The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (with a few portions in a related language called Aramaic). The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Despite many modern translations that faithfully represent the original languages of Scripture, no translation can capture every nuance of the original words of Scripture. So knowing Hebrew and Greek (or at least some of their words and verbal patterns) can prove helpful when studying the Bible.
How can knowing Greek and Hebrew be helpful when studying the Bible?
For example, in English verbs have tense (such as past, present, and future tenses—sat, sit, will sit). In Greek, verbs also include aspect, which means that, in addition to an action being past, present, or future, an action can be either complete or incomplete. This verbal aspect is sometimes not clearly communicated in translation. Those who study the Greek text can therefore gain additional insights into details of the New Testament that a translation cannot provide.
Another example can be found in the use of poetry. Rhyming words in Hebrew cannot be seen in English. Psalm 119 provides a clear example. As the longest chapter in the Bible, each stanza of its text begins with one letter of the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet. Each stanza includes eight verses all beginning with the same Hebrew letter. None of these features can be observed easily in English. However, the original language likely included these features both for ease of memorization as well as for poetic beauty.
Studying the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible can be useful in interpreting controversial or difficult portions of Scripture. This helps in promoting healthy teaching as well as to defend against false or unhealthy teaching. Jude 1:3 teaches, "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Jude considered accurate teaching so important that he stopped his plans to write about salvation in order to address the topic.
A person can read and learn much from the Bible in a translation. Scripture is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and the Holy Spirit provides Christians with wisdom and insight into God's word (John 16:13). However, knowledge of the original languages of the Bible can facilitate a greater understanding of the Scriptures. Knowing the nuances of the original languages can deepen our appreciation of God's Word as well as help in determining the meaning of controversial passages. While knowledge of Hebrew and Greek is certainly not necessary to understanding the Bible, it can be a beneficial tool.
Why should we study the Bible?
Inductive Bible study – What is it?
Is the Bible still relevant today?
Should the Bible be interpreted literally?
I want to start reading the Bible. Where should I begin?
Truth about the Bible