Why study biblical languages?

20 July 2011 by Brian Schultz

First Things, published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an inter-religious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society, just posted an article entitled “Why study biblical languages?

In the post, the author Nicholas Frankovich highlights the difference between savoir and connaître, a nuance that can easily be missed in the English language since both French verbs get translated as “to know.”  (Interestingly, that in itself is an illustration of why it is sometimes necessary to grasp the original language rather than accessing a text through a translation.)  In the past, I have used the distinction between “learning about” a language and “learning” it, or “studying” a language and “internalizing” it.  Indeed, much of biblical language instruction today in universities and seminaries focuses on giving the students information about how the language works, but rarely focuses on using the language as a medium for communication.  If one cannot use a language to communicate, has one really acquired that language?

The distinction between savoir and connaître takes the analogy a step further.  As Frankovich puts it: “Language enables us to commune.”  And for many of us, our heart’s desire in studying the biblical languages in the first place is specifically for that: to commune with the Sacred Text and the God behind it.

Here at the Biblical Language Center, knowing a language so that you can use it to commune is what we mean by a biblical language being “alive.”  And what is so great about the “Living Biblical Languages” method is that we believe many more are able to access and internalize the languages than through conventional methods.  We were encouraged, for example, by the following letter we just received:

I used your “Living Biblical Hebrew for Everyone” to teach myself Biblical Hebrew.  I thought your method simply amazing.  I am a physician, who has never had any facility for languages but with your programme, I was able to learn enough to read the book of Ruth with ease.    – Greg (from Ontario, Canada

For more such testimonials, click here.

Categories: ancient Greek, ancient language acquisition, Biblical Hebrew