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Found in translation: the Bible uncovered

According to Julian Thompson, there is nothing like reading the Bible in its original languages. He uncovers the truth about learning Hebrew, saying the reward is greater than the challenge.

I teach two Hebrew modules: Introduction to Hebrew and Intermediate Hebrew. We begin with Alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and take students to a point where they have the tools to read and translate most passages in the Hebrew Bible.

Studying ancient languages such as Hebrew helps us better understand the Bible and appreciate those nuances that can so easily be lost in translation. For example, one word can have many different meanings in Hebrew, but you would not be aware of that reading an English translation.

Take a word like ḥesed, for example; it is used in that well-known passage in Exodus 34:6 where God reveals himself to Moses. In the King James Version of the Bible, it is translated as ‘goodness’, in the New American Standard Bible as ‘lovingkindness’, and in the New Revised Standard Version as ‘steadfast love’. It has such a wide semantic range that it is challenging to find a comparable expression in English.

Hebrew is a beautiful language, and learning it shapes how we read both the Old and New Testaments. When we learn to read Hebrew and come to appreciate its rhythm, repetition and style, a whole new world opens up to us. We come to see that biblical texts do not always mean what we think they are saying, our biases and preconceptions are questioned, and we learn to think more deeply about God and the world around us.

At Newbold, the biblical languages Hebrew and Greek are seen as cognates, supporting all three study pathways offered by the Centre for Ministry and Mission: Pastoral Studies, Biblical Studies, and Systematic Theology. Studying Hebrew, Greek, or indeed any ancient language is demanding; however, the reward is far greater than the challenge.

There is nothing like reading the Bible in its original languages. It will surprise you, it will make you think but most of all, if you embrace the learning process, it will provide a fulfilling richness that makes the world of the Bible come alive in ways that you may never have thought possible.

Cover photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

Julian Thompson Profile Photo

Julian Thompson MA, DPhil (Cand.)

Lecturer in Old Testament

Julian Thompson is a lecturer in Old Testament at Newbold and a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford. He is an ordained pastor who served as Religious Editor for Adventist Radio London and spent seven years in full-time ministry before becoming a lecturer at Newbold.

Connect with Julian directly at: [email protected]

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