Every once in a while, I run across a quote that I want to remember. I love it when people share quotes that have inspired them, so I decided to share a few that have inspired me! This page will be the “dumping ground” for any quotes about learning Greek and Hebrew that I come across, so check back once in a while to read the latest ones! (See the footnotes at the end of each quote for sources.)
Which thinge onlye moved me to translate the new testament. Because I had perceaved by experyence, how that it was impossible to stablysh the laye people in any truth, excepte the scripture were playnly layde before their eyes in their mother tonge, that they might se the processe, ordre and meaninge of the texte: for els what so ever truth is taught them, these ennymyes of all truth qwench it ageyne, partly with the smoke of their bottomlesse pytte wherof thou readest apocalipfis ix. that is, with apparent reasons of sophistrye & traditions of their awne makynge, sounded with out grounde of scripture, and partely in jugglinge with the texte, expoundinge it in soch a sense as is impossible to gether of the texte, if thou see the processe ordre and meaninge therof.1— William Tyndale
Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered. Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or some thing to draw with: or as that person mentioned by Isaiah, to whom when a sealed book was delivered, with this motion, Read this, I pray thee, he was fain to make this answer, I cannot, for it is sealed.2— “Translators’ Preface to the Reader” from the 1611 KJV Bible
Latin scholarship, however elaborate, is maimed and reduced by half without Greek. For whereas we Latins have but a few small streams, a few muddy pools, the Greeks possess crystal-clear springs and rivers that run with gold. I can see what utter madness it is even to put a finger on that part of theology which is specially concerned with the mysteries of the faith unless one is furnished with the equipment of Greek as well, since the translators of Scripture, in their scrupulous manner of construing the text, offer such literal versions of Greek idioms that no one ignorant of that language could grasp even the primary, or, as our own theologians call it, literal, meaning.3— Desiderius Erasmus
It was not for empty fame or childish pleasure that in my youth I grasped at the polite literature of the ancients, and by late hours gained some slight mastery of Greek and Latin. It has been my cherished wish to cleanse the Lord’s temple of barbarous ignorance, and to adorn it with treasures brought from afar, such as may kindle in hearts a warm love for the Scriptures.4— Desiderius Erasmus
In so far as we love the Gospel, to that extent let us study the ancient tongues. And let us notice that without the knowledge of the languages we can scarcely preserve the Gospel. Languages are the sheath which hides the sword of the Spirit, they are the chest in which this jewel is enclosed, the goblet holding this draught.— Martin Luther
So although the Faith and the Gospel may be proclaimed by preachers without the knowledge of languages, the preaching will be feeble and ineffective. But where the languages are studied, the proclamation will be fresh and powerful, the Scriptures will be searched, and the Faith will be constantly rediscovered through ever new words and deeds. 5
Because someone has the gift of languages and understands them, that does not enable him to turn one into the other and to translate well. Translating is a special grace and gift of God.6— Martin Luther
In translating the book of Job, Master Philip, Aurogallus and I have taken such pains that we have sometimes scarcely translated three lines in four days. Now that it has been translated into German and completed, all can read and criticize it. The reader can now run his eyes over three or four pages without stumbling once, never knowing what rocks and clods had once lain where he now travels as over a smoothly-planed board. We had to sweat and toil there before we got those boulders and clods out of the way, so that one could go along so nicely. The plowing goes well in a field that has been cleared. But nobody wants the task of digging out the rocks and stumps. There is no such thing as earning the world’s thanks. Even God himself cannot earn thanks, not with the sun, nor with heaven and earth, nor even the death of his Son. The world simply is and remains as it is, in the devil’s name, because it will not be anything else.7— Martin Luther
I would not have preachers in their sermons use Hebrew, Greek, or foreign languages, for in the church we ought to speak as we use to do at home, the plain mother tongue, which every one is acquainted with. It may be allowed in courtiers, lawyers, advocates, etc., to use quaint, curious words. Doctor Staupitz is a very learned man, yet he is a very irksome preacher; and the people had rather hear a plain brother preach, that delivers his words simply to their understanding, than he. In churches no praising or extolling should be sought after. St Paul never used such high and stately words, as Demosthenes and Cicero did, but he spake, properly and plainly, words which signified and showed high and stately matters, and he did well.8— Martin Luther
