How important is knowing the original languages to preaching?
For a preacher, knowing the original languages can be likened to what Paul said to slaves about freedom: “If you can gain your freedom, do so. If not, be content with what you have” (1 Cor. 7:21, paraphrase). In other words, if you are able to learn the original languages, do so. They are a valuable tool. But such knowledge is not absolutely necessary for a preacher, for a number of reasons.
- English-speakers have many accurate translations of the Bible, and most other major languages have at least one reliable translation. If you use any of the standard English translations, what you preach from every week faithfully conveys God’s Word in your language.
- Faithful expositional preaching requires you to communicate the main point of the text, which should be discernible without knowledge of the original languages, especially when one is preaching larger chunks of Scripture, such as a chapter or a pericope. If you don’t know Greek or Hebrew, you won’t be able to speak as authoritatively about the meaning of certain words or certain grammatical structures, but the main point of the text should be clear. Admittedly, understanding the point of a text does become more dependent on knowing the original languages when preaching shorter sections of Scripture, like a single verse or a section of a verse.
- There are many resources that can help a pastor access the original languages even if he doesn’t know them. While trusting a scholar’s word is no substitute for firsthand knowledge, there are many resources that can help a pastor check his interpretation against the original languages without having to know the languages himself.