Why Study Biblical Languages?
Posted On June 21, 2022
Written by Dr. Matthew Dudreck, associate professor of New Testament
At Reformation Bible College, students can take three courses on the books of the Old Testament and four courses on the books of the New Testament, all based on the English translation of the Bible. However, many students take advantage of courses in Hebrew and Greek, even those whose academic track doesn’t require them. As many of these students will tell you, a certain professor is often heard kidding, “It’s not if you take the biblical languages at RBC, but when you take the biblical languages at RBC.” So, why is there such an interest in Hebrew and Greek among these students, and why do professors at RBC place such importance upon these languages? Many reasons could be offered, but the most important one can be summarized in two Latin words: sola Scriptura, meaning “Scripture alone.”
The Holy Scriptures are the Spirit-inspired sole infallible source and authority for instruction concerning all things necessary for God’s glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life (Westminster Confession of Faith 1). Indeed, great attention was paid by the Westminster Divines to make clear from many Scripture proofs that it was the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek that were “immediately inspired by God,” that “in all controversies of religion the church is finally to appeal unto them,” and that since Hebrew and Greek are not known to all of God’s people they should be translated into the “language of every nation unto which they come” so all of God’s people “may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and . . . have hope” (WCF 1.8).
Thanks be to God that in His providence there are now many good translations in many languages. However, even good translations will occasionally differ, and there are still many languages into which God’s Word has yet to be translated. If we are to continue to confess sola Scriptura, we need more translators to translate. We need more pastors who are “able to teach” from the inspired texts to give an accounting as to why the church’s doctrine best reflects the teaching set down in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. We need more elders, deacons, and lay Christians who can examine one’s instruction according to that same standard.
While not every Christian can or will study the biblical languages, God’s people can certainly benefit from more individuals who have studied the biblical languages. If it is indeed the case that all of God’s people have a right and interest in God’s Word and are commanded therein to read and search the Scriptures so that “the Word of God [might dwell] plentifully in all” (WCF 1.8). Maybe the better question is not “Why study biblical languages?”, but rather “Why not?”.