Cursed are all preachers that in the church aim at high and hard things, and, neglecting the saving health of the poor unlearned people, seek their own honor and praise, and therewith to please one or two ambitious persons… When they come to me, to Melancthon, to Dr. Palmer, etc., let them show their cunning, how learned they be; they shall well put to their trumps. But to sprinkle out Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, in their public sermons, savors merely of show, according with neither time nor place.9— Martin Luther
Young divines ought to study Hebrew, to the end that they may be able to compare Greek and Hebrew words together, and discern their properties, nature and strength.10— Martin Luther
Since it becomes Christians then to make good use of the Holy Scriptures as their one and only book and it is a sin and a shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God, it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor–yes, almost without any labor at all–can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame! Yes, how sternly God will judge our lethargy and ingratitude!11— Martin Luther
“I have undertaken to translate the Bible into German. This was good for me; otherwise I might have died in the mistaken notion that I was a learned fellow.” 12— Martin Luther
The Hebrew language is the best language of all … If I were younger I would want to— Martin Luther
learn this language, because no one can really understand the Scriptures without it. For
although the New Testament is written in Greek, it is full of Hebraisms and Hebrew
expressions. It has therefore been aptly said that the Hebrews drink from the spring, the
Greeks from the stream that flows from it, and the Latins from a downstream pool.13
“All right,” you say again, “suppose we do have schools; what is the use of teaching Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and the other liberal arts? We could just as well use German for teaching the Bible and God’s word, which is enough for our salvation.” I reply, Alas! I am only too well aware that we Germans must always be and remain brutes and stupid beasts, as the neighboring nations call us, epithets which we richly deserve. But I wonder why we never ask, “What is the use of silks, wine, spices, and other strange foreign wares when we ourselves have in Germany wine, grain, wool, flax, wood, and stone not only in quantities sufficient for our needs, but also of the best and choicest quality for our glory and ornament?” Languages and the arts, which can do us no harm, but are actually a greater ornament, profit, glory, and benefit, both for the understanding of Holy Scripture and the conduct of temporal government–these we despise. But foreign wares, which are neither necessary nor useful, and in addition strip us down to a mere skeleton–these we cannot do without. Are not we Germans justly dubbed fools and beasts?14— Martin Luther
Here belongs also what St. Paul calls for in I Corinthians 14, namely, that in the Christian church all teachings must be judged. For this a knowledge of the language is needful above all else. The preacher or teacher can expound the Bible from beginning to end as he pleases, accurately or inaccurately, if there is no one there to judge whether he is doing it right or wrong. But in order to judge, one must have a knowledge of the languages; it cannot be done in any other way. Therefore, although faith and the gospel may indeed be proclaimed by simple preachers without a knowledge of languages, such preaching is flat and tame; people finally become weary and bored with it, and it falls to the ground. But where the preacher is versed in the languages, there is a freshness and vigor in his preaching, Scripture is treated in its entirety, and faith finds itself constantly renewed by a continual variety of words and illustrations. Hence, Psalm 129 likens such scriptural studies to a hunt, saying to the deer God opens the dense forests; and Psalm 1 likens them to a tree with a plentiful supply of water, whose leaves are always green.15— Martin Luther
Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretense? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?16— John Wesley
I first came across this quote in a video of Dr. Plummer speaking at a linguistics conference:
But since the Bible is written in part in Hebrew and in part in Greek . . . we drink from the stream of both—we must learn these languages, unless we want to be “silent” persons as theologians. Once we understand the significance and the weight of the words, the true meaning of Scripture will light up for us as the midday sun. Only if we have clearly understood the language will we clearly understand the content if we put our minds to the [Greek and Hebrew] sources, we will begin to understand Christ rightly.17— Philip Melanchthon
Those who advise inexperienced young students, training for ministry, not to study the languages ought to have their tongues cut off.18— Philip Melanchthon
I now studied much, about twelve hours a day, chiefly Hebrew; commenced Chaldee; perfected myself in reading the German-Jewish in Rabbinic characters, committed portions of the Hebrew Old Testament to memory, &c.; and this I did with prayer, often falling on my knees, leaving my books for a little, that I might seek the Lord’s blessing, and also, that I might be kept from that spiritual deadness, which is so frequently the result of much study. I looked up to the Lord even whilst turning over the leaves of my Hebrew dictionary, asking His help, that I might quickly find the words.19— George Müller (Mueller)
