By Robert Adam
That may seem like an odd question. It certainly does to me. When I began preaching in July of 2008, I never would have thought to consider such a question. After all, I knew well then that the Bible was not originally written in English. In fact, English didn’t exist in any form when the last book of the Bible was written. So, one of my first resources was a copy of Strong’s Concordance, which allowed a person to look up words in English and see from which original language word it had been translated. I also subsequently purchased a Wigram’s Hebrew and Greek Concordance, which shows where each original language word was used and how it was rendered in English.
So, if the Bible wasn’t originally written in English, and if there are resources to aid the individual in ascertaining which words in the original languages had been used, why would anyone question referring to the original languages? This is an interesting and key question, which also has broad implications beyond just this subject matter.
The Bible was written originally in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. These are what we will define as the original Biblical languages. The Bible was subsequently translated into a variety of languages, and this process is still ongoing today. Our preferred English translation is the King James Version (KJV). This translation was made out of the original language texts, but with due consideration to prior English translations, as well as to faithful translations in other languages.
One claim made against translations is that they cannot be as accurate or trusted as the original. This claim is nonsensical: while languages differ both in vocabulary and grammar, one can still maintain the integrity of a message while transferring it to a different language. A message accurately transmitted from the original language to a different language is thus equivalent to that same message in the original language. So, the New Testament in the KJV is equivalent to the original language text from which is was translated, the Textus Receptus (TR).
This is an important fact. On the one hand, men should not think that the KJV is in any way inferior to the original language texts, and thus search them to correct defects in the KJV. If the KJV is accurate, then this effort is not needed since the translation is equal to the original language in meaning. If the KJV isn’t accurate, we would wonder why it was being used and trusted. So, we see that a trusted translation is, well, trusted. On the other hand, the original language texts should not be considered as something nefarious or as something opposing the KJV. After all, they are equivalent.
This last point bears on our question. Often men will assume that looking into, say, Greek will necessarily lead one away from the meaning expressed in the KJV. This assumption is entirely unfounded since they are equivalent. Reading Luke Chapter 19 in the TR yields the same meaning as reading it in the KJV. It’s expressed differently since the languages are different, but the meaning is equivalent. Thus, looking into the Greek of that passage will yield the same meaning as the English.
Someone might then ask why such an effort should be expended. The answer would depend on the individual and the case at hand, but generally people use resources to better understand and express the text. If a person studies Persian history or Jewish customs, that person is simply wanting to understand and express the text to increased efficiency. Consequently, people have begun questioning the use of various sources of information, not merely the original languages, but this is silly if the intent is simply to better understand and explain the biblical text.
I have been studying Greek since December of 2018. I have read through the TR three full times, and am working on number four. I have yet to encounter anything in the Greek text that has in any way undermined my confidence in the English text. In fact, my confidence is stronger now. I have never trusted the KJV as much as I now do. God made the universe to express His glory, and thus men should study it. This would include studying history, art, science, language, culture. This is a rich universe and the child of God should not shy away from it. Truth will always increase our confidence in and worship of the God of truth.
When one also considers the influence of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek on English generally considered, but especially with respect to the biblical text, then the forbidding of such studies is truly puzzling. The KJV bears the marks of the original languages on it, whether in form or in the words themselves. Many words come straight from the biblical text, while many others are derived from those words through various languages, like Latin and French. Studying the original languages brings greater clarity and understanding.
I would encourage preachers to study the biblical languages, at least to enough of a degree to appreciate the process of translation. Yea, I would moreover that we had utility in these languages to a high level of proficiency. When a Primitive Baptist defends the KJV, usually the scholarship of other orders is leaned upon in that effort. This was actually part of the impetus that inspired me to study Greek. I would that our people would aspire to great scholarship so that Primitive Baptist could rely on sound Primitive Baptist scholarship in defense of many things: history, language, systematic theology, the KJV, church history, etc.