The Case for Modern Pronunciation of Biblical Languages -- By: Gary G. Cohen

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 05:2 (Fall 1984)
Article: The Case for Modern Pronunciation of Biblical Languages
Author: Gary G. Cohen

The Case for Modern Pronunciation
of Biblical Languages

Gary G. Cohen

C. Norman Sellers

In the majority of Christian educational institutions today artificial pronunciations for NT Greek and OT Hebrew are used—often attempts at a recreation of the true ancient sounds. However, Modern Greek and Modern Hebrew voicings are in reality the most effective ways to teach these ancient biblical tongues. This is especially so because within the last forty years (a) audio-visual teaching aids have become available so that NT Greek can be taught as a living language, and (b) OT Hebrew is actually living again in Israel and can now be mastered with a new thoroughness. One difficulty is that the current generation of teachers was trained in theolder pronunciations themselves and are thus hesitant to make such a change.

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Every foreign language offers unique learning experiences to those who study it. Often these experiences are only indirectly related to the actual study of the language and include the understanding and appreciation of their cultures, modes of thinking, and a general broadening of intellectual horizons.

Students of NT Greek sometimes encounter statements such as “Say something in Greek,” which are often the cause for some embarrassment and bring into focus certain problems with pedagogical methodology often used in the study of ancient foreign languages. How to respond to such a request is particularly a problem for the student of NT Greek or OT Hebrew. The student might decline by explaining that NT Greek is studied only for translation purposes, not for conversation. But this sounds strange to anyone acquainted with the study of modern foreign languages, and one must wonder about a teaching method which prepares a student to verbalize little more than a list of words from his grammar book or the Greek NT, to say nothing of auditory comprehension or composition.

And it is not only the Greek student who is at a verbal or auditory loss. Even after years of working with the language, and after having mastered the translation and exegesis of the NT, many Greek scholars would be incapable of communicating on the streets of Athens on the basis of their NT Greek knowledge alone.

This raises several serious questions: Have the scholars of biblical languages always been content with translation alone? Have they always neglected the learning of the language in a way that would enable them to communicate with native speakers so as to benefit from the native intuition of usage and syntax?

And what about students of biblical Hebrew? Is it not possible t...

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