Is Hebrew or Greek more important?

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Posts 4
christopher Adam | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Oct 17 2017 3:48 PM

HI

I am a recently graduated theology student who is moving to Texas for ministry purposes and am going to pursue study in the biblical languages but I was wondering if you could help direct me. I would be extremely grateful. I am trying to decide between mastering the Greek or the Hebrew. I know its an odd question, especially considering C.S. Lewis when he said "that is like asking which blade of a pair of scissors is more important." 

I know most christians will see this as a no brainer and default to the greek. Perhaps thats just the truth but Im looking for a little more clarity. I know the NT is written in Greek and Jesus/disciples spoke Greek and even referenced the OT in greek (Septuagint). Furthermore, it seems to me that the OT is less important for exegesis per say because a lot of it is narrative in comparison to NT. Im thinking greek would prolly give a Pastor more practical insight in his sermons. Not sure how much the Hebrew would really change things? 

However, at the same time, the foundation of the bible is the OT and Hebrew. I mean, Jesus was a practicing Jew for crying out loud and Paul had an incredible understanding of Jesus because of his OT background and particularly his deep understanding of the LAW (which I think is lacking big time in this generation). So if Jesus and the disciples had a Hebrew mindset, maybe the Hebrew is better to master? I am fascinated in the way Jesus preaches about the "Kingdom" and its relationship to the OT. 

I mean, maybe in some way, the language of the NT is less important because it is just being used by the writers to interpret Jesus and the OT. Perhaps the Hebrew world view should remain. I do find it odd that God chose to use the greek language in the NT. It is just an odd thing to me because it seems so conflicting. But I do understand that the world was shifting and even the Hebrews were quite hellenized. Now, the world is deeply influenced by Greek thought. Perhaps this was Gods plan all along? some sort of paradigm shift. John uses words like "LOGOS" or "the word" that are based on a Greek world view.

It's just interesting that Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John did not have any Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John to draw from...haha. Same with Paul. These guys, along with the NT christians, were all relying upon the OT to understand Jesus and what God was now doing. Hebrew and OT seems very important and almost neglected by christians today. 

Anyways, I guess you see my struggle. I won't be able to nail both languages down anytime soon and would love to focus on one language for the time being. I love the OT and I want to bring its depth to light but as a preacher Its hard to ignore the NT greek. Which language, in your experience, as been more beneficial in understanding Jesus and the Bible etc...

Posts 2034
GaoLu | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Oct 17 2017 4:55 PM

From what you write, you seem most interested in studying Hebrew culture and language.  There is more Hebrew than Greek in the Bible so you can read more of it.  On the other hand, if you study Greek, you have the LXX, which means you can read it all, including the OT from a later Hebrew perspective.  

Which language you study depends on what you want to do with it.  Make that decision first, and then the language choice should naturally follow.

Posts 1005
EastTN | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Oct 17 2017 5:04 PM

The one thing I might add is that if you are a native English speaker, Greek might be marginally easier. Both Greek and English are Indo-European languages, the Greek alphabet is closer to the one we use, and the phonetic system is closer. I personally found Hebrew more of a challenge than greek because it was just a bit more foreign from English.

Having said that, you can absolutely do either one if you put the effort into it.

Posts 10041
Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Oct 17 2017 6:21 PM

christopher Adam:

HI

I am a recently graduated theology student who is moving to Texas for ministry purposes and am going to pursue study in the biblical languages ....

I won't be able to nail both languages down anytime soon and would love to focus on one language for the time being. 

I doubt you'll nail down even one. So, why not both?  I only add this, from living in a dual language environment, and two languages completely different.  The amount of miscommunication is unbelievable, even after 35 years.

You have a great opportunity with Logos to look at both, in the exact same fashion 2nd Temple jews did. And it's not that hard ... you're moving to Texas, not Israel or Greece.


