Some Knowledge of Hebrew Possible to All: Old Testament Exposition and the “Hebraica Veritas” -- By: Stephen J. Andrews

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 13:1 (Fall 1995)
Article: Some Knowledge of Hebrew Possible to All: Old Testament Exposition and the “Hebraica Veritas”
Author: Stephen J. Andrews


Some Knowledge of Hebrew Possible to All:
Old Testament Exposition and the
“Hebraica Veritas”

Stephen J. Andrews

Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina

William Roberston Nicoll, the famous expositor of the Greek New Testament, wrote to a colleague in 1903, “What good is Hebrew to the majority of our ministers?”1 Of course, Nicoll was probably not the first to ask such a question, and as long as seminaries continue to require Biblical Hebrew in their theological curriculum, he will definitely not be the last. Whether first or last, however, Nicoll’s question certainly deserves an answer.

Why Study Hebrew?

But how shall we answer Nicoll? Why should ministers study Hebrew? According to W. L. Michel, Christian interpreters who understand the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament must read it in Hebrew.2 After all, the Old Testament was originally written in this ancient Semitic language,3 and anyone who wishes to comprehend its multifaceted treasures must learn “to listen, first of all, to the Hebrew text and hear what it has to say in its own context.4

Interpreting the Old Testament for preaching requires an accurate understanding of the text. Before this can be achieved, however, a careful analysis of the text must be done, and since the Reformation, biblical scholars have generally understood this essential task to involve exegesis of the original Hebrew.5 Since ministers are called to preach and teach the Old Testament, it follows naturally that they must first learn the language the Rabbis called לשׂזן הקדשׁ (leson haqqodes), “the holy tongue.” Thus, for the minister, a knowledge of Hebrew is necessary because it opens up the only truly reliable interpretive window upon the text of the Old Testament.6

Nevertheless, not all ministers have found this “obvious” answer so compelling in the busy arena of practical ministry. In 1988 several pastors were asked to participate in a discussion group conducted by Bethel Theological Seminary on the use of Greek and Hebrew in the pastoral ministry.7 Their conclusions raised once again the spectre of Nicoll’s question:

The view was expressed that Gr...

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