One of the major problems with seminary study of Biblical languages is that it is often short term and shallow. The seminarian, required to take a certain number of hours or just get by a particular test focuses all his efforts to getting past the hurdle. Precious few such students ever gain a real facility with the language. Some will have an exaggerated view of their own skills based on that study, but most will abandon what they have learned. Others will pop Greek and Hebrew words on their congregations, normally gleaned from commentaries and various articles of, often of questionable validity.
In general, when you hear a pastor say “what the Greek really says,” prepare to be deceived. Not intentionally–the preacher really believes he knows, but actually he is probably missing the point. I have heard sermons in which the Greek word was completely wrong because the preacher simply provided the wrong Greek word. At other times, the error was one of context, when the preacher used a definition for a Greek word that was valid in some context, but not in the particular context in question. In one case, I heard a speaker recite the “real Greek” of a verse in four words. The only problem was that the verse was not, as he claimed, four words long in Greek, and not one of the four Greek words he used were actually in the verse he cited. I could just barely tell I was looking at the right verse based on the interpretation.
I have a book in my library from the infamous Dr. Floyd Jones of KJV-Only fame. In the front of the book, on a page titled “TO THE READER – THE SOUNDING OF AN ALARM,” he cites a number of Hebrew words from Isaiah 14:12, in which he is giving the alarm regarding mistranslation. He should, however, be giving the alarm about his disastrous ignorance of Hebrew. I count no less than 8 errors in Hebrew in the course of a single paragraph. Now the KJV-Only position is so discredited that one might wonder why I bother to mention it. The reason is that most of the errors noted in that paragraph appear to result from the use of an interlinear in order to find the Hebrew form that is cited. Transliterations don’t match the Hebrew, though the translations match in the way an interlinear would.
In both KJV-Only debates and discussion with lay “experts,” I have also encountered work done from Strong’s concordance. While it is more difficult to work with Strong’s than with an interlinear, it is even easier to be in error. Strong’s definitions are often out of date, and in fact they are generally not definitions at all but rather lists of glosses. I once was presented with a possible translation of a Hebrew text in which not a single word was translated correctly. On careful examination, however, every single word was translated by some word from Strong’s, and what was more, the resulting sentence was comprehensible in English though a bit stilted. It simply had no relationship to the meaning of the source text in Hebrew.
We’ve probably heard that “to err is human, to really foul things up requires a computer.” Well, enter Logos Bible software, now with reverse interlinears (HT: Metacatholic–I recommend you read his entire post). Now don’t get me wrong. I own Logos with all the Biblical languages extensions I can get my hands on. But many wonderful tools have potentially bad uses.
When a student uses tools that allow him to look up words more quickly so as to cover more ground in reading that’s a good thing. One way to actually gain facility in a foreign language is to work with it. Many students plow through one or two verses at a time and never go beyond that. They become specialists in individual leaves on individual trees, but they have no sense of how Greek or Hebrew reads or feels. Tools such as reader’s lexicons–works that give glosses by verses–can be very useful for rapid reading. But they don’t teach you Greek. Neither do interlinears, and neither do reverse interlinears. (Everything I say here about Greek is equally applicable to Hebrew.
I have to discipline myself to spend time reading without the tools to prevent dependence. Especially in reading the Septuagint, I like to go into Logos so that I can quickly look up some of the words that I don’t know from my New Testament reading. But to really dig in and learn the material, I need to read without those tools from time to time. Now I have taken an different approach from the normal seminarian (whoever that may be!). I started in Biblical languages as an undergraduate. I had several years of Greek before I got to Seminary. I had three years of Hebrew. I actually read the passages I use when I prepare sermons first from the original languages. I use all the Logos tools constantly–except for anything resembling an interlinear. That is something I won’t do to myself.
The writer of the post on the Logos blog bemoans the passing of original languages requirements in seminaries. But I would suggest that it will not be an improvement if people who are not competent with Biblical languages start substituting their judgment for that of the trained translation committees and reviewers that produce our modern English versions.