One of the particularly uncomfortable parts of your studies will likely be learning Greek and Hebrew. These classes stand on the horizon like looming mountains for most seminary students, creating a range of emotions from uneasiness to flat-out fear. There are several reasons that students feel apprehensive about learning Greek and Hebrew. Some may question its usefulness and others may be downright hostile toward the idea. Many are afraid that, given the mammoth task of learning a language, they will not be up to the challenge.
In the midst of all of the various demands of the pastoral office, you must not forget one thing: You are still a minister of God’s Word and are called to proclaim that word faithfully and clearly. Thus, you need to be equipped to engage the Bible in the language in which it was written. The main reason for becoming proficient in biblical languages is that you need to be challenged in your study of God’s Word so that you can, in turn, challenge those whom you educate and to whom you minister. You need language skills to successfully carry out the calling that God has placed on your life.
Engaging with God’s Word in the original languages will also cause you to slow down and see with greater perception than you ever have before. Christians can often become so familiar with the Bible that when they do read it, they skim. Forcing yourself to engage with the text in its original language requires you to slow down and observe. If ever there was a time to slow down and resist the mentality of instant gratification that prevails in modern society, your time with God and engagement with the word is that time.
Once you begin to understand the biblical languages, you will be equipped to understand at a far higher level the intricacies of interpretation and translation. Every English translation of the Scriptures is an interpretation. The translators have worked diligently to produce as accurate a translation as they can, but as we all know, each translation has differences. Once you know the primary languages, you will be able to understand why these translations differ, and you will be able to read and engage with academic discussions surrounding the biblical text.
Each year that I have taught biblical languages, I have received numerous emails from nervous incoming students asking what they can do to prepare for introductory Greek or Hebrew beforehand. Should you be in this position, here are some ways you can prepare.
First, get refreshed on English grammar. A lot of time in your introductory Greek and Hebrew courses will be spent referencing and comparing English grammar, and new students are often learning English grammar and learning the new grammar of Greek or Hebrew at the same time.
Second, get an overview of how languages (particularly biblical languages) work in a general sense. Part of understanding how languages work is learning new terminology like “morphology,” “phonology,” “dialects,” and so on.
Third, learn the alphabet and begin pronouncing words. Getting your feet wet prior to the course is a good idea. The scare factor that hits some students in that first class will be behind you if you took the time to learn the alphabet and started pronouncing words on your own.
This post is adapted from Surviving and Thriving in Seminary by Danny Zacharias and Ben Forrest (Lexham Press, 2017).
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