It’s Greek (and Hebrew) to Me: The Missionary and Biblical Languages, Part 2

In my previous article I shared a little of my personal journey in biblical languages, and some of the resources that have helped me along the way. Today I want to talk about how a working knowledge of the original languages – even at my own admittedly limited level – has been a tremendous help to my own spiritual life and ministry.

I can think of three main advantages that I have discovered during my adventures with Greek and Hebrew.

Deeper understanding of the text. This first advantage is probably also the greatest. As I have my devotions, as I follow along in the original languages during sermons, as I prepare my own messages, it is an almost daily experience for me to have an “aha!” moment, where the meaning of the Greek or Hebrew will make something jump out at me that I had never seen before.

This alone has made the effort worthwhile. Independent of any benefits in my outward ministry, the good Greek and Hebrew have done for my soul has made this adventure in language acquisition a very profitable enterprise indeed.

Discipline of thought. Let no man deceive you – learning another language is a challenge. Learning an ancient language that is not spoken anymore can be downright hard. Above all, it requires mental discipline. Vocabulary must be remembered, conjugations must be memorized, grammatical rules must be applied. There’s no getting around it.

But here’s something I’ve discovered: mental discipline in one area often carries over into other areas. Learning to categorize words, parts of speech, prefixes and suffixes, etc has helped me organize other parts of my life and ministry. For example, I have noticed an uptick in personal organization (never my strong suite) and mental discipline since I began studying Hebrew and Greek. Funny how that works.

A greater understanding of my host language. They say a rising tide lifts all ships. I noticed this principle when it came to languages when I took my first Greek classes here in Brazil, back in the ’90s. Translating Greek into Portuguese forced me to think about correct verb tenses, noun forms, parts of speech, etc. And even today, though I consider myself relatively fluent in Portuguese, I notice that the better I get in my Greek forms, the more precise I am in my Portuguese. And there is an added benefit for those of us who work in countries that speak languages of European origin – Greek is all around us!

Is it possible to minister effectively with no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew? Absolutely. I know many who do. Is it possible to have a deep knowledge of Greek or Hebrew and be absolutely useless in ministry? Also yes. Without a shadow of a doubt.

But the question I posed to myself – and that I now pose to you – is this: if I have this tremendous tool within my grasp, why would I not take full advantage of it?

Next week I’ll share an experiment I did in emphasizing Greek while teaching a Sunday School series.


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