After a few years of Bible study, students often begin asking, “Should I learn biblical Greek and Hebrew?” While the tools for English readers continue to improve and less people are learning the original languages, knowing the original languages can be helpful. You can learn enough to widen the tools available to you and/or learn to read Scripture in the original language.
How Greek & Hebrew help
Reading the original language lets you read what the author actually wrote. Translations are not identical to the original. Translators must decide what the author was trying to say before they can explain it in translation. Grammar, words, and syntax may be difficult to carry across language boundaries. Ambiguities (which may or may not be obvious) develop or be lost when these patterns are taken outside their own grammatical rules.
The English doesn’t usually include all that the original language includes. An insight gleaned from the English text (though it may be enlightening, encouraging and true) is not conclusive. Part of it may have been lost or created in the translation. Example: 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (mediator); Ephesians 2:8 (what is of ourselves)
How Greek & Hebrew won’t help
The original language will not give you all the answers, and it will not make you right. People can twist, confuse, and misunderstand the original text as easily (if not easier) as they can English text.
The original text is not necessarily any more clear than the English text. Ambiguities in English can be just as ambiguous in the original language. Sometimes the Greek/Hebrew words and phrases have more possible meanings than English phrases, raising more problems than they solve.
Knowing Greek and Hebrew will not make you more spiritual. It does NOT give you an inside edge into God’s favor. It does NOT make you more serious about your faith. It doesn’t make it any easier to be righteous. Greek and Hebrew are tools that help us figure out what the biblical authors meant, and thus to understand God’s revelation better. While they can open our eyes, they can’t change our hearts.
Where to Learn
Many churches and Christian organizations teach Greek. Some Christian education ministries offer both year-long courses and intensive summer courses where you learn a year’s worth of Greek in 10 weeks. Check with your pastor, local community college, Bible college, seminary or adult education center to find out about correspondence courses or classes in your area. But be sure to specify that you’re interested in biblical Greek or you might find yourself learning classical Greek, which is somewhat different.
There number of online opportunities for learning biblical Greek is constantly growing and changing. Some of these take traditional pedagogical approaches. Others have adopted new methods for language learning from the field of second-language acquisition. Here are some examples:
Bill Mounce: New Testament Biblical Greek
Bill Mounce: Kids Greek (for 7th grade & up)
A community of Greek scholars led by Dr. Seumas MacDonald are working on a full curriculum for Koine Greek that focuses on immersion: Lingua Graeca Per Se Illustrata.
Learn New Testament Greek by Corey Keating
Greek for All by Stan Kondrat
Logos: Learn Biblical Hebrew
You can also teach yourself Greek with any good grammar book. These often teach not only the basics like pronunciation, verb structure, syntax and vocabulary, they may also teach common sense rules of interpretation, and how to use reference books and commentaries.
Basics of Biblical Greek by William D. Mounce
Learn to Read New Testament Greek by David Alan Black
The New Testament Greek for Beginners by J Gresham Macchen
Basics of Biblical Hebrew by Pratico & Pelt
A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar by Merwe
But be warned. After finishing a Greek course, you’ll know just enough to be dangerous. You’ll be like a teenager fresh out of driver’s education: You may know the rules to the last detail, but you haven’t had much practical experience or real-life testing.
Learn just the basics
If taking a course or self-study seems overwhelming, you can still use some Greek by investing in a concordance, a lexicon or theological dictionary, and learning the Greek alphabet. (You need to know the alphabet to recognize and locate words in the reference books.)
With the concordance, you can look up the English word in a passage and then find the Greek (or Hebrew) word it’s translating. Then you can look that word up in a Greek or Hebrew lexicon or in a theological dictionary. (Lexicons provide a short summary of the word’s possible meanings, while theological dictionaries give more detailed, theological discussions.) Many of the reference books are keyed to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, so you don’t even have to know the alphabet. You can find the words via Strong’s numbering system.
You might also try:
Greek for the Rest of Us: The Essentials of Biblical Greek By William Mounce
Logos Blog: An Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet