You are sitting in the pew on Sunday morning listening to the pastor talk about a Bible verse and all of a sudden he says, “The Greek word is ‘didaskolos.’” Why do preachers do that? Why do preachers like to bring up Greek and Hebrew?
The prophets and apostles did not write the Bible in English. Most of the Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew, the language of the Jews before they were taken captive by the Babylonians. Most of the New Testament was written in Greek, the common language of the Roman Empire in the days of the apostles. A few portions of the Bible were written in Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew that was probably the native language of Jesus and his disciples.
When studying the Bible it is helpful to remember all of our English Bibles are translations of another language. Unfortunately, whenever a text is translated from one language into another something is lost in the transmission of information. A word that is very precise in one language may not be able to be translated by an equally precise word in another. Emphasis communicated by grammar or word order in one language may not be easily communicated in another.
Many of those who study the Bible recognize the value of the additional information that can be learned by looking at the Greek or Hebrew words behind the English the translation. One example of this value is the different meanings of the Greek words translated “love” in English. One word emphasizes a deep commitment to another and the other word points towards a deep fondness for another. Neither of these concepts are easily translated into English, and are not clearly communicated by the word “love.”
A preacher will refer to the Greek or Hebrew when he wants to point out the significance of a meaning that is not immediately obvious in the English translation. This is not to imply the average reader cannot understand the Word of God. Instead, it shows that Scripture is understandable to modern readers. We can know what the original authors wrote and meant.
On a related note, modern technological tools make it easy for the Bible student to see the original text and the meanings of those ancient words. The most accessible of these tools is based on the concordance of James Strong. Smartphone apps like Olive Tree and YouVersion offer Bible translations with built in links to Strong’s Concordance. By tapping a word you can see the Greek or Hebrew word, the various ways it is translated into English and, most importantly, a basic definition of the Greek or Hebrew word.