There are several things that we will observe concerning the importance of Biblical languages, such as: the inspiration of scripture, understanding the culture of Biblical times, the importance of word studies, and using helpful resources as we study God’s Word.
In order to understand the importance of Biblical language, we must first establish the fact that every word of scripture is inspired by God. As Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The word ‘inspiration’ basically means ‘God-breathed.’ The scriptures come from the very breath of God. Second Peter 1:21 states, “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The Bible that we have today was first written by men who were ‘carried along’ by the Holy Spirit. God gave them, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the inspired words to record. The reason why Biblical languages are so important is the fact that every word of scripture is inspired by God. It was not simply the idea or the phrase that was inspired, but every single word is inspired. Therefore, some understanding of the Biblical languages is vital to proper interpretation of the Word.
Not only is Biblical language important due to the fact that every word of scripture is inspired, but also because of the culture of Biblical times. In the study of scripture, the culture of the day in which it was written must be considered in interpreting the text. “Language cannot be separated from its setting within society and the social forces and trends within a particular culture.” Biblical languages are important due to the fact that it sets the stage for the culture of Biblical times. Therefore, when we read the Bible, we must do so in the context of the culture surrounding the Greek and Hebrew languages in which the Bible was written. “An example from Greek is the term peirazo, which can mean either ‘test’ or ‘tempt’ (to do evil). The Devil, or Satan, was viewed as someone who leads people to sin against God. So when the Devil is the agent for the action of peirazo, it makes sense to translate it as ‘tempt’. Unlike Satan, God does not tempt people to do evil. So if God (or Jesus) is the agent of peirazo, the verb must be translated ‘test’. The social context that the New Testament and the Old Testament present about the way people believed makes the proper sense clear.” This is what makes translation work so difficult. As we study Greek and Hebrew terms the question must be asked as to the issues from the social context that influence how the original writers meant their words to be understood. In order to know how they meant their words to be understood, consideration for the language in which they wrote is vitally important. We should not approach scripture by applying what we think the writers meant, however, we should approach scripture in light of the original languages in order to know what they meant.
The importance of Biblical languages brings with it the importance of doing word studies while interpreting scripture. In his book Personal Bible Study Methods, Rick Warren states concerning word studies: “The word study method of Bible study takes a microscopic look at the origin, definition, occurrences, and uses of a particular word, especially as it relates to the context of a passage of scripture. The purpose is to learn as precisely and comprehensively as possible what the Biblical writer meant by the word he used.” Since every word of the Bible is inspired by God, then understanding the original meaning of every word is crucial to ‘rightly dividing the word of truth.’ “Just as a great door swings on small hinges, so the important theological statements of the Bible often depend upon even the smallest words, such as prepositions and articles.” Understanding even the smallest of words in scripture can shed much greater light on the understanding of the text.
A final note to consider in considering the importance of Biblical languages is the use of helpful resources as we study God’s Word. We live in an age where there is no excuse. We have at our finger tips, multiple resources to guide us in interpreting the scripture. You do not have to be a Greek and Hebrew scholar in order to properly understand the Bible. Today we have resources such as Strong’s Concordance, The complete Word Study series, various lexicons, and much more. In the age of computers, we can also easily look up the words of scripture in the original languages and come to an understanding of their meaning. The study of Biblical languages is important; however, knowing the God of the Bible is of much greater importance. We should strive to become better students of God’s Word so that we may know Him more.