Are you preaching from someone else’s interpretation?

We need to learn the languages that the bible was originally written in argues Ben Witherington here.

“Once a preacher realizes that if he doesn’t know the original languages, then he’s NOT preaching the Bible but rather a translation of the Bible (however good), he or she then must accept that this necessarily means he is preaching someone else’s interpretation of what the inspired text means (for every translation is already an interpretation). This requires some swallowing hard of course. But once the nature of the situation actually dawns on the preacher, that’s when a big reality check should come.”

He says we must therefore:

1) learn the languages or

2) do our homework in commentaries etc.

“If 1) is simply impossible, then this means one must do an even better job with 2). It does not mean that one just reads some English translation and then brain storms.”

That is interesting. Many times I hear people say “read the passage, then think, prayer and ask God to speak, then finally go to commentaries”. I tend to do it the other way round. Obviously I read the passage and have a few thoughts and prayers first but quickly I want to get to the commentaries to get a better understanding of what the passage actually says or does not say or could be saying or definitely does not say etc. Only after that do I feel ready to seek God as to what he wants to say through the passage. I think I like doing it this way because to read the bible well, I need insight into aspects of the language and original context/history that I simply do not have access to on my own or via an English translation.

There is of course a danger that you let the commentaries tell you what the passage says and miss out on hearing from God through his word for yourself but that is very easily mitigated against by reading lots and lots of commentaries. There is often enough disagreement that you have to do a lot of thinking and praying yourself to come to some conclusions but at least those conclusions will be informed by all available  knowledge and wisdom. I guess at the end of the day it requires wisdom and discernment to tell weather you will hear God better by turning the lights off or keeping them on. Both can help.

There is another challenge with what he says. Is he saying that we cannot truly understand the word unless we know the original languages or converse with those who do? No. You can often hear God very clearly through a translation of his word, its just that if God has called you to be a teacher and you have responsibility for teaching God’s word to others, you had better take that massively seriously and do the best job you can of hearing right.

Sadly though my Greek and Hebrew learning is going very slowly. I am forgetting Greek as I tread water with Hebrew. I wish I had three months where I could just do nothing else but learn them. I think I would make some progress then.


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