Posts 431
Adam Olean | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Oct 17 2017 8:09 PM

Hi Christopher,

I wouldn't consider one language more valuable than the other. That said, as one who began learning the biblical languages with Koine Greek, if I were to go back almost ten years, I would start this time with Hebrew (internalizing it as a real language from the outset!). I'd do this in part because of the general neglect of the OT at least for some Christians and churches (as you already suggested). Studying Hebrew means spending a lot of time in the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures, which provides a strong foundation for more intensive study of the Greek NT Scriptures. The NT authors generally assume that their audiences have background in the Tanakh. If you lack that, you'll miss a lot! That said, such benefits can go both ways in some respects.

A second reason would be the vast number of resources for learning biblical and modern Hebrew and the relatively close connection between biblical and modern Hebrew—although they certainly have their differences. If you really want to achieve higher levels of fluency, it's arguably easier to do so, going further and faster, with Hebrew (assuming that you avail yourself of the best resources). Developing fluency in one language will make it easier to do the same in another language. This too goes both ways, but I think Hebrew probably has some unique advantages here.

Third, I personally find it easier to keep up with my NT reading while studying Hebrew than my OT reading while studying Koine Greek, due largely to the sheer size of the OT but also the simple time investment of language learning. That said, if I had sought aural and verbal fluency from the get-go, this wouldn't have been as much of a problem. Either way, if you can build a strong foundation in Hebrew (or Greek), so that you use it day in and day out, then that'll free up more time for learning Greek (or Hebrew). Your mileage may vary!

Regardless, if you or anyone has the means, desire, and opportunity to learn one or more of the biblical languages, then, Lord willing, go for it! May God bless your studies!

You can find some other considerations and recommendations in these recent threads (from me and others):

https://community.logos.com/forums/p/151448/927046.aspx#927046

https://community.logos.com/forums/p/76863/929148.aspx#929148 

Posts 431
Adam Olean | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Oct 17 2017 8:22 PM

Christopher, I'll just add that there are some common misconceptions and confusion about the label "Septuagint(a)", especially among non-scholars, although scholars are most definitely not immune. This isn't the place for such discussions, but you can check out Peter J. Williams's lectures for some food for thought. Just a heads up, his lectures may include a fair dose of irony, polemic, and British humo(u)r.

https://williamaross.com/2016/12/27/peter-williams-on-the-so-called-septuagint/ 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhmMKwl3KeE 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmA2oQmr4wQ 

Posts 4753
David Paul | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Oct 17 2017 11:09 PM

Hebrew is infinitely more important, mainly because there is so much prophecy locked into the Hebrew language that doesn't translate. There is prophecy in Greek as well, but it isn't as obscure and, because it is much more on the surface, it is generally easier to access with some basic skills in Greek. That said, Greek prophecy is only comprehensible is its subsequent relation to Hebrew prophecy, so we're back to the primacy of Hebrew.

Also, I don't agree that Greek is easier than Hebrew. I got further on my own in Greek, but after two classes of Hebrew, it was pretty much all downhill. The syntax of Hebrew is FAR, FAR more like English than Greek. Check out the LGNT and check out the numbering of the English RI to see what I mean.

Posts 4
christopher Adam | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Oct 20 2017 10:41 AM

Thank you for the interesting insight and the links. I really appreciate it. 

Posts 4
christopher Adam | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, Oct 20 2017 10:41 AM

right. I think from what Ive been hearing this is the general consensus. Very good points. Im going to focus on the Hebrew scriptures. 

Posts 2375
David Ames | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 4:42 AM

Gao Lu:

On the other hand, if you study Greek, you have the LXX, which means you can read it all, including the OT from a later Hebrew perspective.

I may be wrong but my studies show that The LXX was first translated from the Hebrew in 285 BC
And that the Jews finally settled on an OFFICIAL wording of their Scriptures in 150 AD
So would not learning the Greek allow one to study from an earlier prospective?

