Biblical Languages: Is It Proper To Make Use Of Them?

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.

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