About Hebrew and Greek in the Bible

thePsalmist on March 8th, 2009

Shock news: The Bible wasn’t originally written in English! I know, it’s amazing news isn’t it! *rolleyes*

The Old Testament was by and large written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews and of Israel. The New Testament was primarily written in Greek, the language of, er, well Greeks!

However, in both cases the forms of Hebrew and Greek used are more akin to our Shakespearean English than the modern day versions of either language. So if you were to learn how to speak Biblical Hebrew or Biblical Greek and went on holiday to either Israel or Greece, and tried out your new found linguistic skill, you might get a few funny looks.

I’m not a great linguistic scholar. In fact I’m not even really a mediocre one. I’m just a beginner, although I have been beginning for about 12 years now! However, the original languages of the Bible for me are something wonderful and beautiful – and also for serious Bible study something quite necessary. If all we use is our English translations then mostly that’s fine, but if you want to make absolutely sure that you’re thinking clearly about God’s word then it is often necessary to check back with the ancient languages a particular verse or passage was written in. It’s not something every Christian needs to do, but for some of us it is a joyful pursuit.

On this blog I will occassionally quote a Hebrew or Greek word or phrase if there’s something important there for us to think about. I’m not going to chuck Hebrew and Greek around willy nilly to impress you with my vast brilliance, for it would take you very little time to see right through that game. No, I will use them simply because I love the ancient languages and want to remind us all of the heritage of the Bible if nothing else. We do need to remember that God’s word is without error in the original language it was first written down in, not necessarily in the english translations which have since been created.

So what do Hebrew and Greek look like? Well, here’s the first verse of Psalm 19 in it’s original form. You read Hebrew from right to left (in other words, you start at the far end of the line and read backwards along the sentence to the left hand side of the page).

Psalm 19:1:

הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד־אֵל וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ:

And for greek I’ve chosen John 3:16. Greek you read in the same way as you read English, left to right:

John 3:16: Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

Anyway, a quick note to give credit to those who make this possible. I use Logos Bible software for all my Bible study work. In Logos I can quickly switch to a Hebrew or Greek version of the Bible and simply copy and paste from there. It makes life very easy for me and happily WordPress (the software I use for this blog) appears to accept the foreign language texts perfectly well.
So there’s very little magic involved, and I hope that you enjoy the inclusion of these ancient and beautiful languages throughout this blog. Don’t worry if you can’t read the text itself. I’ll always explain alongside, or provide a pop up link for an english translation (as on this page) courtesy of Logos Bible Software’s Reftagger plugin.
May God bless you as you read His word!

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