It is so refreshing to read the following from John Walton:
“When people want to study the Bible seriously, one of the steps they take is to learn the language. As I teach language students, I am still always faced with the challenge of persuading them that they will not succeed simply by learning enough of the language to engage in translation. Truly learning the language requires leaving English behind, entering the world of the text and understanding the language in its Hebrew context without creating English words in their minds. They must understand the Hebrew as Hebrew text” (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 9).
One of my contentions in modern study of the ancient languages is that this desire to teach and learn the languages for the purpose of only being able to translate has led to some major problems in the understanding of the biblical text amongst scholars and preachers. Being able to translate a text is not the same as being able to understand the text. And the best translators will be the ones who really understand the languages.
I was encouraged by reading Jim Hamilton’s post on how he prepares to preach through Jeremiah. What helps him most is… get ready for it… God’s word as given in the Hebrew text. It’s a good post and helpful in a day where seminaries seem to be dropping the languages rather than ramping them up.
Also on his site is a post about the proper purpose of seminary that is worth reading. It also focuses on issues related to the languages. I found this quotation especially juicy since I’ve never heard anyone say this so boldly:
Seminary students who want to learn the Bible in the original languages should take the languages early and often. Why let a semester pass in which you’re not in a Greek or Hebrew class? No one expects to be fluent in Spanish after two semesters. We’re unwise to think that after two semesters we’ll “know Greek.” You’re at school to begin to learn Greek and Hebrew so you can spend the rest of your life studying the Bible in the original. Why not give all your electives to Greek and Hebrew exegesis classes? There are lots of conference opportunities where you can learn everything from counseling to preaching to evangelism and missions. There will never be a conference for pastors on Hebrew syntax. There will never be a Greek exegesis of 1 Peter conference where you are taught to diagram the Greek text and trace its argument. Get from the seminary what you can only get from the seminary, what the seminary exists to give you. You can get the rest in a good church, in a pastoral internship, or at a conference.