In my first semester in Seminary I took an OldTestament survey class taught by Dr. McKenzie. I loved it and it was this class that made me want to pursue further studies in the Old Testament.
During the class Dr. Mckenzie was showing how much we miss from the original Hebrew when it is translated into English. There are notable word plays that explain much of the sentence construction that just cannot be brought out when translated into another language. In many of these instances, it was helpful to see how the Hebrew brought nuances and emphasis to certain important theological themes.
To be honest, some of this was discouraging when one considers that unless we know Hebrew we will never see the playfulness of words used by a certain author, or his beautiful positioning of words to emphasize a certain point. It was even more discouraging to those who want to communicate the Old Testament to a great majority of people who have no working knowledge of Hebrew.
So, the question was brought up during class, “Dr. McKenzie, how can we communicate these truths only seen in the original Hebrew without coming across as elitists?” I thought it a fair enough question thinking to myself that learning Hebrew did not appear all that practical for ministry in the United States let alone with a culture overseas that might not even be able to read. This was Dr. McKenzie’s response, which has set tone of my educational goals ever since:
“I don’t teach you Hebrew to make you elite. I teach you Hebrew so that you might have a better quiet time. The better you know Scripture, the better you personally know the LORD, the better you can serve your people.”
So, at the end of the day I must ask myself, “Why am I learning Hebrew?” It is a valid question and I must reflect upon it hoping and praying that it is to know the LORD better.
This is not to say that one has to learn Hebrew in order to understand the Old Testament. Saint Augustine knew neither Hebrew nor Greek, and he seem to understand the Scriptures just fine to serve the LORD faithfully. This post is a mere reflection of why I should study Hebrew. May all that we do, be done to know Him better.
Scripture is a endless bottomless ocean and yet shallow enough that anyone can enter joyfully. Sadly, too many stay at the shore fearful of its sheer vastness or what they might find there. What is important is that we dive in daily, sink or swim, so that we may drink deeply of the Living Water.