(In a letter “To a Student in Divinity”)
The original Scriptures well deserve your pains, and will richly repay them. There is doubtless a beauty, fulness, and spirit, in the originals, which the best translations do not always express. When a word or phrase admits of various senses, the translators can only preserve one; and it is not to be supposed, unless they were perfectly under the influence of the same infallible Spirit, that they should always prefer the best. Only be upon your guard, lest you should be tempted to think, that because you are master of the grammatical construction, and can tell the several acceptations of the words in the best authors, you are therefore and thereby master of the spiritual sense likewise. This you must derive from your experimental knowledge and the influence and teaching of the Spirit of God.20— John Newton
The Greek New Testament is the New Testament. All else is translation. Jesus speaks to us out of every page of the Greek. Many of his ipsissima verba are here preserved for us, for our Lord often spoke in Greek. To get these words of Jesus it is worth while to plow through any grammar and to keep on to the end.21— A. T. Robertson
…It is not possible to reproduce the delicate turns of thought, the nuances of language, in translation. The freshness of the strawberry cannot be preserved in any extract. 22— A. T. Robertson
The trouble with all translations is that one’s mind does not pause long enough over a passage to get the full benefit of the truth contained in it. The Greek compels one to pause over each word long enough for it to fertilize the mind with its rich and fructifying energy. The very words of the English become so familiar that they slip through the mind too easily. One needs to know his English Bible just that way, much of it by heart, so that it will come readily to hand for comfort and for service. But the minute study called for by the Greek opens up unexpected treasures that surprise and delight the soul.23— A. T. Robertson
The most perfect vehicle of human speech thus far devised by man is the Greek. English comes next, but Greek outranks it. The chief treasure in the Greek language is the New Testament. Homer and Thucydides and Aeschylus and Plato all take a rank below Paul and John and Luke. The cultural and spiritual worth of the Greek New Testament is beyond all computation. In the Renaissance the world woke up with the Greek Testament in its hands. It still stands before the open pages of this greatest of all books in wonder and in rapture as the pages continue to reveal God in the face of Jesus Christ.24— A. T. Robertson
The more a theologian detaches himself from the basic Hebrew and Greek text of Holy Scripture, the more he detaches himself from the source of real theology! And real theology is the foundation of a fruitful and blessed ministry.25— Heinrich Bitzer
We opened our books at Iliad, Book 1. Without a word of introduction Knock read aloud the first twenty lines or so in the “new” pronunciation, which I had never heard before….He then translated, with a few, a very few explanations, about a hundred lines. I had never seen a classical author taken in such large gulps before. When he had finished he handed me over Crusius’ Lexicon and, having told me to go through again as much as he had done, left the room. It seems an odd method of teaching, but it worked. At first I could travel only a very short way along the trail he had blazed, but every day I could travel further. Presently I could travel the whole way. Then I could go a line or two beyond his furthest North. Then it became a kind of game to see how far beyond. He appeared at this stage to value speed more than absolute accuracy. The great gain was that I very soon became able to understand a great deal without (even mentally) translating it; I was beginning to think in Greek. That is the great Rubicon to cross in learning any language. Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and who then substitute the English word for it, are not reading the Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle. The very formula, “Naus means a ship,” is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind Naus, as behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding.26— C. S. Lewis
Another result when pastors do not study the Bible in Greek and Hebrew is that they, and their churches with them, tend to become second-handers. The harder it is for us to get at the original meaning of the Bible, the more we will revert to the secondary literature. For— John Piper
one thing it is easier to read. It also gives us a superficial glow that we are “keeping up” on things. And it provides us with ideas and insights which we can’t dig out of the original for ourselves. We may impress one another for a while by dropping the name of the latest book we’ve read, but secondhand food will not sustain and deepen our people’s faith and holiness.27
[In a forum discussion about Greek “adverbial” participles:]— Robert Crowe
I have occasion to meet keen biblical students who are loath to learn Greek. They have it on hearsay the language is ambiguous. The reasoning appears to be that God spoke ambiguously in Greek and then invented English to speak more clearly. Participles are surely culprits here—they introduce concision at the expense of clarity.
