Original Languages


In order for the preacher to reach people he must develop skills in the use of study tools which are based on the original languages.

The Bible was first written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek so serious preachers seek to learn as much as they can about these languages.

There are about 5,000 different languages in the world. Two major groups have been identified; the largest contained the original languages of the New Testament and the second largest the two languages of the Old Testament.

The largest groups are called Indo European and have been broken down into six major families. Our English is a combination of the two languages, the basic Germanic and Greek.

Hebrew and Aramaic are close cousins, like Norwegian and Swedish. There is no known parent language to both the Semitic and the Indo-European families.

Now we may ask why it is important to study the original languages.

There our many translations of the Bible on the market today. What they do is attempt to take sacred texts and render them in a language form that people can understand from their own point of view.

A good example can be found in the Gospel according to St. John. Jesus is talking to Peter and He asks the question, Peter do you love me? Peter answers the question by saying, Lord, you know I love you ( John 21: 15-17 study these vs in a interlinear New Testament).

The problem here is that in English we have only one word for love but in the Greek there are at least four different words, all carrying different meanings for the same word. So if you don't have a clue about the Greek original languages this verse can be totally mistranslated.

There are many differences like this between the English and Greek/Hebrew and preachers need to know enough of the languages to discern the correct meaning.

This is no meager task, for once you learn the languages you must establish a personal discipline to keep them up.

Many a Bible student has learned the fundamentals of Greek and Hebrew only to lose what they learned because they fail to use it daily.

Study in the classroom or at home can be an ideal learning environment but when we are working in the ministry, time for studying languages seems to vanish. That's why I recommend a rigorous time of reading and study daily in both Greek and Hebrew. It will help you to retain the things you've learned.

There is a rule or standard established in the early history of Christianity. After three centuries a great variety of religious writings were approved within the Christian community. Certain specific texts were canonized.

Somewhere after the fourth century A.D. all canonized texts were assembled in a single volume that was called a Bible.

Among the Jews the oldest canonized text was called the Torah (first five books of the modern Bible) which was the primary document of the Jewish faith.

The strength of the canonized text lays on the idea of verbal inspiration by Almighty God Himself. What this means is that the Bible was produced through men directed by God. God inspired and directed human authors of Scripture without destroying their individuality, personality, literary style, or the language with which they were familiar so that they accurately recorded God's complete revelation.

Unfortunately, many people reach the limit of their belief when considering the inspiration of God.

On the one hand, if God can number the hairs on one's head and at the same time create, distribute and manage a trillion stars in the universe: why can't He inspire a mere 1500 human beings to inerrantly communicate His will to the world.

There are several Greek manuscripts that are commonly used to be translated into a English Bible format. These are the most popular texts used today:

  • Textus Receptus—these are Latin for the “received text”, and it refers to the Greek New Testament assembled by the Erasmus in the 1500s and provides the basis for Tyndale’s New Testament, the popular King James Version, and the New King James Version of the Bible.
  • Alexandrian Text--- this is the oldest manuscripts available to us today from this group. They survived due to the dry climate of Egypt that preserves the writing material. The best known Alexandrian manuscripts are Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and recently discovered Oxyrhychus, Chester Beatty, and Bodmer Papyri (dated before A.D. 300)
  • Byzantine text--- (this manuscript is also called Constantinopolitan, Syrian, Ecclesiastical, or Majority). The largest number of surviving manuscripts fit into this group for the following possible reason: these manuscripts were considered superior to Alexandrian manuscripts; these manuscripts will more readily available and widely circulated when Christianity became legal under Emperor Constantine; Byzantine churches were the only churches in the Roman empire that continued to copy manuscripts in Greek after the fourth century.

What understanding the original languages brings to teaching and preaching is clarity.

Of course this is just one aspect of coming to grips with a preaching text.

Clarity begins with the proper interpretation of times, environment, people or ethnic group and the particular context just to name a few of the parameters.


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