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heartablaze
07-13-2015, 02:18 AM
Hi all!

So I am planning on starting my seminary career in the fall. For my degree, I have to learn both Hebrew and Greek (or at least pass two semesters in each). I thought I'd do a poll/discussion on learning Biblical languages in general.

What is your journey in learning Biblical languages? Have you studied on your own? Done formal study?

What is the better language to start first?

What is the hardest language?

How has learning Biblical languages affected your spiritual walk? Has it helped or hurt? In what way?

For me, I only studied a little Greek after my senior year in high school. Because he remembered my interest in Greek, my youth minister got me the Key Word Bible (http://www.christianbook.com/nasb-hebrew-genuine-leather-burgundy-indexed/9781617159886/pd/159880?event=Bibles). I then spent a little bit of time that summer with that Bible, a Biblical Greek website, and my grandpa's Greek New Testament learning the letters of Greek and then looking at John 1, trying to memorize the first few verses. Then school came and I didn't have time to study again. Outside of that, it's just been bits and pieces picked up from sermons and looking up original words in Strong's Concordance on eSword, but nothing serious. But knowing the connotations of key words has really helped my theology. For instance, (from my admittedly rudimentary study) I learned that Jesus wants me to be complete instead of being perfect in our English sense (as in teleos). (A little knowledge may be dangerous in my case...)

I would love to hear your own personal journeys in learning either or both (or all three) Biblical languages. Also, any advice would be appreciated.

Cow Poke
07-13-2015, 03:22 AM
First, I took Greek and Hebrew way back.... nearly 40 years ago now. I really wish I had taken them to LEARN, rather than just to "get a grade". So, my suggestion would be to realize this is something you can really use in the future, so make the most of it. Don't just "take the courses" because they're required.

On the other hand, I've known some (usually younger) preachers who seem to try to hard to impress their congregations with their knowledge of biblical languages, constantly giving way too much "background" on the Hebrew or Greek word in a text for a sermon.

robrecht
07-13-2015, 10:38 AM
There is almost never any reason to mention Hebrew or Greek in a homily. It is typically a pretentious attempt to gain some ill gotten false authority for what one is saying or, worse, for the speaker himself and not even for whatever good thing he (or she) is saying.

That said, there is nothing I value more in all my studies than my knowledge and use of Hebrew and Greek, less so Aramaic and Latin, not because they are less valuable, but I did not focus on those languages as much. It is through a good knowledge of and facility with the biblical languages that I come to better understand a text (and author) that I am preaching about. I only begin to feel like I truly understand an author and his text when I can speak his language. Translations are invaluable, but the translators will always understand the text much better than those who only read translations. So, while the study of the languages is essential for better understanding the texts about which one might preach, unless one is preaching in Greek to a Greek speaking congregation, there would be no reason to use Greek words and grammar. You speak to the congregation, not to students in Greek 101. You speak Greek to Paul, but you do not speak Greek to an English speaking congregation.

I did formal study in college and graduate school, but the continued use in biblical coursework, writing a dissertation, some teaching, discussion with colleagues, and continual practice in studying and wrestling with texts, is necessary to acquire a better facility and confidence in knowing what you do and do not know.

It really does not matter what language you start first.

Ironically, I think the more difficult languages are in some important ways the easiest. Latin is relatively easy, eg, the same alphabet, many cognates, and some privileged people even start to learn it in high school. But, for me, it is this ordinariness and familiarity that makes it boring and thus difficult to get excited about learning it. This lack of motivation made it the most difficult language for me to learn and master. But Latin is extraordinarily valuable in learning Church history, early text traditions, early biblical scholarship, and even modern translations. It is surprising how many early and modern translations, supposedly from the original languages, are still influenced from earlier translational choices, especially from the Latin.

Greek also has many cognates, and is not that different from English or German, but just the differences in the alphabet and script make it cool and fun to immerse oneself in. I was much more motivated initially to learn Greek, in part, because of the foreignness and beauty of the script. The desire to better understand the New Testament authors and text is the greater and continuing motivation to deepen one's knowledge of the language. Not just the language, but also manner in which these ancient authors composed texts and built arguments, ie, story-telling and rhetoric, is also very important for a better understanding of the texts. I look forward to speaking to Paul and Mark in person in purgatory and perhaps even in heaven about my (mis)understanding of their texts and whether or not they meant to imply this or that. Ultimately the texts won't matter much in heaven compared to the glory of God and the communion of saints, but it is a part of the personal history of the saints as writers and readers so I do think it will still matter some, at least to some of us. I want to eventually be able to speak Greek with Paul and Mark, Hebrew with Jonah and Jeremiah, and Aramaic with Jesus and Mary.

Hebrew and Aramaic are much more foreign languages and yet their original alphabet is based on the same alphabet as Greek, Latin and English. The current alphabet used in Hebrew and Aramaic texts is very beautiful in my opinion, a calligraphic marriage of curves and angles, and I enjoy just looking at the texts, even more so reading them. The vocabulary, and especially the syntax, is entirely foreign and therefore most would say these are the most challenging languages to learn. But their foreignness also makes them the most rewarding to actually learn. Learning foreign languages expands our minds and even our personalities. Reading and struggling with texts of Jeremiah in Hebrew is, I imagine, comparable to taking LSD. But it is hard to get past the initial foreignness. My first year of studying Hebrew felt like hitting myself over the head with a two-by-four every night. It was mentally painful, but it paid off in the end.

It has affected my spiritual walk by making me more humble in wrestling with the languages and texts of Paul, Mark, and Jeremiah. It allows me to tremble in fear with Jeremiah and laugh with Jonah. Learning their languages has allowed me to better appreciate these ancients in the communion of saints so I can better worship with them. This has been very helpful to my spiritual life.

