For the Youth Minister Considering Studying Greek
I remember daydreaming at my desk in the moments before my first seminary Greek class began. “Finally! The New Testament will be crystal clear! All those tricky passages that I’ve never understood will make sense, and exegesis will be a piece of cake!” That misguided dream died five minutes later when my professor offered this humbling bit of wisdom: learning Greek does not resolve theological and textual difficulties in the New Testament; in fact, it uncovers even more difficulties that are smoothed over by the translation process. It was as if he was saying: “If you think the New Testament is challenging now, just you wait until you’re studying it in Greek!” Ten years later, I am saying the same thing to my own students. Reading and studying the Bible in its original languages is messy, and it doesn’t always lead to straight-forward easy exegesis. It doesn’t “fix” or “solve” the text for us.
It does something far better.
Original language study calls us deeper into the text. It calls us to pay better attention to the text and wrestle more closely with it. It calls us to consider the text in its historical, literary, and theological contexts. Original language study draws us into the scripture that God has given for the guidance and formation of his people, the place where those people, through the Holy Spirit, are confronted with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.
This leads us to an interesting question: as a youth pastor at a local church, should you learn Greek and/or Hebrew? I mean, who wouldn’t want to take one step closer to the Biblical text? As with other questions related to preparedness for any church ministry, the answer requires discerning wisdom. Is original language study a good fit with your God-given gifts and passions? Would it help you to be a more faithful Gospel witness for your students? Do you have the resources (time and money) to make language study feasible? There is no one-size-fits-all approach in how to prepare for faithful church ministry, but good information can help you to make a good decision. Here are four benefits to knowing the Biblical languages and three discernment questions that can guide you as you consider if the Lord might be leading you to embrace this powerful Bible-study tool.
Four benefits of knowing the Biblical languages
- It forces you to slow down. You don’t have to spend much time in church before certain well-known portions of scripture become very familiar. If you were raised in a Christian home, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, and many of Paul’s exhortations may perhaps be too I find that working through such passages in Greek or Hebrew forces me to slow down and pay better attention to the text, often transforming the way I present it to my students.
- It opens up a world of new resources. Many of the best biblical studies resources assume the reader’s knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, including lexicons, theological dictionaries, and exegetical commentaries. There are simply more tools available to someone who knows the Biblical languages.
- It allows you to listen in on what is happening in the academy. Why are scholars arguing about Paul and justification? Should we read the Shema as “the Lord is one” or “the Lord alone?” Knowing the Biblical languages doesn’t resolve these complex issues, but it allows you to better understand them and make your own informed decisions. You might be surprised to know how often these discussions shed light on core aspects of our faith!
- It teaches you to approach Scripture with humility and openness. My original language study has taught me to treat exegesis less like solving a puzzle and more like listening carefully to a voice. God’s Word continually evades our grasp. You can never fully “figure it out” the way you would solve a math equation or find the answer to a riddle. As you engage the text in Greek and Hebrew, you will face your own limitations again and again. This ought to drive you to your knees in prayer, the only proper posture for Christian exegesis. Your attitude toward God’s word is contagious, and believe me, your students will be blessed by watching you wrestle so closely with the text.
Three discernment questions
Do these benefits resonate with you? Where should you go from here? Here are three practical considerations that can guide your prayer and discernment process.
- Do you enjoy academic study? If the idea of flashcards or homework makes your skin crawl, Greek and Hebrew study may not be the most productive or personally edifying way for you to grow in your knowledge of God’s Word. There are so many other ways to grow in your understanding of scripture! On the other hand, if you find academic study life-giving, original language study can be a great way to connect your passion for learning with the truth of God’s Word.
- Do those serving alongside you affirm your desire to study? Do the other leaders in your church think that Greek and Hebrew study could bless your ministry? If you are married, what does your husband or wife think? Godly counsel from other believers can both propel you forward into your freedom in Christ and prevent you from making foolish decisions. Ask those who know you if original language study seems like a good idea and take their advice seriously.
- Is this something that you want? This question is neither inconsequential nor something to be avoided. You have been delivered from sin and death by the blood of Christ and are now filled with the very Spirit of God! Your transformed hopes and desires are some of the most powerful ways that the Lord directs us as we seek to participate in his coming kingdom. If the idea of original language study excites you, dive in and use this powerful new tool for the glory of your risen savior.
The blessed task of proclaiming the truth of God’s Word to young people requires no advanced degrees. The grand story of Scripture, that God is, in Christ, reconciling us (and the world) to himself, is evident in every translation. However, original language study is a great way both to look closely at the text and to engage some of the best resources of Christian theology. Is knowledge of Greek and Hebrew necessary for profound understanding of the message of the Bible? No. Could it be a blessing as you seek to present your students with the good news of Jesus as it is expressed in Scripture? Absolutely.