Must A Preacher Know Greek And Hebrew?

July 1, 2016

David R. Brumbelow | Pastor
Northside Baptist Church, Highlands, TX

*This article was taken from David’s blog site, Gulf Coast Pastor, and is used by permission.

Should a pastor, or any believer for that matter, study and be fluent in Greek and Hebrew, to really be able to study, understand, and teach the Bible? 
Our Bible, God’s inspired, inerrant Word, originally was mostly written in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).  An English translation of the Bible is translated from Hebrew and Greek into our English language. Obviously the translators need to be Bible scholars fluent in the original biblical languages as well as English.

Clearly a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew would be a plus to anyone studying and teaching the Bible. It can open up new areas of fuller understanding. If you have the time and ability, by all means learn the biblical languages.

There are some areas where you will only be effective and respected if you have at least a basic knowledge of these languages. On the other hand, if you don’t know the languages, if it is a crucial point, you can rely on and quote those who do know Greek.

English translations are produced by some of the top scholars in Hebrew, Greek, and English. Therefore, when we study a good English translation, we are enjoying the fruit of their scholarly labor. We get much of the benefits of the original languages through their research and translation. Can they get it wrong? Yes. That is a good reason to sometimes consult a second or third English translation. We are privileged with the luxury of having multiple good English translations: KJV, NKJV (my favorite), NASB, HCSB, and others.

Just because you know Greek doesn’t mean you automatically have the corner on proper Bible interpretation. Even once you know exactly what a Bible verse says in Greek, there can still be more than one view. And, a Greek scholar can still be flat out wrong on a biblical issue. So, don’t be bullied by someone just because they know more Greek than you. Also, you can often find a Greek scholar that disagrees with the Greek scholar trying to bully you.

If you are fluent in biblical languages, don’t use it to excess in your preaching and teaching. Frankly, some preachers seem to want to show off their knowledge of Greek.  Unless it is a point that really makes a difference, most laymen are not too interested in how well you know Greek. Some get weary of hearing the Greek word of every word in a verse.

There is an old story of a pastor search committee who included two requirements for their next pastor. That he not know Greek and that he had never been to the Holy Land. A previous pastor had done both and talked of them excessively.

Greek and Hebrew word studies at times are interesting and instructive. But sometimes they can skew the truth. We do not necessarily consider the ancient root meaning of a particular word, every time we use that word. Maybe the biblical writers did not either.  For example, the origin of the English word “enthusiastic” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “possessed by a god.” But when a preacher says we should be enthusiastic about a church program, I doubt he is saying we should be possessed by a pagan god. Rather, he is just using the common understanding of the word. He simply means we should “be excited” about the church program.

Often when you find out what a Bible verse says in Greek, you find it is the same thing as what your Bible translation said in English all along. And, that is the very purpose of a translation.  I’ve sometimes asked, do you know what John 3:16 says in Greek?” They usually get excited they are about to discover some new truth. I then answer, it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Yes, that’s the jist of it in Greek!

You can do a competent study of Greek and Hebrew, even if you do not know the languages. Great Bible study books abound such as, Vines Word Studies, Young’s and Strong’s Concordances, A. T. Roberson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Bible Commentaries, topical Bible study books.

Even a cursory knowledge of the biblical languages, though, can help you understand the differences in languages in general. Even a cursory knowledge of any second language can give you a better understanding of the original biblical languages, translation, transliteration.

Some preachers who know Greek are condescending toward those who don‘t know Greek. Yet, some of those same preachers who know Greek, do not know Hebrew, or only have a slight knowledge of it. Well, with that attitude, that preacher should never preach from the Old Testament until he is fluent in Hebrew.

A Greek scholar should never look down on a believer that does not know the biblical languages. Often, that humble believer may know more about a biblical passage than the scholar knows. And, the Greek scholar should show a healthy degree of humility. Perhaps we will all need a remedial course in Basic Bible when we reach Heaven’s shore.  I’ve always admired a Bible scholar who does not act like a scholar, and who can explain Bible truths so we all can understand.

Those who do not know the biblical languages should respect those who do. Theirs is a monumental accomplishment. Often they can reveal biblical truths of which others are unaware. Sometimes either side can keep us from doctrinal error.

I’ve sometimes wondered if a part of the spiritual gift of tongues is the ability some have to quickly and easily learn another human tongue or language. This would, of course, include Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek. The Apostle Paul would have known these languages and probably others and is likely to what he was referring (1 Corinthians 14:18) when he said “I speak with tongues (languages) more than you all.”

Some seem to just not have an aptitude for learning another language, yet they excel in other areas. Some will disagree, but you can be a very capable preacher and teacher of the Word of God without knowing much about Greek or Hebrew. It would not be difficult to name a long list of outstanding preachers, pastors, evangelists, missionaries who do not know Greek or Hebrew.

We would all be diminished if we had no Greek and Hebrew scholars. We would all be diminished if we got rid of all those ministers who are not fluent in the biblical languages.

Wherever you fit in the spectrum of biblical languages, may we all read, study, and hide God’s Word in our hearts. May we believe Holy Scripture, then put it into practice in our everyday lives.