“Do I understand Greek and Hebrew?  Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents?  Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original?  For which way can I confute his pretense?  Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all?  Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis?  Do I understand the language of the New Testament?  Am I a critical master of it?  Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke?  If not, how many years did I spend at school?  How many at the University?  And what was I doing all those years?  Ought not shame to cover my face?”

John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” in Works (London, 1872), X:491.

I do not believe that every minister of the gospel, to be faithful, must know the original languages.  But many should and must.  It is the standard.  Yes, let’s make room for special cases.  But they are special cases.  And if we have had the privilege of studying the Bible in the original texts, the Lord has given us a stewardship to cultivate, not neglect.

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10 thoughts on “Greek and Hebrew”

  1. Can refers to ability, and in Jn.6:44,65 we are told no man can come to Christ, meaning, clearly, no man is able without the prevenient grace of God to respond to the claims of Christ.

    1. Michael says:

      What’s the Greek word for prevenient grace?

  2. Josh says:

    If you’re stirred in your heart to do so, then study them.. just remember Jesus words, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

    You cannot circumcise your or any other heart by your own hard work or in this case, studying of the scripture – if you want salvation for you or for another, than turn from your own sufficiency and turn to the sufficiency that God brings.

    Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand – the power of God is present and available to help you interpret his words that are recorded in Greek and Hebrew, but you won’t bulldoze your way there with your own hard work apart from repentance.

    *stepping down off soapbox…*

    1. Todd says:

      Josh – your comment was based upon Scripture, which men study, some in the original languages, to make sure what you are saying is not tripe. With the many translations being produced today this is no small matter. People are being led by “spirits” to believe the Bible says all kinds of harmful things. A minister (which this quotation is aimed at) is charged with feeding the sheep, and protecting the sheep from bad pastures. I would encourage you to rethink this quote in regard to what the pastor is called to do.

  3. Kate M says:

    I don’t think the author is suggesting Greek and Hebrew studies equates to salvation or even sanctification. Rather, that those people who have been entrusted with the responsibility of interpretation for preaching and teaching ought to study the original so that he/she may best convey the message of scripture. That’s a noble endeavor, stemming from a high view of scripture. Is it essential 100% of the time? No. Is it helpful? Absolutely.

  4. Padraig says:

    I am grateful for this reminder. In my experience, the great discouragement in learning the Bible’s languages is that what I put into them is not matched by what I get out. John MacArthur is the only one I know of whose knowledge of them enhances his preaching.
    To encourage the study of them may need to bear this in mind.

  5. Rob says:

    Do you have any recommendations for an intro to Greek book? Maybe something that would segue me into formal classes.

  6. Best Intro: to Greek I ever had was a class full of about 25 preachers, some of the pastors, a teacher named Mr. Bunch, W. Hersey Davis’ Basic Grammar Intro to the GNT which we called his baby grammar, 8:00 o’clock in the morning, Monday through Friday, with a pop quiz every morning, except Thursday, when we had a major test, usually a paper to hand every day, and more jokes from preachers than you could shake a stick at. Place: St. Louis Baptist College, 1959-60. At SEBTS I ran into Maurice Robinson who had taught himself to read Greek. The only fellow I know to have taken the Advanced Standing Exam without Greek and passed it with an A, getting credit for first year Greek without ever having had a course in Greek. What he did in Greek, I did in Church History. Greek was his thing, a genius after the order of A.T. Robertson. And the First Sovereign Grace faculty member at SEBTS of the Conservative Resurgence. I would add that the Scotch minister of note of the 1700s, John Brown of Haddington taught himself to read Greek, was charged with witchcraft or heresy (I forget which), but he survived that to become a minister of note.

  7. I like this especially: “Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original?” I’m certainly no master of the original languages, but the best thing taking Greek and Hebrew did for me was to expose the utter tripe that people pass off as biblical teaching by spurious appeal to the original languages. (“Logos” and “Rhema,” anyone?)

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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