You’ve probably heard before that the best way to immerse yourself in a new culture is to learn the language. The same is true with the culture of the Bible. Knowing biblical languages makes us better travelers of Scripture. It puts us in the ancient world of the text and helps us to better understand it.
The reformers, for their part, burned with a desire to return to the original sources. Ad fontes! I believe they would have passionately welcomed the possibility of every man, woman, and child reading the Bible in the original.
3 Barriers to Normalizing the Biblical Languages
But as I’ve talked to Christians over the years, I’ve discovered that most remain convinced the biblical languages aren’t for the average believer. Learning Hebrew and Greek seems like a task for those who are more “academically minded.” The average church member doesn’t see the return on investment. There are at least three reasons for this mentality, but I believe each can be overcome.
1. Intimidating Methodology
Since the Middle Ages, the biblical languages have been taught in a way that intimidates the average Joe. The method treats the language like a code to unravel, not as something you use and enjoy. With the classic method, you’re quickly required to memorize complicated paradigms and long vocabulary lists by rote. It’s not like the way children learn to speak their mother tongue. For most people it’s too intimidating, so they leave it to the professionals. Let’s be clear: through this method, no one learns Hebrew or Greek, rather they learn about these languages. Learning to swim is not the same as reading a book about the physics of swimming, and you can’t learn a language by simply learning how it works.
2. Insufficient Technology
Books can reach many people, but they’re expensive to produce, tend to be intimidating, and don’t lend themselves to teaching languages the way God has wired us to learn. Languages are learned best when a teacher shows you how to use the language—when you hear it spoken, see the context in which it’s being used, and get a feel for how it works through immersion and practice. What’s more, books appeal to literary cultures, not oral cultures. This is important, because a vast majority of Christians in the world don’t come from a culture that’s used to learning languages from books. Seventy percent of the world’s cultures are oral, and the U.S. itself is rapidly becoming more so.
Immersive classroom experiences tend to be too expensive for the average Christian. Most outside of the West can’t afford a book or online course, much less immersive training. And even rich Americans will resist paying money if the task seems too daunting.
But with the advent of inexpensive video technology and distribution platforms like YouTube, there are now many free resources for learning the biblical languages. Some include Rob Plummer’s Daily Dose of Greek and the free language learning resources from Zondervan.
In addition to these resources, which follow a more classical model, my wife and I have worked hard over the last two years to develop free immersive training in biblical Hebrew. Our training doesn’t require a textbook, and it’s taught monolingually (in Hebrew) so people from all language backgrounds can learn without the need for translation. We follow a natural comprehensible input methodology, so learners learn as children do. And the video medium allows the content to be downloaded, shared, and replayed as often as learners need.
With the advent of inexpensive video technology and distribution platforms like YouTube, there are now many free resources for learning the biblical languages.
When we give away resources like these, we make it so that anyone can learn. I say “anyone” because knowing Greek or Hebrew isn’t like the gift of teaching, which a person may or may not have. We’re not talking about the difference between natural-born athletes and people who prefer reading books. We’re all wired to learn language from childhood. It’s how we’re designed. Hebrew and Greek are simply languages, and they aren’t harder than English or Chinese simply because they’re biblical.
In many circles, we’ve put the idea of learning Greek or Hebrew out of reach for the common man. It’s time to change this mentality. With new technology, new methods, and free resources, we can level the playing field and democratize the knowledge of God’s Word.