Bible Question:

Wouldn't you have to know Greek and Hebrew to know for yourself what the scriptures really say?

Bible Answer:

The answer is yes and no. Yes, one needs to know Greek and Hebrew to completely understand verbs, grammar and some unusual characteristics of the language. But a person can discover the meaning of the text without completely knowing Hebrew or Greek. The rest of our discussion will focus on the Greek language. The non-Greek reader should start by purchasing an interlinear, one or two books on word studies or three of more commentaries per book. There are many good books available that explain the Greek and Hebrew meaning of the text of the Bible. If you are interested in learning Greek, we would recommend any of the following books: Greek for the Rest of Us [1], Essentials of New Testament Greek [2], Basics of Biblical Greek [3], and New Testament Greek [4].

Interlinears

The first are interlinears. They present the Hebrew and Greek text on the top line and the English meaning on the next line. Here is an example from the “NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament In Greek and English” by Alfred Marshall and published by Zondervan.

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One of the first things to notice is that the word order is awkward. It usually is. The most important words usually occur first. Even though the order is somewhat scrambled, the basic meaning is obvious. If we look at how the NASB, NIV and NKJV Bibles change this into English, we will notice that there are some differences.

Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. (NASB) Hebrews 4:16

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (NIV) Hebrews 4:16

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (NKJV) Hebrews 4:16

There are some slight changes, but the basic meaning is there. The translations change some of the meanings of the words because Greek words sometimes have several shades of meaning. One example is the word “confidence.” The English transliteration of the Greek word parrhsias is PARRESIAS. This Koine Greek word means “boldness, openness, confidence, or frankness.” The sense of the word is that someone is not inhibited. One who is bold is also confident. All of the translations have done a good job of translating the Greek, but they have missed the depth of the meaning of the word. One must stop and explain the meaning of the word. A Bible translation cannot do that very well, unless it was a multi-volume Bible.

Greek “Dictionaries”

If one wants to go farther, a Greek dictionary or lexicon is needed. There are also books that help us understand the meanings of words.

Word StudiesAuthor/PublisherComments
Dictionary of the New Testament TheologyVerlyn D. Verbrugge/ ZondervanIn order to use this book effectively, one must find the word in an interlinear, find the English translation in the New International Version Bible, find the English word in the Subject Index in the back of the book and then find the Greek word in the discussion of the word to which the reader is referred. This is a great book.
Dictionary of New Testament TheologyColin Brown/ Regency Reference LibraryThis is an excellent book.
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New TestamentDanker and Bauer/University of Chicago Presshis book is essential to own.
Greek-English Lexicon of the New TestamentLouw & Nida; United Bible SocietiesGreat book for the intermediate student

English Commentaries

There are also English commentaries that explain the Greek. There are some wonderful individual books and sets of books. One does not need to know Greek to understand these books. Obviously the more Greek one knows the better. Here are two great sets.

Word StudiesAuthor/PublisherComments
Word Pictures in the New TestamentA.T. Robertson/Baker Book HouseThis author is outstanding.
Vincent’s Word Studies of the New TestamentVincent; MacDonald Publishing Co.Wonderful, insightful, and easy to read. it is also lower in cost.
The New International Greek New Testament commentary seriesAuthors vary book to book/ Eerdmans PublishingThis commentary series is best suited for the English reader who knows some Greek.
Commentary on the New TestamentLenski; Hendrickson PublishersGreat set and easy to read.

Conclusion:

An understanding of Greek and Hebrew is essential to understanding the Bible. But you do not have to be a Greek expert to get started. I would encourage anyone getting started to begin with the New Testament. The Hebrew is challenging. May the Lord bless you in your studies.

References:

1. William D. Mounce. Greek for the Rest of Us. Zondervan. 2003.

2. Thomas Sawyery. Essentials of New Testament Greek. Broadman & Holman Publishers. 1995.

3. William D. Mounce. Basics of Biblical Greek. Zondervan. 1993.

4. Gresham Machen. New Testament Greek. MacMillan Co.

Reference Links:

How To Study The Bible