But the Hebrew that they translated may have had some of the Pre Babylonian Exile readings. And look out for Exodus 36 through 40 – different order of the text and seems to have more details.  

David Paul:

Hebrew is infinitely more important, mainly because there is so much prophecy locked into the Hebrew language that doesn't translate.

I have no idea how well the translators of 285 BC did. In places it seems that they a very different Hebrew then what we have now.

Posts 80
Kevin Wang | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 9:04 AM

As you know and others have mentioned, and as I will repeat, learning both is the way to go. The interconnectedness of the Old and New Testaments are such that learning both will open up quite a bit of exegetical insight. 

However, if I were to recommend one, I would recommend Greek. 

(1) The amount of linguistic research and material available for Koine Greek is vast compared to Hebrew, such that your study of it and you in-depth word studies will be much more insightful. 
(2) The NT writers mostly quoted from the Greek OT so that your research into the intertextuality of the NT and OT will be opened up due to your proficiency with Greek
(3) There are a lot more resources and helps for getting the Greek down. Not only books, vocab guides, parsing guides, but also online resources to help you "keep your Greek." 

As Denise has said, "nailing" down any foreign language will be a task in itself. It takes years. Considering the amount of commitment needed to get the basic grammar down and the additional years to have a feel for the more complex morphological and syntactical issues, going with Greek will be better because of all the resources available to help you along your way. 

Blessings. Hope your dive into the languages will be as rewarding for you as it has been for me! 

Posts 3649
Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 10:00 AM

I would concur with:

(1) The difficulty in feeling that one must choose although I get your dilemma. Both languages are important in their own right.

(2) The priority of Hebrew.

My take on it is this: There are more Christians who study Greek because they are more interested in NT theology, use Greek exegesis in relation to it, and use it to preach from the NT (which they find both easier and more relevant). But the unfortunate result is that instead of reading the NT in light of the OT (and only then do the reverse: look back the beginning of the story in light of further revelation), many read the OT in the first and last instance in light of their NT theology (usually based on tradition which, of course, claims to be "biblical"). This is why there are way more commentaries on the NT, way more Greek manuals, etc.

In some ways, Greek calls much more for exegetical minutiae with longer sentences and the convoluted permutations allowed by its cases and syntax. Perhaps (I am very tentative here and happy to be corrected by better experts) the surface meaning of Hebrew sentences is (textual issues aside) usually easier to get (Paul is a real pain in Greek). BUT Hebrew thought is more different and alien to many modern interpreters than Greek formulations and modes of expressions and that thought cannot be appreciated aside from the language. Even if you do not master Hebrew, competence with it would allow you to be able to study the OT (and draw from OT studies) at a level where you can get past popular (mis)readings and dubious NT based hermeneutics. The last post by Heiser on Elohim would be an example of the kind of terrain that is still completely foreign territory to many who otherwise happily engage week after week into Greek diagramming and straining the significance of a word or preposition in NT epistles.  

I think that Hebrew is therefore more foundational for those of us who think that it is heretical to imagine that one could manage just fine even if they only had the NT.

The study of the LXX is a different beast. It is related to both the NT and OT in important ways, but reading the LXX in Greek cannot be a substitute for reading the Hebrew text. The LXX can differ quite a bit at times from the Hebrew text and has its own textual history and issues. In many parts of the OT, the LXX can sometimes be compared more to a paraphrase than a translation.

I hope this helps. 

Posts 10041
Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 10:46 AM

Let’s not forget, the LXX is the oldest available Bible.  That young hebrew whipper-snapper depends on some old syntax, vocab, and spellings to appear  more old-ish.

On the other hand, the greek language came from hebrew (per ancient jewish scholars), so it looks like a 50-50 problem.


Posts 3649
Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 12:09 PM

Denise:
That young hebrew whipper-snapper depends on some old syntax, vocab, and spellings to appear  more old-ish.

Do you mean the MT? There are DSS that antedate the LXX.

