I have listened to many sermons where the preacher expounded Bible verses and said they meant more in the Biblical Hebrew language in which they were originally written. This made me wonder whether Christians should learn Biblical Hebrew to fully understand the Bible as it was originally intended.
Christians should learn Biblical Hebrew if they want to be more confident and competent interpreters of the Bible.
Biblical Hebrew Versus Modern Hebrew
Biblical or Classical Hebrew is an ancient language that first emerged in the 10th Century BC. During the Roman Empire, the language fell out of use in daily life except in religious contexts.
The language was revived in the late 19th Century as part of the Zionist movement. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda authored the first Modern Hebrew dictionary.
Because of the influence of European languages, Hebrew changed in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
Modern Hebrew has a lot of words from French and German. There are many new words to describe things that did not exist in ancient times, for example, electricity, computer, car, telephone, and the internet.
There are differences between Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew, but the knowledge of one will facilitate the grasp of the other.
The Old Testament is also known as the Hebrew Bible and was originally written in Biblical Hebrew. The New Testament was originally written in Greek but it is full of Hebrew expressions that are better understood by one who understands the language.
Knowledge of Hebrew aids the Christian to better understand God’s Word as it was originally intended.
The Car Analogy
You do not need to be a professional mechanic or know how an internal combustion engine functions to drive a car. But you become a more competent and confident driver if you at least know how to check your oil, change a flat wheel, and add coolant.
With the Bible, there are excellent English translations that a believer can use. But the knowledge of Hebrew helps you get under the bonnet of the text so to speak and recover what was lost in translation. This enables you to interpret God’s Word with competence and confidence.
Getting Under the Bonnet
The benefits of correct Bible knowledge are significant and vast. The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfected, thoroughly furnished to every good work.
These benefits should motivate the believer to study God’s word diligently and make full use of all available aids which include the Hebrew language.
The Bible states in 2 Timothy 2:15:
Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
This scripture implies that it is possible to interpret the Bible incorrectly.
To know God is the Christian’s highest goal. Since it is in the Bible that we learn about Him, we should be diligent students of the same. We should aim to unpack its truth and fully understand it.
This leads to the correct interpretation of God’s Word.
Recover What Was Lost
Many of those who translated the Bible into the English language did an excellent job. They replaced Hebrew words with the best possible English words to ensure the meaning is preserved.
However, some meaning was lost in translation. This is not the fault of the translators but due to the differences in the languages.
A good example is the Hebrew word shalom which is translated as “peace” in almost all English translations.
Shalom however doesn’t simply mean peace. Its full Hebrew meaning includes welfare, prosperity, soundness, perfection, health, safety, completeness, and more.
Proficiency in the Hebrew language enables recovery of what was lost in translation and makes the believer interpret the Bible more accurately. Fresh insights hidden by the English text are also acquired.
Evaluate Bible Translations
All Bible translations are interpretive aids to understand the original text. Some are excellent but others are poor.
Adeptness in the Hebrew language enables the Christian to distinguish good translations from bad ones. The good ones are retained and the bad ones tossed out.
Skill in Hebrew liberates the believer from dependency on commentaries and other secondary literature. The literature may contain misleading denominational biases of the authors.
Some of the denominational biases have led to wrong teachings. Knowledge of Biblical Hebrew enables one to discern and avoid them.
A study of Biblical Hebrew makes one realise that they know less of the Scriptures than they originally thought. This produces humility which is essential for a lifelong student of God’s Word.
1 Corinthians 8:2 states:
“And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.”
God’s Word is an inexhaustible goldmine, however much we study it.
The Last Word
Christians should aim at deriving maximum benefit from God’s Word through diligent study.
In this worthy endeavour, the believer should make use of all the resources God has made available including the Hebrew language.
The Christian student of the language discovers the implications of the scriptures beyond translation and gains a better overall understanding of them. He or she then becomes a more confident and competent interpreter of God’s Word.