Acts 8:34 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ εὐνοῦχος τῷ Φιλίππῳ εἶπεν· Δέομαί σου, περὶ τίνος ὁ προφήτης λέγει τοῦτο; περὶ ἑαυτοῦ ἢ περὶ ἑτέρου τινός;
When I began this blogsite over a year ago, my intent was to provide resources and write posts that would bridge the fascinating world of the Biblical languages, Bible interpretation and theology to the person who is curious or desiring to grow in those areas. The above opening text lies at the heart of this blogsite, and why as a pastor, blogger and preacher of the word I think it is important to study the Biblical languages, Bible interpretation and theology. Biblical languages are not pursued, nor never should be studied to be showy or to give off the impression that one knows more than anyone else. Oftentimes when studying the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament or Greek New Testament, there are as many if not more questions than when studying the English text. So why expend the effort and time to learning the languages and working them into what can be a very busy and active life of ministry? Today’s post will aim to answer that question from a pastoral point of view.
The above text is an excerpt from a conversation recorded in Acts 8 between a missionary/Deacon Phillip and an officer of the Ethiopian Court (i.e the Ethiopian Eunuch). The text above literally reads: “The Eunuch answered Phillip and said: Please tell me, of whom is the prophet meaning here in regard to this? Is he referring to himself or to another?”
Now why introduce today’s post with the above verse from the Greek New Testament of Acts 8:34? Because it reminds us of the type of language the Ethiopian Eunuch would had been wrestling with as he was viewing the text of Isaiah in the same Greek language (called by scholars “The Koine or common Greek). The text of Isaiah 53 from whence the Eunuch was reading was the Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (signified often by the symbol LXX). The Eunuch, being from Egypt, would had been very familiar with this translation of the Hebrew scriptures. As he was traveling back from his time spent in the temple in Jerusalem, he undoubtedly heard things that made him reflect on this text. He wanted to know what was going on when Isaiah wrote what he wrote.
Such questions are at the heart of interpreting the scripture. Men like Phillip needed to be ready to give answers. Phillip had been ordained to serve in the church at Jerusalem as a Deacon. His ministry quickly grew and as a preacher of the Word, he needed to be familiar with the scriptures. As Phillip broke down this text, he connected the contents to Jesus Christ. This is the goal of exegesis, whose meaning literally means “to lead out”. Pastors and teachers of the word are to “lead out” or “exegete” the meaning of the word for their listeners. Where then should the preacher or teacher take their people? Where the text and its meaning ultimately point – Jesus Christ.
This blogger believes that if all possible, preachers and teachers ought to be exposed to the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) through word studies or even moreso, study of the languages themselves. Again I ask the question posed at the beginning: why expend the effort? Who has time? Questions such as these can be answered by texts such as Acts 8. In the 20 years this blogger has been studying God’s word in the original languages, the following seven reasons represent from personal experience why pastors and teachers ought to commit themselves to studying the Bible in the original languages.
1. Studying the original languages forces the preacher to focus on the words more closely. Just seeing the languages themselves in print is a beautiful thing. God has revealed His word in different languages and has ordained they be translated in hundreds of languages to reach the people groups of the world with the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Studying the original languages causes the interpreter to be one step closer to the intention of the original authors (both the human authors and the Divine Author, the Holy Spirit).
3. Studying the original languages causes the preacher and teacher to better appreciate the English translations we have today. This may surprise some readers. However when studying the Hebrew or Greek, this blogger still consults other English versions and translations, being that they represent the work of hundreds of scholars with greater proficiency in those areas than this author.
4. Studying the original languages enable the preacher and teacher to wrestle more intently with the text. This is the chief role of the preacher and teacher of the Word – to know the text. Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, was recorded saying that reading the Bible in the original languages is like kissing one’s bride after pulling back the veil. The more we know the text, the more we know the Christ of the text.
5. Studying the original languages humbles the preacher and teacher to realize that the text is the master, and they are the student. This blogger is ever studying the original languages daily, since there is either stuff that is forgotten or new insights to learn. Surprising perhaps to some, regular study of the Biblical languages reminds the student of just how more they need to learn!
6. Studying the original languages brings glory to God and is part of the commands we see in scripture to study scripture more closely, such as 2 Timothy 2:15 and as we see illustrated here in Acts 8.
7. Studying the original languages can be used as an act of worship to God. How so? Since English is this blogger’s native tongue, whenever a Hebrew or Greek text is placed before me, I have to focus on each word, each grammatical and syntactical relationship. Slowing down in an otherwise fast-pace world is healthy. Worshipping God through His word requires the ability to meditate or chew on what you have just read. Such a discipline as the original languages can reinforce this necessary spiritual discipline and result in worship of God. After all, God is worthy of all we can give Him!
The above reasons explain why this blogger thinks the discipline of the Biblical languages is important in the study and preaching of God’s word. Does the lack of knowledge in such areas render the preacher or teacher any less spiritual or less effective in their ministries or life? Not at all! Again, it must be stressed that if one has the opportunity, they should pursue such studies. However whether one studies the languages or doesn’t, the source of power in all ministry derives from the Holy Spirit. God uses all men, from all different walks of life, with differing levels of grace to achieve His purposes. This blogger believes that with whatever circumstances the Christian finds themselves, they ought to maximize every square inch and moment to the glory of God. If God has included the opportunity to study the languages, by all means do so!
To God be the glory! (τω θεω εστιν η δοξα!)