Biblical Languages and Bible Software

Today’s post is by guest-author Brayden Brookshier. Brayden is the Head of Publishing for Sermon To Book. He is involved in various biblical teaching ministries in San Diego, California. Brayden is the author of The Dawn of New Creation: Exploring the Christian Hope as Told by Revelation.

Every church staff needs pastor-theologians who know how to navigate the Bible in its original language and context. The study of biblical languages is essential for expositors and scholars. With the rise of Bible software programs, seminary students now have the single most efficient tool in their study of Greek, Hebrew, and beyond.

Right now I am working through a Greek exegetical course on Mark 1–8. It is taxing, yet rewarding. Logos Bible Software has been a massive help to me in furthering my study of the Bible academically, pastorally, and even personally. However, as amazing as Bible software is (and I can sing its praises all day!) it can also be a detriment to the student who has just been introduced to the biblical languages. Bible software is a tool, but a tool is only as useful as it is in the hands of a knowledgeable user. Furthermore, a tool can be a weapon if used improperly. Imagine someone using a jackhammer for the first time in a kitchen full of fragile objects. Yikes!

Logos Bible Software is a great tool when you cannot tell for certain what a word is or you want to simply check your parsing. But like the jackhammer in the hands of an amateur, it can be enabling and even misleading towards someone who is new to the biblical languages. It is so tempting to use it as a cheat sheet in translation—which shouldn’t be done unless absolutely necessary. Even if you are not using it during a test, you are cheating yourself by having Logos (or any other Bible software) check the parsing of every word as you translate. How can your brain internalize the paradigms if you are never testing your memory to recall the information?

Languages are fluid and full of nuances. There are rules to grammar of all languages, but there is also flexibility and exceptions. If we are not aware of these we can easily pigeonhole meanings of aspect or words to the point of inaccuracy. Bible software will point out what a word is, but it won’t necessarily tell you how it is functioning in that clause or interacting with the other words around it.

Biblical languages have syntactical categories. Identifying a word as being in the present tense is one thing, but what category of present is it? Gnomic present? Historic present, or one of the others? I have yet to see Bible software that is able to identify the syntactical category of a word’s tense, voice, or mood. On top of that, syntactical categories are some times debated, making this something that isn’t always black and white. Learning about this helps you become informed of interpretive decisions and positions. This is content that Bible software cannot do for you; this is exegetical work and it takes effort! These are only a few of the reasons.

Considering the fluidity of language, the syntactical categories involved, and the literary styles of different biblical authors we open ourselves up to a text more fascinating than we could have imagined versus simply reading a translation.

You may be wondering, “why go through the painstaking labor of learning a new language if our English translations are good?” I like to explain it this way:  Imagine watching your favorite football team play on a modern HD TV with its replays, multiple angles, color, close ups, sound, and detail. Now, imagine going back and watching it on a TV from the 60’s, with the black and white color, the lack of camera angles, lack of pixel clarity, and overall quality. Surely the final score will read the same when watching it on both TV’s, but one will give you a much more informed experience (and enjoyable one at that!).

Studying the Bible in the original languages is like that comparison. There are angles, dynamics, alliteration, literary features, parallels, and so much more to appreciate versus merely reading a preferred English translation. As much as we insist in getting pastors and seminary students into the cultural world of the Bible, we ought to get them into the literary world of the Bible too. There is much to explore, and fiddling with the features of even the best Bible software cannot do this. There is no substitute to learning the biblical languages. Not even Logos can replace that.

With all of this said, I would like to praise the usefulness of Bible software in how efficiently books and resources can be searched to find the relevant information. Being able to read pertinent entries and articles on Greek and Hebrew words without the hassle of flipping through countless pages is something I am grateful for. All in all, Bible software is a great tool, but it should never replace the time and hard work of learning the biblical languages from a trusted individual or institution.

Jonathan Watson

Jonathan Watson