The first part of a reading plan for Christian apologists is to read the Bible indepth, in context and often. If you haven’t read the first part of the series, please read that along with this new part.
The original writings of the Bible were in three ancient languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but parts of Daniel and Ezra were written in Aramaic. All of the New Testament was written in Greek.
The Bible has been translated into hundreds of languages, including English, so why bother learning to read/study the Bible in the original languages? Aren’t translations good enough to learn everything God wants us to know about His Word?
Two of the earliest translations of the Hebrew Bible include the Aramaic Targums and Greek Septuagint. The translations met the needs of many Jews who spoke Aramaic and/or Greek as their spoken language. Both were in use prior to the birth of Christ. The New Testament was written after the death and resurrection of Christ in Koine Greek. The Hebrew Old Testament was later translated into Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Arabic and other ancient languages. The Greek New Testament was later translated into Latin, Coptic, Ethiopic, Arabic, Armenian, Persian, Georgian, Soghdian and other old languages.
The history of the English Bible goes back more than a thousand years with translations from the Latin Vulgate into Old English (Anglo-Saxon). John Wycliffe translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into Middle English toward the end of the 14th century AD. Translations into early Modern English began in the early 16th century, including William Tyndale’s translation from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Other English translations of the 16th century were the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, and the Bishop’s Bible. The Authorized King James Version, still in use today, was published in the early 17th century. Modern English translations of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries include: Wesley’s New Testament, Quaker Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, Darby Bible, English Revised Version, American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New American Standard bible, World English Bible, New International Version, Lexham English Bible, The Living Bible, The Message, New Living Translation, Good News Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Common English Bible, English Standard Version, and New King James Version. There are formal equivalence (literal) translations, dynamic equivalence translations (meanings), and idiomatic (paraphrastic) translations.
With so many English translations available to Christian apologists why should we bother learning about the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts? Doesn’t English give us everything we need to understand God’s purpose for inspiring His Word? Isn’t it a waste of time to focus on learning ancient languages?
Importance to Apologetics
I learned about the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts of the Bible while investigating the historicity and legitimacy of the Old and New Testaments. One of the men who helped me investigate was a Christian apologist who studied the Bible in the original languages. Some of my questions as an atheist concerned centuries of Bible translations and how people could trust what they read since the English translations were so far removed from the originals. Talking with a Christian who was conversant in the original languages of the Bible took that argument off the table. I had to move directly to questions about the original language texts, which put me at a disadvantage when talking with an apologist who knew the history of the texts and could use the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek to answer me.
One of the pastors at the first church I attended after becoming a Christian taught from the Greek New Testament. I learned to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the Koine Greek and how it contained so much more information and insight to God’s Word than translations. I didn’t own a Bible, so my mother asked the pastor for a recommendation – he suggested the Amplified Bible. It uses both word meaning and context to translate from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek to English. I liked it as a new Christian because it listed explanatory alternate readings and amplifications to help me understand what the Scripture meant. When the pastor told us what the original Greek words meant, the Amplified Bible usually included that original meaning as part of the translation.
What became obvious as I studied the Bible, knowing a little about what the translated words meant in the original languages, was that God used those languages in ways that would have been understood clearly by the people who received the original messages. It also became obvious that translating those original messages into other languages through the centuries was problematic “if” we did not know the meaning of original words and how the original audience would have understood those words. After moving to different cities for work and attending new churches, I soon discovered that many pastors and Bible teachers did not refer to the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek in their teaching. It became obvious that I would need to learn enough about those languages to use them in my own study if I wanted to discover what the Holy Spirit said, what He meant and how original audiences understood the Spirit’s message. I started with Greek.
