The unforeseen benefit of learning the original languages

Yesterday I encountered an unforeseen benefit of learning how to read biblical Hebrew. For the last two weeks I’ve been in my summer-school Hebrew class where we’ve basically been tromping through the first few chapters of the Bible. After an entire semester learning how to read Hebrew words and sentences, now we’re actually going to the original text and translating. I’m not the academic type, so it takes me a while, which as I’ve learned, isn’t such a bad thing.

Immediately after class gets out I head straight to the library to finish the homework that’s due the next day. I usually spend 1-2 hours there slowly working my way through each word. And in my experience, the homework has been as devotional as it’s been academic.

It’s like reading it for the first time. They say “familiarity breeds contempt”– but in the case of most Bible readers familiarity breeds apathy. Or invisibility. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is old news. Who even reads that anymore? Move on to something more exciting.

But when you sit and look at “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light” for ten minutes you can’t help but be moved by the text. It’s stunning. Stop and read so slowly to actually take in God’s creation ex nihilo– and be amazed. I honestly feel like I’m reading something I’ve never read before. Each word keeps you on the edge of your seat as your struggle to unlock meaning. Want the Scriptures to come alive to you in a way they never have? Learn Greek or Hebrew.

Translating the Hebrew has forced me to sit and think about words. It makes me mull over each sentence, each letter, each suffix trying to get meaning out of it. And when the pieces of the puzzle finally all come together, it’s like you’ve discovered for the first time what you’ve already known all along. It’s an amazing experience I didn’t know I’d enjoy this much.

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