Friday, October 16, 2009

If I'd Only Known . . .

Too bad I didn't know about this before I invested time and money into years of graduate school studying the Bible in the original languages.

Biblical Language Library, 4 Volumes
Hendrickson Publishers / Hardcover

Product Description

If you're serious about studying Scripture in its original language, then this is the resource you need! Four classic references are coded to Strong's numbering system, so you don't have to know Hebrew or Greek. All you need is yourStrong's Concordance. Set includes The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, The Englishman's Hebrew Concordance, The Englishman's Greek Concordance, and Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon. Hardcovers, from Hendrickson.
All you need is BDB, Thayer's, and Strong's Concordance! Wow! If I'd only known . . .
This reminds me of another question that I've been musing about this week.
Who makes a better interpreter of the Bible? The scholar who's invested years in formal education in biblical studies or the good-intentioned average layperson with no formal training, a set of the Biblical Language Library, and the "illumination" of the Holy Spirit every time they crack open the Word?
Hmm . . . that's a tougher question than I thought. Does the illumination of the Spirit trump formal education? Those of you lacking in formal education will say yes. Those of us with the training will say no. "Illumination" strikes me as a form of special pleading where those in a community of faith can exempt their interpretations from the scrutiny of those who don't share them. It could also be used to claim authority and privilege interpretations that are otherwise not acceptable in academic circles.
Amateurs acting like they're experts or arguing with experts. That's just one of my pet peeves.
"Self-taught, no lessons. Thank you very much, Pop." (from The Wedding Singer)
Update: My honest question pet peeve makes me an elitist according to Nick. -Sigh-


  1. I think that when the Spirit's illumination of Scriptural truth is employed as a means to excuse the hard work of exegesis, that's person's interpretation, while it may be right, loses favor, especially with those who are dissatisfied with an unfounded interpretation.

  2. Doug, no, your being elitist makes you an elitist. It's okay though, you're certainly not alone. But don't act as if all this post contained was an honest question. If that was the case you could have done without the mention of your pet peeve and the sarcastic comments concerning CBD's Biblical Language Library. ;-)

  3. You're right, Nick. I knew my comments would probably get a reaction. I just can't help but shake my head in disbelief when I see comments like that marketing copy at CBD - You have Strong's, "so you don't have to know Hebrew or Greek." I'm sorry, but knowing how to use a concordance and a dictionary is NOT a substitute for really knowing Hebrew and Greek.

    On the other hand, I'm not so elitist to think that ONLY people who read Hebrew and Greek and have had years of formal biblical studies training should be allowed to interpret the Bible. Depending on the audience, the original languages are not necessary, and the results of critical scholarship add a level of ambiguity that the average faithful churchgoer is uncomfortable with.

  4. A man who belongs to the people to whom the Bible-books were given, written to, and meant for. And which man interprets these books in accordance with the traditional understanding of that people. If we wouldn't be talking about the Bible, but about other sacred books (like the Qur'an, or the Pali Canon) wouldn't You do exactly what I described?

  5. Lucian, what I've gathered from your first sentence is that the best interpreter of the Bible will be from the original intended audience.

    Sadly, the communities of Ancient Israel and Second Temple Judaism no longer exist. So your second sentence indicates that anyone interpreting in line with the traditions of those communities would be better. Nothing resembling a "traditional understanding" exists in the interpretations of those times. The traditions of classical Judaism and early Christianity came around hundreds of years after the Bible was written.

    I'm not sure exactly what your meaning is with your third sentence. I guess it's "would I apply the same distinction to any sacred texts?" The answer is yes. But the Bible is somewhat unique in having both a religious community that feels empowered to interpret the text on its own AND a scholarly discipline devoted to the same text.

  6. Jason, I agree, and that's what really bothers me-using "illumination" as an excuse for not really working hard at exegesis.

    I think it's possible for laypeople to be taught some proper methods for exegesis, even if they don't know the original languages. I've found Fee and Stuart's book How To Read The Bible For All It's Worth excellent for that task.

  7. This is an unfortunate ad. There is so much more to the languages than just knowing all the potential glosses of a Hebrew or Greek word. Concordances cannot teach the peculiarities of Greek and Hebrew syntax which make the selection of one gloss over another more reliable. Unfortunately, this kind of advertisement perpetuates the myth that translation is just a matter of learning vocabulary and plugging it in to its appropriate spot. Meaning is communicated at the level of discourse. This ad. sadly encourages a false confidence in one's ability when they've not put the work in. It also could lead to a scornful attitude toward those who have put the time in and claim (legitimately) a better understanding of the original.

  8. Daniel, I agree completely. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Familiarity with the original languages does not equal familiarity with the text. For example, someone who has dedicate themself to the study of Isaiah and has studied the text in English for twenty years will probably have me beat even though I can read it pretty well in Hebrew. However, I don't put any faith in "illumination" outside of serious study, in the original or in the vernacular.

  10. It's unfortunate that this issue has as its context a long tradition of tension between scholarly training in dealing with text and warmhearted acceptance of Scripture.

    Does anyone really think that study of biblical languages doesn't help interpretation of the Bible? Does anyone really deny that much academic treatment of the Bible has seriously hindered reading and understanding the Bible (regardless of what you think of the truth claims of the Bible)?

    The link that Doug provided to Nick's brief post about elitism adds another wrinkle. People don't like to be disenfranchised in our egalitarian, do-it-yourself age. Part of that is deeply wholesome, but there is potentially a wrongheaded side to it. The answer to educated arrogance is not ignorant arrogance, but rather humility. I've met people who can interpret the Bible better than I can in many social settings, both academic and confessional. Some of those interpreters were scholarly readers of original languages, some had only and English Bible. I appreciate the visceral reaction when people object to having their Bible taken away from them, but equating access to the Bible with built-in ability to interpret just doesn't work (in any context).

    Jim Getz's comment is really insightful in this respect. All of these tools are meant to get at the task of reading and interpreting the Bible.

    Best wishes to you as you read your Bible, however you can get at it.