I love them.28
I shall end with a more modern quote from Daniel Wallace:
To those who are thinking about committing their lives to a lifetime of service in the Church, and especially to a ministry of the Word, I urge you to take the high road. Don’t shortchange your education and don’t shortchange your flock. Log time—significant time—learning the languages. Go to a seminary that is strong in Greek and Hebrew. And when you get into ministry after your theological education, do not measure the success of the church by the size of the congregation but by its depth of devotion to Christ and the Word.29— Daniel B. Wallace
- William Tyndale, The Pentateuch, (Antwerp: Hans Luft, 1530), 2. (For modern English, see David Daniell, Tyndale’s Old Testament: Being the Pentateuch of 1530, Joshua to 2 Chronicles of 1537, and Jonah, (London: Yale University Press, 1992), 4.)
- “Translators’ Preface to the Reader” from King James Bible (Authorized Version, 1611). (Click here to see a scan of the original 1611 Bible with the text of this quote in its original spelling.)
- Desiderius Erasmus, The Correspondence of Erasmus: Letters, 142 to 297, (University of Toronto Press, 1975), pg. 25.
- This quote is a paraphrase from: Desiderius Erasmus, Enchiridion militis Christiani, (Fides Publishers, 1962), pg. 159.
(H/T: Christopher Reese. See also this translation from the Online Library of Liberty.)
- Martin Luther, quoted by Jean Héring in The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, tr. A.W. Heathcote and P.J. Allcock (London, 1962), p. vi
- Quoted in: Ewald M. Plass, This is Luther: A Character Study, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1984), 333. — Also quoted in Laurie J. White, King Alfred’s English: A History of the Language We Speak and Why We Should Be Glad We Do, (Covington, GA: The Shorter Word Press, 2009), 107.
- Martin Luther. Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen und Summarien über die Psalmen und Ursachen des Dolmetschens. Mit einem Anhang ausgewählter Selbstzeugnisse und übersetzungsproben (Halle/Saale: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1968).
This English translation by Michael D. Marlowe, June 2003.
- Martin Luther, Table Talk, “Of Preachers and Preaching,” tr. William Hazlitt, (Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society), pg. 166.
- Martin Luther, Table Talk, “Of Preachers and Preaching,” tr. William Hazlitt, (Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society), pg. 171.
- Martin Luther, Table Talk, “Of Preachers and Preaching,” tr. William Hazlitt, (Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society), pg. 172.
- Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, ed. W. Brandt and H. Lehman (Philadelphia Muhlenberg Press, 1962), 357-66.
- Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, Vol. 1, (Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 105.
- Martin Luther, Table Talk, quoted in Pinshas E. Lapide, Hebrew in the Church, trans. Errol F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984.)
- Franklin Verzelius Newton Painter, Luther on Education, (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1889), 183.
- Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, ed. W. Brandt and H. Lehman (Philadelphia Muhlenberg Press, 1962), 357-66.
- John Wesley, The works of the Rev. John Wesley, vol. X, (Bristol, 1772), pg. 142.
- Melanchthon’s inaugural address on “The Reform of the Education of Youth” (1518) quoted in Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed., The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants, new ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 59.
- Quoted by Daniel B. Wallace in “The Battle Cry of the Reformation and the Surrender of Greek and Hebrew“.
- George Müller, A narrative of some of the Lord’s dealings with G. Müller. Written by himself, 3rd ed. (London: J. Nisbet, 1845) 43-44.
- John Newton, The Works of the Rev. J. Newton, Vol. 1, (New York: Williams & Whiting, 1810), 118-119.
- Archibald Thomas Robertson, A grammar of the Greek New Testament in the light of historical research, 3rd ed., (Hodder & Stoughton: 1919), pg. xix.
- Archibald Thomas Robertson, The Minister And His Greek New Testament, (Biblical Library: 1923), pg. 9.
- Archibald Thomas Robertson, The Minister And His Greek New Testament, (Biblical Library: 1923), pg. 11.
- Archibald Thomas Robertson, The Minister And His Greek New Testament, (Biblical Library: 1923), pg. 16.
- Heinrich Bitzer, ed., Light on the Path: Daily Scripture Readings in Hebrew and Greek (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), 10.
As quoted in John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2013), 99.
- Clive Staples Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, Chapter IX (The Great Knock).
- John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2013), 100.
- Robert Crowe, “Are adverbial participles only nominative?” www.ibiblio.org.
- Daniel B. Wallace, “The Battle Cry of the Reformation and the Surrender of Greek and Hebrew,” Sept. 18, 2018, www.danielbwallace.com.