Written by Malachi Brown
This is my fifth semester taking a biblical language, and if you were thinking “Poor soul, who would do that to themselves?” then the answer is me. Part of the requirements for the Bible and Divinity major is three semesters of Greek and three semesters of Hebrew. People often ask me, “So can you speak Greek?” and the answer is no. During my time on the Harding University in Greece (HUG) program, I did not have much of an advantage at all learning the modern language than my peers — many of them even knew the alphabet from clubs they’ve seen on campus or as variables in their physics or chemistry classes. Why should I learn a language that isn’t going to help me communicate to people?
It seems silly to make Bible students take between three semesters of Greek or Hebrew when the only time we use it is when preachers say the name “YHWH” or pull the classic “Agape means love” out of their overused one-liners. I often even roll my eyes when the preacher gets up and talks about sentence structure or word glosses of an obscure sentence when I would rather learn about who God is and how I can listen to the Holy Spirit more.
As someone who is not the star Hebrew pupil, I’m not an advocate for the idea that all or even most Christians ought to learn Greek and Hebrew, but I avidly oppose the idea that the Church should ever let these languages slip completely. It’s only because people knew the original language that the Reformation was able to take place, we were able to have Bibles in our own languages and can continue to translate Bibles in languages that don’t have it yet.
With the rise of deconstructionism from Foucalt, Iser and Derrida, as well as global instant communication, language changes faster than ever. As a 21-year-old, I have a hard time keeping up with the new slang communities develop on TikTok and Instagram and my friends throw around as if I inherently know it. Derrida tells us because language and communication are man-made constructs, we can never quite articulate what we are thinking and truly understand what anyone is saying to us. Luckily for us, we know better than to think communication is a man-made construct.
In German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche’s “Twilight of the Idols,” the author says, “I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar.” Nietzche was able to understand the microstructures of language is one of the best proofs of a divine. For us Trinitarians, we know all languages are a product, a means of tapping into communication that existed between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. As long as you and I can point at the same object and both say “chair,” the English language holds up. As long as the Gospel writers have written accounts of the resurrection, and we can know what they mean, the Church holds up.
If we allow the Greek and Hebrew languages to pass away and use a long lineage of English translations to uphold the scriptures, we lose commonality with our non-English-speaking brothers and sisters, as well as endanger the Scriptures to a Derridadic language spiral where we don’t remember what the author said. Maybe if one person in every congregation knew Greek or Hebrew, each congregation could look like they’re reading the same Scriptures.