Do You Need to Learn Hebrew and Greek? (WT 11/01/09)

by Midget-Sasquatch 34 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • quietlyleaving

    and if anyone does want to learn Greek, this looks like a good course - it does also promise to be a basis for learning Koine Greek

  • Chalam

    Clearly the WT do not want JWs to study any Hebrew or Greek least they uncover the WT's insidious tampering within the NWT.

    For all those who are not blindly convinced that the NWT is the "most accurate bible", here is an easy lesson in biblical Greek using the word for worship.


    Click on the links further down the page and see the verses where the word is used.

    Now compare with the NWT. Notice any difference with the translation of the word in the NWT where worship relates to Jesus compared to the Father?

    All the best,


  • Narkissos

    In a broadly "Protestant" culture (to which JWs belong historically) most people don't learn Hebrew and "Biblical" Greek like they learn Chinese or Latin. With the background of sola fide / sola scriptura the stakes are unusually high, and the motivations all the more complex. Inasmuch as "faith" is more or less equated with "doctrine" (fides quae creditur), "correct" belief is all-important, and theoretically it is everyone's responsibility to make sure s/he believes "right" -- since nobody, in principle, can rely either on outward authority such as church tradition or magisterium. From this perspective the language barrier stands between you and "God" or "the Truth" so to say. Or, more prosaically, between you and "power" (even of the most mediocre kind). The obsessional-type believer anxious to check he's "right," the ambitious wannabe teacher, the "rebel" questioning his established pastor/church/confession/translation, even the sceptic trying to get rid of belief or confirm his doubts, all need an immediate access to the "original" texts. Intellectual interest is rarely "pure" and "disinterested" (what a contradiction in terms) at the start, but often it outgrows and outlives the initial motivations (even what is perhaps the most common of all: the vanity of posing as an "intellectual").

    One remarkable difference between English/American (mostly Protestant) and French (mostly Catholic) cultures in this field is that the former is, logically, much less "elitist" than the latter. Since the late 19th century there are a number of tools in English to "play Bible scholar" without really learning and practicing the languages (e.g. Strong's numerical concordance and its many applications, transliterated lexica like Vine's) which had no equivalent in French until very recently. In the French-speaking sphere you were not expected to discuss Bible exegesis unless in academic circles, which implied adequate formal training. (Actually Protestant Germany was closer to French standards in this respect, which makes me think that it may have more to do with church-state separation and democracy than Protestantism per se.).

    From that perspective I think the WT article raises good questions in a highly ironical way. About motivations -- but what were the motivations of people like Russell, Rutherford or F.W. Franz playing "Bible scholars" with "a little knowledge"? About polysemy (Hebrew and Greek words can have a number of distinct "meanings" and "translations" from an English perspective) and its pitfalls -- practically all of which can be illustrated by a NWT rendering...

  • TD

    I remember the discourse when the original 1968 KIT was released and how the speaker extolled the virtues of actually learning Koine Greek. (As a side, I've never bet a JW that could pronouce that word...)

    The implication was that you could learn Greek from the KIT itself, which would have been a difficult task even for a genius on the order of Champollion, but that doesn't detract from the fact that JW's at one time were actually encouraged to study the source language.

  • Narkissos

    They even had a "scholarly" quote for that one (Awake! 7/22, 1980):

    When reviewing "The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures" for "The Classical Journal," Thomas N. Winter of the University of Nebraska observed:

    "An original Greek text for two dollars is something of a miracle, and it should not surprise us that it took a world-wide group of Bible students to pull it off. This is no ordinary interlinear: the integrity of the text is preserved, and the English which appears below it is simply the basic meaning of the Greek word. . . . A translation in smooth English appears in a slim column at the right-hand margin of the pages. . . . I think it is a legitimate and highly useful aid toward the mastery of koine (and classical) Greek. After examining a copy, I equipped several interested second-year Greek students with it as an auxiliary text. . . . After learning the proper pronunciations, a motivated student could probably learn koine Greek from this source alone.

    "The text is based on that of Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort (1881, repr.), but the translation by the anonymous committee is thoroughly up-to-date and consistently accurate. Where both the KingJames and the RevisedStandard, for instance, have ‘wise men’ for the Greek magoi (e.g., Matt. 2:1, 2:7, 2:16), the KingdomInterlinear has ‘astrologers,’ a more correct and informative rendition. The book has been very carefully compiled and printed.

