By Tavis Bohlinger with Mark Ward
Recently, gifted pastor/scholar Andrew King caused a stir when he published an article in which he argued, “Don’t Bring Your Greek or Hebrew Bible to Corporate Worship.”
I wish to make the opposite case: we should be encouraging students, lay leaders, language hobbyists, and precocious children in the church to bring their BHS’s and GNT’s (or Original Language Bibles) to church.
I’m going to address two arguments put forth by my no-Original-Language-Bibles-at-church friends: the Competency and Arrogance arguments.
The Competency Argument
Typically, the argument is the reverse: “you don’t know the languages well enough yet to use them properly.” Well, exactly. So bring your OL Bible everywhere. And I mean, literally, everywhere. That’s the advice I was given in seminary, and it worked. I had my bulky Biblia Sacra Editio Hebraica et Graeca with me for morning devotions, on my commute, walking the halls of my seminary, sitting at lunch, with me at church, next to me at the park, open before bed.
A little background here: around the time I started playing football (the real, American version) in 8th grade, I read an article in Sports Illustrated about Michael Jordan, and how he would always, always, always have a basketball with him as a kid. Everywhere he went, he would just dribble, dribble, dribble. So I carried a football with me everywhere I went, always holding it, passing it, cradling it. That paid dividends for my high school and college football career.
So I did the same with my OL Bible. It’s now a beat up thing, with an added pleather cover, writing all throughout, and the wear and tear of now a full decade of use. My goal was to imbibe Scripture in its original form in every conceivable situation where reading, even briefly, might be possible. Whether on the bus or at church, I slowly chewed on the Scriptures in the original languages word by word, and then phrase by phrase, and eventually paragraph by paragraph, and now chapter by chapter (and even a whole book on occasion).
Why would I keep my OL Bible with me everywhere except church?
The Arrogance Argument
Perhaps the most powerful argument put forth by my Anti-OL-Bible-in-Church friends is that your use of a Greek or Hebrew (read: superior) version of the Scriptures might be motivated by arrogance or even simply appear to be arrogant without your intending it.
This is a possibility, God help us—so using Hebrew and Greek in Logos on your mobile device may be the solution.
But I think the better argument is actually the reverse. Your use of the Scriptures in their original languages, in and amongst the gathered body of saints, will be an encouragement and delight to them!
A few years ago, I was approached by an elderly gentleman after a Sunday service who had noticed my OL Bible during the service. I could tell that he was very eager to talk. We had an extended conversation regarding an obscure passage in Romans. Turns out he was a lay leader in a different church, who had been studying the languages on his own for years. We both left that conversation encouraged by our mutual love for the Word, and for the challenge of reading that Word in Hebrew and Greek. That man is now a dear friend and confidant, and our meeting would not have happened if I had simply used the pew Bibles.
If you pulled back from every endeavor that might make you “better” that somebody else, then you wouldn’t ever do anything except sin. And remember, those poor saints in the pew behind you (you’re eagerly sitting up front, right?!) have mastered things in their lives—from actuarial tables to canine dentistry—that far surpass any achievements you will make with the languages.
Be humble, student, yes—but don’t let a false humility stop you from bringing your football everywhere.
Why not say this to yourself?
“I’m going to ensure that my motivation is right before the Lord and then act upon it.”
Here’s how that works out in practice, step by step:
- In the morning before church, I prepare my heart in prayer to the Lord that he would help me to understand the words before me in Scripture, that he would remove all pride from my heart, that he would grant me wisdom if/when asked questions by others, and that he would enable me to worship him in purity of heart before, during, and after the service.
- When I arrive at church, I hold my Bible like everybody else does—instead of holding it at just the right angle so others can see the fancy gold inset, Novum Testamentum Graece (or instead of doing some pregame work and covering it up with duct tape or get it bound in fancy leather = another potential source of pride).
- During the Scripture readings, read your OL Bible like anybody else. If your neighbor/wife/child has trouble finding the passage, place your Bible down on the pew/seat/floor and love your neighbor by holding the English translation open for them.
- During the sermon, keep a notebook handy or use the margins in your OL Bible to write down questions that come to mind, generated by the content of the sermon itself. This will keep you in the sermon and not wandering down parsing rabbit holes; save the latter for later.
- When you get home, spend time with your family. Then, if you get a few minutes, read the passage again with better understanding, due both to the exposure to the basic text in church, and to the exposition of the text by the preacher
The Love Argument
This is ultimately what it comes down to: love. People who love the praise of others more than the praise of God (1 Cor 4:5) will do their righteous deeds—including reading Hebrew and Greek in church—for the wrong reasons. And Jesus said, in what is a truly biting (and truly true) remark, they will have their reward.
Don’t let those people (even if you have been that person in the past!) stop you from bringing your OL Bible to church. Instead, let your love for God and his Word and your love for your neighbor motivate you to bring that Bible. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Your OL Bible should be your constant companion in corporate worship. And bring it everywhere else too. Read it daily, imprint the words on your brain, and live your life coram Deo for the sake of Christ and his church.
Tavis Bohlinger (PhD, Durham University) is Managing Editor of the Logos Academic Blog.
Mark Ward (PhD, Bob Jones University) is an academic editor at Lexham Press. He writes frequently on Bible study for Faithlife blogs and magazines and is the host of the Bible Study Magazine Podcast. He is the author of Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible (Lexham Press) and blogs at By Faith We Understand.