Posts 6229
DAL | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 12:24 PM

Both are important for studying/research purposes, but not to be saved. IMHO Greek would be more important to me as even Jesus, His disciples and Paul quoted from the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testamen). But, then again, if I had the time to study Hebrew more in-depth, I definitely would.

👍😁👌

Posts 1216
Matt Hamrick | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 12:29 PM

I would tell you to learn both, but start with Hebrew since you are leaning that way. Both Hebrew and Greek is important to scripture, so learn them both. Learn one really well and learn the other so you can interpret correctly. I have interests in the Ancient Near East so my Hebrew is naturally stronger than my Greek, but I know both languages. Just am more comfortable in Hebrew.

Posts 3649
Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 12:45 PM

DAL:
Jesus, His disciples and Paul quoted from the Septuagint

That the first-century disciples used the LXX especially in light of the needs of the Diaspora and Gentile mission, no doubt about this. This is certainly true of Paul and Luke in Acts, as of the rest of the NT. 

Did Jesus "quote" the LXX? That's a different question. Although a case can be made that Jesus might have been multilingual (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), it is not easy to determine for sure whether He used Greek in His teaching and preaching. Certainly one would tend to think that Aramaic is more likely and possibly Hebrew (for instance when reading the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue). Likewise, there have been endless and inconclusive debates about the rest of the words of Jesus. Was the Sermon on the Mount delivered in Greek? That seems unlikely. 

So then we can only say with assurance that the evangelists used the LXX. 

The other question is what does NT usage prove? Does it make the LXX "inspired" or reliable? When a preacher uses the NIV, I suppose that it implies that it is considered reliable enough to be used for that purpose. That the translation of the NIV is thereby believed to be inspired and as dependable as the original texts it translates goes well beyond what can be safely affirmed. 

It gets really interesting when a passage from the LXX which differs significantly in wording from the Hebrew is quoted in a NT passage that we believe to be "inspired". But of course 1 Enoch and other sources (cf. Acts 17:28) do not become "Scripture" or "true" in an "inspired" sense just because they are quoted in the NT. 

I know this is a bit off-track, but I am reacting to the idea that one can get more of Scriptures by learning Greek because they can read both the NT and LXX. The LXX is not a substitute for the Hebrew OT.

Posts 1810
David Thomas | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 1:12 PM

Francis:
it is not easy to determine for sure whether He used Greek in His teaching and preaching. Certainly one would tend to think that Aramaic is more likely and possibly Hebrew (for instance when reading the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue)

Francis:
The LXX is not a substitute for the Hebrew OT.

Yes

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Posts 10041
Denise | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 1:33 PM

Francis:

Denise:
That young hebrew whipper-snapper depends on some old syntax, vocab, and spellings to appear  more old-ish.

Do you mean the MT? There are DSS that antedate the LXX.

I was careful to use the word 'Bible'. Now, some squeaky-clean historian might point out the absense of 'Bibles' until well after Jesus. Even He had to appeal to Moses or David.

Also, I'd assume the LXX is superior to the hebrew, if only to correctly support the NT (and Paul's appeal to hebrew expertise, was only to demonstrate the truly bad path he had chosen earlier).


Posts 1216
Matt Hamrick | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Oct 21 2017 4:35 PM

Denise:

Francis:

Denise:
That young hebrew whipper-snapper depends on some old syntax, vocab, and spellings to appear  more old-ish.

Do you mean the MT? There are DSS that antedate the LXX.

I was careful to use the word 'Bible'. Now, some squeaky-clean historian might point out the absense of 'Bibles' until well after Jesus. Even He had to appeal to Moses or David.

Also, I'd assume the LXX is superior to the hebrew, if only to correctly support the NT (and Paul's appeal to hebrew expertise, was only to demonstrate the truly bad path he had chosen earlier).

The LXX is a translation of the Hebrew. No translation is superior.

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