    "In sum, when a Witness comes to the door, the classicist, Greek student, or Bible student alike would do well to bring him in and place an order."—April-May, 1974, pp. 375-376.

  • Leolaia

    To the question "Do You Need to Learn Hebrew and Greek?" I would have to add another question: "For what?" Learning the languages in depth is necessary for special advanced study but there is so much that can be learned just by comparing different translations in the case of the casual reader, and comparing different commentaries in the case of those wanting to sink their teeth a little deeper into the text.

    Exegetical commentaries are quite valuable because they explain verse by verse why the commentary's translation makes the decisions it does, and they show how the author(s) of the text in question develop their points, themes, narratives, etc. Some commentaries are written for the average layperson and some are more technical. Simply learning the language in a classroom setting does little to prepare one for the complexities of literary interpretation. As a JW, I felt so dissatisfied by the lack of depth in biblical commentary provided by the Society, and I was wowed by the riches furnished by such books. Comparing different commentaries gives one different perspectives and viewpoints of how to approach the same text. But that approach is mainly for those who want to broaden their horizons. It is not necessary to do this to gain a basic grasp on the text. But if one wants to go further, and perhaps better understand the arguments made in commentaries, then I would suggest learning something of the language and grammar, as it would certainly make reading the more technical commentaries easier. And then with some practice and experience, one can start to read the texts in their original language, at least in part. This can be rewarding in of itself, because then you can start to appreciate the subtlties of word order, rhythm, and so forth, and seeing how words used in different contexts can show the value of usage on meaning. But simply using different translations and seeing how the text is differently interpreted and translated is enough for someone who questions a given understanding to get a good start. And even with a decent knowledge of the language(s), there is so much ambiguity, uncertainty, and difficulty that one will still always want to see what other commentators have to say. This is particularly since translation inevitably creates new meaning of its own accord, so it helps to see what readings are best supported by the text and which are more problematic. This is especially of interest in studying the translation choices made in the NWT and the interpretive approaches the Society takes in its literature.

    Another thing one can do to broaden their horizons is to read some of the parabiblical literature, much of which is extant only in minority languages (such as Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Syriac, etc.) so that even the best scholars usually utilize translations per se (usually critical editions that provide a commentary with the text). Simply getting a reader of some of this material, such as the Old Testament pseudepigrapha and apocrypha, Josephus, the apostolic fathers, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and reading through it will do much to help understand how biblical texts fit into the larger picture and how themes only laconically touched on in "scripture" come into focus when one reads what others from the same period wrote about the same subject.

  • Midget-Sasquatch

    Some of the points made in that article do come across as reasonable to me, and to some degree, I'd have to say they are right in that just learning the basics wouldn't be enough. Of course, there's more to it, like context, but I'd be hard pressed to say that the Society never falls short in that respect.

    I fully agree with several posters that comparing different translations and commentaries would, in most cases, be just as useful to gaining a better understanding of the text, if not more so. Time much better spent for those of us who can find quality sources. I still have to question why the Society felt the need to address this question.

    I believe that, what Narkissos wrote about the general protestant fixation on correctly interpreting scripture, is catching up with the Society. They've drawn in a certain amount of believers who eagerly want to be able to "get at the true meaning". Its damaging to have these same people who've foregone "biased" translations, find even "poorer" instances of translating in the NWT. One immediate example that comes to mind is "for" vs "at" Babylon.

  • LouBelle

    I must say that the JWs are not always studying greek or hebrew - they rely on being spoon fed whatever is given them, as truth. In my own escape from the tower I made sure that I got a greek bible, a hebrew bible (they both had the english translated underneath) I had a greek dictionary and to give the JWs fair play had a copy of their greek new testiment.

    If you want to know the truth you need to put forth your own effort and actually do some research and not believe the vomit you're fed.

  • Chalam


    John 8:32 (New International Version)

    32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

    All the best,


  • TD

    On the plus side, one good thing that comes of studying highly inflected ancient languages like Greek or Latin is that a person is forced to give much more thought to the grammar of their own language.

    For example, I think the mindless, "Abstain from blood" mantra of the JW's and the semantic legerdemain behind it (i.e. Invoking a partial predicate apart from the context that completes it and treating it as an independent construction) would be far less viable if JW's understood the grammar of their own language a little better.

    We also saw an example here recently where a JW could not get it through their head that translators don't use the word "With" at 1 Thess 4:16 to show possesion; they use it to show accompanyment. --Another example where a better understanding of why translators make the word choices they do certainly would have helped

Share this