Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

3/18 2015

Theological Significance of Biblical Languages


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theological significance of biblical languagesI am a lover of words. I enjoy the cacophony of sound as each syllable is poured from my lips and building bridges from each word like bricks. Being a word smith has led me on many adventures through the tumultuous shifting waters of linguistics. Yet, even with all the joy I procure from unearthing lyrical discoveries in peeling back layers of semantics, I have been no stranger to the question, as I’m staring at the Greek or Hebrew text before me, of

“For what exactly do I need this again?”

Many an argument can and has been made that languages should be cut from the curriculum of those preparing for ministry. How is parsing Greek participle phrases going to help me balance the church budget? How are Hebrew paradigms going to help me fill the church on Sunday morning? How is muddling my way through these ancient languages going to help my congregation embody justice and peace in this world?

Those and many others like them are valid questions. What does a seemingly obscure scholastic endeavor have to do with the practicality of church?

To answer this quandary, I turn to Acts 6: 1-7. In this portion of the narrative, widows, a vulnerable people group, were being neglected. When the complaint is brought before the 12, the 12 gather the entire community and say, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”[1]

Now this can be seen as the 12 shirking hard labor, refusing to roll up their sleeves and get to the real nitty gritty. However, that is not the case. What the 12 saw as the cause for the brokenness in their community was the lack of the gospel. This is the same dilemma the Church faces today.

And how can we fully understand the gospel without being able to hold hands with the language in which the gospel was first understood? As reformer and theologian Martin Luther puts it,

“…we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained….If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall not only lose the gospel, but the time will come when we shall be unable either to speak or write a correct Latin or German.”[2]

The theological significance then of learning biblical languages is nestled in deep partnership with the mission and ministry of the Church – sharing the good news of great joy to all.

[1] Acts 6: 2-4, NRSV.

[2] Martin Luther, “The Importance of Biblical Languages”, To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools, (1524). http://faculty.tfc.edu/juncker/GRK453LutherOnLanguages.pdf

Rebecca Dix is a senior MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. After graduating this summer, she plans to return to PTS for her master of theology degree and feels called to pastoral ministry and the arts.

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