In this post, written by Brother Daniel Smith, we unpack the first angle in this series. Angle 1: Many of the translations of the NT that we have in English are good translations, but there are many nuances and grammatical constructions that cannot be translated into good, natural English. In essence, learn Greek to enhance the accuracy of your understanding of Scripture.
In case you haven’t seen it, check out the first post in this series here.
Why I value learning the “original” languages of Scripture.
When I communicate with someone, I’m usually purposeful in choosing the words I use. I want to convey a specific thought or collection of thoughts and I don’t want misunderstanding. There are too many undesirable consequences that can come from misunderstanding. Because I speak English, it is essential that the person with whom I desire to communicate either understands English, or has my words translated into a language they understand by someone who is able to translate accurately. If a translator puzzles over how to translate one of my words, then I fear that the listener will misunderstand my thoughts. Such was the case recently, when I spoke English to a group of Swahili-speaking men through a translator. Every time the translator stumbled over how to translate a word, I wondered whether my Swahili-speaking listeners were correctly understanding my message.
The Scriptures, I believe, are the inspired word of God, containing a body of information that God desires to communicate to mankind – you and me and everyone else. I believe God was purposeful in the words he used and I believe he doesn’t want misunderstanding. The words that he purposefully used happen to be from the Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic languages. These are the languages of the most reliable, or “original” manuscripts, from which our modern translations of the Scriptures are derived. Until I applied myself to learning these “original” languages, I was entirely dependent on translators to accurately convey to me the word of God. As God’s word became more important to me, I became less willing to rely on translators. I recognized that translators sometimes make mistakes, and that sometimes, a Greek word, or Hebrew, or Aramaic, simply cannot be succinctly translated into English (my native language) without compromising accuracy. Understanding God’s mind in every point of Scripture became too important to me; I wanted to close the door as much as possible on mistranslation and misunderstanding. Consequently, I have been motivated to learn the “original” languages and I strongly encourage anyone who has the means and the ability, to do the same. Correctly understanding the word of God is vital to every Christian.
A side note: Many people, who do not know the “original” languages, have said, with reference to a portion of Scripture, “I like how [this translation] says it,” or “I like how [that translation] says it.” Without disrespect, I really don’t care how any translation says it, unless that translation is accurately conveying the mind of God. What matters is the thought that God intends to convey, not the thought that any particular translator or group of translators might choose to convey. No doubt, there are good translations. No doubt, there are also bad ones.
A second side note: Ultimately, we are all dependent on the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Truth and which is our teacher, to understand the mind of God. “The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God,” (1 Cor 2:11). A knowledge of the “original” languages can be used of the Spirit, but cannot replace the Spirit.