Good luck in your seminary studies. Don't be afraid to question everything but also to learn what you don't know. I know you know this already, but, in the end it is not about languages, but the people who speak various languages.

heartablaze
07-26-2015, 11:39 PM
On the other hand, I've known some (usually younger) preachers who seem to try to hard to impress their congregations with their knowledge of biblical languages, constantly giving way too much "background" on the Hebrew or Greek word in a text for a sermon.

I could see that happening. The Hebrew word for dog means....which has this great cultural meaning, etc.


There is almost never any reason to mention Hebrew or Greek in a homily. It is typically a pretentious attempt to gain some ill gotten false authority for what one is saying or, worse, for the speaker himself and not even for whatever good thing he (or she) is saying.

That said, there is nothing I value more in all my studies than my knowledge and use of Hebrew and Greek, less so Aramaic and Latin, not because they are less valuable, but I did not focus on those languages as much. It is through a good knowledge of and facility with the biblical languages that I come to better understand a text (and author) that I am preaching about. I only begin to feel like I truly understand an author and his text when I can speak his language. Translations are invaluable, but the translators will always understand the text much better than those who only read translations. So, while the study of the languages is essential for better understanding the texts about which one might preach, unless one is preaching in Greek to a Greek speaking congregation, there would be no reason to use Greek words and grammar. You speak to the congregation, not to students in Greek 101. You speak Greek to Paul, but you do not speak Greek to an English speaking congregation.

I did formal study in college and graduate school, but the continued use in biblical coursework, writing a dissertation, some teaching, discussion with colleagues, and continual practice in studying and wrestling with texts, is necessary to acquire a better facility and confidence in knowing what you do and do not know.

It really does not matter what language you start first.

Ironically, I think the more difficult languages are in some important ways the easiest. Latin is relatively easy, eg, the same alphabet, many cognates, and some privileged people even start to learn it in high school. But, for me, it is this ordinariness and familiarity that makes it boring and thus difficult to get excited about learning it. This lack of motivation made it the most difficult language for me to learn and master. But Latin is extraordinarily valuable in learning Church history, early text traditions, early biblical scholarship, and even modern translations. It is surprising how many early and modern translations, supposedly from the original languages, are still influenced from earlier translational choices, especially from the Latin.

Greek also has many cognates, and is not that different from English or German, but just the differences in the alphabet and script make it cool and fun to immerse oneself in. I was much more motivated initially to learn Greek, in part, because of the foreignness and beauty of the script. The desire to better understand the New Testament authors and text is the greater and continuing motivation to deepen one's knowledge of the language. Not just the language, but also manner in which these ancient authors composed texts and built arguments, ie, story-telling and rhetoric, is also very important for a better understanding of the texts. I look forward to speaking to Paul and Mark in person in purgatory and perhaps even in heaven about my (mis)understanding of their texts and whether or not they meant to imply this or that. Ultimately the texts won't matter much in heaven compared to the glory of God and the communion of saints, but it is a part of the personal history of the saints as writers and readers so I do think it will still matter some, at least to some of us. I want to eventually be able to speak Greek with Paul and Mark, Hebrew with Jonah and Jeremiah, and Aramaic with Jesus and Mary.

Hebrew and Aramaic are much more foreign languages and yet their original alphabet is based on the same alphabet as Greek, Latin and English. The current alphabet used in Hebrew and Aramaic texts is very beautiful in my opinion, a calligraphic marriage of curves and angles, and I enjoy just looking at the texts, even more so reading them. The vocabulary, and especially the syntax, is entirely foreign and therefore most would say these are the most challenging languages to learn. But their foreignness also makes them the most rewarding to actually learn. Learning foreign languages expands our minds and even our personalities. Reading and struggling with texts of Jeremiah in Hebrew is, I imagine, comparable to taking LSD. But it is hard to get past the initial foreignness. My first year of studying Hebrew felt like hitting myself over the head with a two-by-four every night. It was mentally painful, but it paid off in the end.

It has affected my spiritual walk by making me more humble in wrestling with the languages and texts of Paul, Mark, and Jeremiah. It allows me to tremble in fear with Jeremiah and laugh with Jonah. Learning their languages has allowed me to better appreciate these ancients in the communion of saints so I can better worship with them. This has been very helpful to my spiritual life.

Good luck in your seminary studies. Don't be afraid to question everything but also to learn what you don't know. I know you know this already, but, in the end it is not about languages, but the people who speak various languages.

Thanks for an overview of the languages! And of your journey. It was a great read!

Zeta_Metroid
09-23-2015, 12:52 AM
Yeah it is always annoying when people try and read way too much into the meaning of words to torture the text into saying something. They'd take a sentence like "Before church Pastor Jack went scuba diving" and say "If you look at the language, this is a beautiful image. The English word 'scuba' means 'keep breathing even as the waters surround you'. As we all know, the Holy Spirit the living water, often represented by water. He is also the ruach and the pnema, both words meaning breath. So this is a wonderful illustration of how being in the spirit can give you spirit".

When all the author ever meant was that Pastor Jack liked to scuba dive on the weekends.

Cow Poke
09-23-2015, 12:53 AM
Yeah it is always annoying when people try and read way too much into the meaning of words to torture the text into saying something. They'd take a sentence like "Before church Pastor Jack went scuba diving" and say "If you look at the language, this is a beautiful image. The English word 'scuba' means 'keep breathing even as the waters surround you'. As we all know, the Holy Spirit the living water, often represented by water. He is also the ruach and the pnema, both words meaning breath. So this is a wonderful illustration of how being in the spirit can give you spirit".

When all the author ever meant was that Pastor Jack liked to scuba dive on the weekends.

:smile: Which, being interpreted, means.... WELCOME!!!!!