Why study the Biblical Hebrew Language?

Why study the Biblical Hebrew Language? For a quick and simple answer – because the Bible was not written in English. This is even more important today as there are more and more translations on the market and the English Bible as we know it, remains the best selling book year after year. As more and more translations are introduced to the market, I have found personal frustrations with broad differences that I have came across in study.

In a recent study of Isaiah 58:10, we came across “pour yourself out”, “spend yourself”, and “feed the hungry” from three different English translations. I could argue that one could feel the passion behind the first two, but the simple “feed the hungry” statement falls flat. Maybe this is more cultural interpretation than language? On the Ancient Hebrew Research Center web site, there is a video discussion on six different Hebrew words that are all translated over into the English word “teach”. Again, not only do we miss out on the richness of the Hebrew Language, we are also forcing our cultural interpretation of the word “teach” on the text.

Martin Luther in His book Table Talk comments “The words of the Hebrew tongue have a peculiar energy. It is impossible to convey so much so briefly in any other language.”

Here are some additional quotes from the Ancient Hebrew Research Center web site that speak well for why it is important to study the Biblical Hebrew Language.

“Our sacred literature does not use obscure language, but describes most things in words clearly indicating their meaning. Therefore it is necessary at all times to delve into the literal meaning of words to achieve complete understanding of what is actually meant.”
–Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888)

“Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your new bride through a veil.”
–Haim Nachman Bialik (Jewish Poet, 1873-1934)

“The Bible is a book that has been read more and examined less than any book that ever existed.”
–Thomas Paine (Author, 1773-1809)


5 Responses

  1. I was thinking the same thing. Our English language loses so much in translation. Our assumptions of what a word means and what it should actually translate as are two totally different ideas.

    Also something lost is the emphasis and intensity with which the Hebrew language deals with certain concepts like the spiritual and physical death of Adam and Eve with the “died dying” statement. We don’t get such imagery in English.

    I agree that some of the translations of words, verse, phrases etc are very lack lust to say the least. Many fall flat compared to their original intent and that more people should be familiar with the Hebrew language.

  2. I have to confess that I had never seen the importance of learning Hebrew or Greek. Guess I always believed that was fine for scholars, but not necessary for me. However, with just the start of this class, I am beginning to believe I need to rethink that philosophy . . .

  3. Byron,
    Can you pass on the link to the Ancient Hebrew site?


  4. I agree that learning the original languages is important. I am surprised, however, at how many “average church attendees” do not realize this importance. While in Bible College, I had a weekend ministry at small Christian Church. During this time, I did a Sunday School lesson series on the history of the “English Bible.” I was amazed that over half of class thought that the King James Version was the original version of the Bible. How sad!

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