Biblical Languages…

One of the reasons that Janet and I thought that I should attend seminary was that I wanted to be able to study the Bible in the original languages. I know that was a lofty goal – especially because languages don’t come very easy to me. When I was in elementary school I was in a special group that took German for three years – from 6th through 8th grade.

Then, in high school, I took four years of French and actually went to France and Germany the summer after my high school graduation back in 1970. Suffice it to say that I worked very hard and still didn’t really understand the languages the way that I had expected. It just doesn’t come naturally to me.

So when I entered seminary many years later, and was privileged to study under a biblical scholar of ancient languages, I was thrilled. However, the first day I sat in Greek class, I just about freaked out. All those insecurities from the past came rushing back. In fact, after class I was on my way to the seminary office to drop Greek. I couldn’t help but think that I had made a terrible mistake. I actually wondered what I was doing in seminary at all.

That first class really shook my confidence and clearly my future was wrapped up in the decision about whether or not to study the languages. And since that was a requirement to graduate, my unwillingness to sit through Greek would mean the end of my dreams of seminary. A total waste… all because languages are really tough for me.

On my way to drop the class, the Dean of the school, Dr. Smith, stopped me in the hall and asked me to stick it out for three weeks. If, at the end of that time, I wanted to drop Greek, he would sign the withdrawal paperwork. I agreed to his proposal and at the end of three weeks, I was hopelessly hooked on Greek. Thank God – it changed the entire trajectory of my life.

I took three years of Greek and a little more than two years of Hebrew. It was still tough. I grew to love the Greek, although I wasn’t great at it – but Hebrew has always been an enigma to me. And Aramaic, the third original biblical language, was something that I never took as being pretty solid in Hebrew was a pre-requisite. I didn’t make the cut…

Most people don’t realize that Jesus spoke Aramaic – not Hebrew! And there are several places in the Old Testament that were actually written in Aramaic.

Since my seminary graduation more than 15 years ago, I have followed an obscure website named Daily Dose of Greek. Six times a week, I receive an email with a verse that is translated into English and really broken apart to study in detail. One verse a day – for years now… And the truth is that I am better than I was in Greek, but still a long way from where I thought I would be.

There is also a Daily Dose of Hebrew that is really above my understanding and within several weeks there will be a Daily Dose of Aramaic. The folks at Daily Dose, under the able leadership of Dr. Mark Plummer at Southern Theological Seminary in Louisville, have continued to walk beside those of us who studied the languages in our seminary days but want to keep it fresh now that our formal classroom days are many years behind us.

The ministry continues to grow with translations from Korean to Greek and several other foreign languages as well. I am so glad that I was referred to the Daily Dose site years ago to help keep from losing the Greek that I had learned during my studies.

The idea of various languages was introduced in the book of Genesis with the story of the Tower of Babel. The people had started to construct a monument to themselves and God, seeing how they worked together to honor themselves, decided to scatter the people throughout the lands and to confuse their languages making it more difficult to work together.

In fact, at the formation of the church in Acts, we are told that each person understood others in their own language. This was the reverse of what happened at the Tower of Babel. Our verse for tonight highlights God’s decision to scatter the people and confuse their language. Moses, the author of Genesis, tells us, in Genesis 11:7, “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” And then, in Acts, Dr. Luke tells us, in Acts 2:11 “…both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

So there we have it… a brief history of language in the Bible. My encouragement this evening is that regardless of what language we speak, we can glorify God and He understands every language. My prayer is that we will all continue to study the Bible to learn more about God. And, if we have had the ability to study the languages, to use those studies to draw others closer to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…


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