Greek To Me
The Greek of the New Testament was literally “Greek to me.” Learning Greek, especially Koine Greek that was no longer spoken, was an interesting challenge but a challenge that seemed important to overcome. My experience in studying a foreign language during high school was based on what I called a “listening” lab. That was more than 50 years ago, so language labs may have changed a bit since then. Each student sat in a cubicle and wore headsets (state of the art at the time). We listened to a recording of a person first saying a word in the foreign language, followed by a pause, then the translation in English, followed by another pause. My job as a student was to use the first pause to pronounce the foreign word in the same way as the recorded voice. We used the second pause to say the English word. That continued several times before moving to the next word in the lesson. We later learned how to string together multiple words into short sentences using the same method.
I began learning about Koine Greek using concordances (e.g. Strong, Cruden, Young) and dictionaries (e.g. Vine, Smith, Newman) during my personal studies and reading commentaries (e.g. Henry, Poole, Robertson, Vincent, Trench, Lightfoot, Wuest) after finishing my studies to increase my understanding of the original text. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how the meanings of original words added to my understanding of God’s Word.
I also saw how Greek grammar impacted meaning and that led to a desire to learn how to read Greek. I started by learning the alphabet and basic grammar, which opened up the Greek text to reading it for myself. Once you can read Greek you will be able to use Greek-English dictionaries (e.g. Newman, Collins, Zodhiates), lexicons (e.g. Thayer, Moulton, Mounce, Abbott-Smith, Liddell and Scott, Brown and Driver) and interlinear Bibles (e.g. Green, Berry, Hodges, Marshall).
As you use them in your study of the New Testament your understanding of the original text will grow, as will your confidence. That knowledge and confidence will help you in your service as a Christian apologist.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, so having some knowledge of the languages is important to grasping how Jews have understood the words through the centuries and millennia.
My experience with the Hebrew language has been similar to learning Greek, except I found it to be more difficult. I started by using concordances (e.g. Strong, Cruden, Young, Wigram) and dictionaries (e.g. Vine, Wilson) during my personal studies and reading commentaries (e.g. Keil and Delitzsch, Edersheim) after finishing my studies to increase my understanding of the original text. Hebrew grammar is also important to learn and there are many good study aids available (e.g. Gesenius, Weingreen, Pratico and Van Pelt, Young and Shaffer,
Some of the differences between learning Hebrew and Greek include learning to read right to left and the lack of vowels in Hebrew. Fortunately, rabbis added pronunciation guides (nikkud) centuries ago to help. Hebrew letters also have numerical values, which means that words have numerical values. One of the first places I saw the Hebrew alphabet was in Psalm 119. It is the longest chapter in the Bible and is divided into 22 sections – each section titled after a Hebrew letter. Each section contains eight verses.
Learning Koine Greek and Hebrew today is accessible to anyone who can get on the Internet. I like having language aids in book form, but that does come at a cost. Books and recorded materials were the only tools available 40 years ago, but today’s apologists can get online and use a variety of study aids for free. Here are some you may find helpful as you study the Bible from the original languages.
Includes parallel versions, Strong’s concordance, commentaries with Hebrew and Greek references, Hebrew and Greek interlinear, text analysis, lexicons, codex
Includes Bible versions and translations, commentaries, dictionaries, concordances, encyclopedias, lexicons
Includes Bible versions and translations, commentaries, concordances, dictionaries, encyclopedias, lexicons, interlinear
Includes Bible versions and translations, commentaries, dictionaries, topical, keyword search
Includes Bible versions and translations, book notes, commentaries, definitions, interlinear, topical studies, cross references
Includes Bible versions and translations, commentaries, dictionaries, lexicons, encyclopedias, charts, maps, timelines
Includes Bible versions and translations, word study tool, parallel tool, commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias, interlinear, maps
Bible Study Software
If you would like to have access to Bible study software loaded on your computer, you will find some that are free and others that cost.
Becoming a serious student of the Bible from the original languages takes time .. lots of time. It’s also addictive because of how much you learn from the original. I have found studying from Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek to be extremely helpful to me as a Christian, apologist, writer and teacher. I pray you will find it helpful as well as God moves you through your lifetime of apologetics service.