Mountain Climbing: The Challenge of Learning Original Languages

In this blog post Dale Pritchett will extend the metaphor begun in his earlier blog entry and respond to some of the issues raised.

One summer my wife talked me into climbing a mountain. She explained in glowing terms all the benefits to body mind and spirit. She even extolled the value of the pain we could anticipate. The mountain had well marked trails and many had gone before. She didn’t tell me about the bodies.

Less than one hour into the hike we began to see a series of small monuments along the trail. These were dedicated to the memory of individuals who had died at that exact spot in a snow storm or a rock slide or suffered a heart attack, stroke, or whatever. I kept thinking, “I just want to see the view from the top. I don’t want to become a statistic.” The next time, I visited the mountain; I took a tram to the top. The view was the same. I observe that a lot more people want to enjoy the view than want to climb the mountain. I noticed also that enjoying the view killed a lot less people than climbing the mountain.

I understand that the person who climbs to the top has a different level of knowledge of the mountain, but it is also possible to climb the mountain the hard way and still miss the view. Each person has differing skills, abilities and gifts. The point is to capture as much perspective as you can and share the view with others, not the pain.

Original language study needs to be a reasonable amount of work for a skill you will use all your life.

I am not in any way attempting to minimize the value of traditional study in biblical languages. I am merely pointing out that the benefits accrue to only a few while the need exists for the many.

I am also not attempting to suggest that an ESV Reverse Interlinear in Logos Bible software is fully equivalent to the study of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. It is not. It is a major advancement over previous tools like Strong’s numbers.

I am pointing out the reality is precious few people master biblical languages in comparison to those who make the attempt or those who never make the attempt. I am expressing my opinion that the church is better served by people who make the effort to examine the original language text.

I am saying that exegetical fallacies are equally fallacious in any language. We need to be taught how to be responsible with whatever knowledge we hold. Software is not a substitute for instruction. For the English Bible student quality instruction in original language grammar and syntax was not possible with the limited resources in Strong’s numbers, the main link between English Bibles and original languages. Now with the expanded data available in a reverse interlinear, it is possible to expand the range of instruction significantly. It will take good instruction.

I am saying we need great instruction from great teachers which will develop the students to their potential regardless of whether it is based on a reverse interlinear or an biblical language text. I am saying that the reverse interlinear is a significant tool that can take an English Bible student further than ever possible before. And let’s face it; the reverse interlinear also serves a remedial function for those who have forgotten everything they ever learned in a traditional language course. The student is interacting with the text in a more intimate fashion sure to improve general exegesis. I am saying this is good!

My final analogy. Many people would love to be singers. Only a few become professionals. Do we forbid everybody else to sing? Do we cut out the tongues of those who don’t sing well to insure that we will not suffer from their impure tones? I am suggesting that it is very easy to fall into the trap of not developing the abilities we have, whatever they may be. We need to be reminded that we can teach students how to be responsible and stay within the boundaries of their range or ability.

Comments

  1. So, what are some good resources for the average Christian to use to learn more about Greek? Are there some good resources in Logos?
    I wish someone would create video tutorials. That would be even better.

  2. Steve Runge says:

    Dale stated: “I am saying we need great instruction from great teachers which will develop the students to their potential regardless of whether it is based on a reverse interlinear or an biblical language text.” It is highly unlikely that someone with language training would rely exclusive on a reverse-interlinear. However, for those who lack original language training, or for those whose skills are too rusty from disuse, tools like these will make the difference between doing exegetical work with the original versus none.

  3. Mark,
    The author actually points out the ESV Reverse Interlinear Bible within Logos as one of such tools. There are also the ability to do detailed language research, beginning Greek and Hebrew resources, downloadable vocabularies in order to make flash cards, and a feature that will pronounce Greek and Hebrew words. I hope that gets you on the right track.

  4. James Schafer says:

    Also Mark, you can find a number of video tutorials @ http://www.logos.com/videos that will guide you through what Dale has been talking about. A great return on your investment of $4.95 would be the 33 videos on syntax available on CD-ROM. Logos is doing a great job of covering the bases for the novice as well as the advanced student.

  5. James Schafer says:

    Actually, my previous post should have been directed to Brandon, not Mark who was the poster of the original message. Sorry Mark.

  6. James Schafer says:

    Also Mark, you can find a number of video tutorials @ http://www.logos.com/videos that will guide you through what Dale has been talking about. A great return on your investment of $4.95 would be the 33 videos on syntax available on CD-ROM. Logos is doing a great job of covering the bases for the novice as well as the advanced student.

  7. Tim Stewart says:

    I worked my way through John H. Dobson’s “Learn New Testament Greek” when I began studying koine Greek as a hobby, and I was very pleased with how well that book prepared me both to read the NT and to understand scholarly discussions of points of Greek grammar and syntax. There are several Greek primers out there, but if you’re looking for one that has been “road-tested” and found to be “road-worthy,” then I suggest Dobson.

  8. Carl W. Conrad says:

    I’m glad to read, “I am also not attempting to suggest that an ESV Reverse Interlinear in Logos Bible software is fully equivalent to the study of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. It is not. It is a major advancement over previous tools like Strong’s numbers.” But I’d have to add, I don’t think a reverse interlinear in any software is even remotely equivalent to the study of the original texts. It probably is a significant advancement over tools like Strong’s numbers, but I don’t think that’s really saying very much at all. The day is past and perhaps beyond recovery when entrants into a seminary already know how to read at least Biblical Greek and don’t need to take some sort of crash course or simply learn how to use an reverse interlinear or something like the Fribergs’ AGNT as a substitute for reading and judging the original text for themselves rather than rely upon the judgment of others regarding usage and even syntax. Software can be immensely useful where the underlying linguistic comprehension is already present, but it can never be a substitute for that comprehension. Pretending otherwise, in my opinion, is a delusion.