Must a person know Greek and Hebrew to interpret the Bible?
First and foremost, the Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture to believers in Jesus. We have the ability to understand the text of Scripture as we read. The Holy Spirit gives us understanding of God’s Word. He can explain to us the plain meaning of Scripture and give us insight into the deeper things of God.
Because the Bible was written in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek it is helpful to know the languages. But translators and scholars provide a ton of resources, many of them going into Greek and Hebrew for you. You can use commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias, lexicons, and so forth.
Many of these resources do not require knowledge of Greek and Hebrew as far as learning the language. If you know Greek and Hebrew you will be able to navigate these resources even faster. Knowing Greek and Hebrew helps you understand the meanings of the words the writers of the Bible used in their time. It opens the door for the Holy Spirit to give you even more insight.
After all, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. Any tools you use without knowing the languages will help you to understand what’s happening in the text. But knowing the languages means you don’t need as many of these resources as you study.
The Bible can be understood and interpreted without the original languages. God makes his Word available to us. But anytime you read an English version of the Bible you are reading something that a translator or interpreter already is giving you interpretation of.
If I want to read something written in another language, and I use an English translation of it, I am relying on the scholarship of that translator and the group of translators who put the book together.
But if I understand the original language I am making my own interpretive and translation moves. For instance, I don’t need someone else to tell me with this original preposition or verb was. I can see for myself and interpreted according to my knowledge of the language.
If you don’t know the original languages you are placing trust in the scholars you are using to read and interpret the text of Scripture. This isn’t a bad thing. But the more you know the original languages the more you can rely on your own interpretation.
Other scholars and people who have studied the Bible can provide major insights that you cannot see even if you know Greek and Hebrew. But you will also notice the Holy Spirit showing you connections other scholars have not made.
Knowing the languages will not help you make connections to other parts of Scripture. As you take a bigger picture looking at whatever passage you study, knowing the language is only takes you so far. Interpretation requires understanding how this passage fits into the rest of Scripture.
The languages won’t help you with your study of literary context, historical context, theological context, and a host of other studies that help you interpret what you read. They will help you within your passage to notice connections between clauses and sentences. Perhaps a word used in the passage you study shows up in another passage you may not have made the topical connection with.
So while the languages will help you with some things in your study they won’t help you with everything. Always pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you as you study the Word. He can use every tool and resource to show you even more meaning and interpretation of what you read.