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Yes we’ve all had those moments, learning languages is often no fun! Most students of ancient languages wonder if these jots and points will make a difference in the life of their ministry. Moises Silva was once asked to give a message on the value of learning biblical languages, he started out with the bad reasons for doing so and only got a few good reasons because of time. Unfortunately there is a lot of modern ‘scubala’ (read ‘crap’) about the value of learning the biblical languages. Still, there remains much value in learning them. Its just not found in those moments where we demythologizing the English translation, but rather in more rudementary and intuitive places in our hermeneutic. Listen to a few of the values Silva suggests in the compendium volume Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation;

First, we need to understand the difference between the value of learning languages for individuals and the value for seminaries to continue their intensive language requirements. Simply put, “Relaxing the language requirements inevitably lowers the quality of instruction and adversely affects biblical scholarship.”

Second, “It could be said that ministers who have not studied the biblical languages enslave themselves to English translations. To be sure, this need not be an absolutely fatal relationship, but it certainly puts ministers at a serious disadvantage.”

Third, “It may be worthwhile to keep in mind that, more often than not, grammar has a negative yet important function: grammatical knowledge may not directly result in a sensational new truth, but it may play a key role in preventing interpretative mistakes.”

Forth, “Quite possibly, however, the most significant benefit of acquiring a knowledge of the biblical languages is intangible…Continued exposure to the original text expands our horizon and furnishes us with a fresh and more authentic perspective than that which we bring from our modern, English-speaking situation.”

It is this last point that I have noticed in my own experiences and life. There is a sensitivity to reading the English translation that ‘good’ language students have, and that sensitivity when absent in a preachers life is noticeable. Along these lines other linguistic errors are commited by preachers or teachers without a background in the biblical languages. Most of the exegetical fallacy’s that D.A. Carson has noted in his book Exegetical Fallacy’s I’ve witnessed in person during sermons or Sunday school classes – not to mention I’ve commited my fair share. In this regard, perfection is not the goal but faithfullness and patient labor is.

There is more to explicating the truth of scripture than being a ‘good’ student of the biblical languages, but there is not less than this. In my mind its a question of the degree of quality, rather than a question of faithfullness in the message. That being said I think the challenge I leave with from Silva is to be a ‘good’ student of the biblical langauges, and not be content with just ‘knowing’ the biblical languages which is often translated as – I learned them in seminary therefore I know the biblical langaues.

Pastors, with and without the biblical languages, what are your thoughts?