Tres sunt autem linguae sacrae: Hebraea, Graeca, Latina, quae toto orbe maxime excellent.
But to interpret Scripture, to treat it independently, and to dispute with those who cite it incorrectly… that cannot be done without languages.
The Three Christian Languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Latin
Above the cross at Calvary Pontius Pilate placed a placard proclaiming in the three sacred languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, that Jesus Christ was the king of the Jews. At the Christian Language Center we make the study of the Bible and these three Christian languages central to everything we do. We created this website to help you do the same. Before the secularization of our culture, these languages were the foundation of a strong Christian education. Before the introduction of electives at Princeton in the 19th century, Greek and Hebrew were required subjects of study at every college and university. Before the university level, where all classes were conducted in Latin, all schooling focused on the acquisition of this required language. Throughout Christian history the great heroes of our faith, like Jerome, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and, more recently, C. S. Lewis, pursued an education that focused on the acquisition of the three languages.
These languages, besides training the mind, are of immense practical importance to the Christian. Imagine a week in the life of a believer. Sunday morning, a pastor says the word translated as “soon” in the book of Revelation would be rendered more accurately as “all at once” by the Greek. Monday afternoon, a Jehovah’s Witness knocks at the door and tells you the Greek grammar of John 1:1, θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, should be understood as “the Word was a god,” rather than “the Word was God.” During your Tuesday morning devotional, you read John 21:15-17 where Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”, but your English translation cannot distinguish between the different Greek words for love, φιλέω andἀγαπὰω (phileo and agape.) Driving home from work on Wednesday, a creation scientist on the Christian radio station says the Hebrew word for day, יוֹם (yom), can be understood as an age of time, and not simply a twenty-four hour period. While preparing for a Thursday-night Bible study on the book of Deuteronomy, you learn that, according to Matthew Henry’s commentary, when Moses writes, “Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is One!” commonly called the shema, the word translated “God,” אֶלֹהים(elohim), is plural, and indicates the plurality, i.e. trinity, within the unity of the Godhead. On the following evening at the mall with your kids, you stop into a bookstore, and comparing two English versions of the Bible, you notice that the translators consulted the Vulgate, Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible from the 4th century. In a study note, one of the Bibles mentions Erasmus of Rotterdam, a sixteenth-century reformer who worked on a translation of the New Testament from the original Greek, andwho took issue with Jerome’s translation of the Greek μετανοεῖτε with the Latin words paenitentiam agite (Mk. 3:2), upon which the Catholic church founded the sacrament of penance. On a lazy Saturday afternoon, you pull Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church off the shelf (you’ve intended to read this for many years, but find the eight-volume set a littleintimidating!), and notice on the title page under the author’s name the following Latin quotation: Christianus sum: Christiani nihil a me alienus puto. At the end of the week, how can the typical Christian layperson wade through the complexities of this information? How can a Christian avoid error and embrace the truth of the Bible, if so much of this truth seems to be built on languages he does not read or understand? Put simply, he can’t. That is why we parents need to equip our children with these languages.
The languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin are so finely woven into the tapestry of Christian culture and thought that they cannot be separated from our daily Christian lives. Most Christian adults realize the importance and relevance of these languages, but their busy lives and the perceived difficulty of the languages prevents them from acquiring them. However, what is impossible with man is possible with God (Lk. 18:27). The purpose of this website is to encourage parents to introduce the Christian languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to their children as early as possible, and thereby avoid some of the difficulties associated with their study later in life.
Children are incredibly receptive to language study, the perceived difficulties of the languages disappear for them, and their lives are already dedicated to their schooling anyway, so they have the necessary time. Your children, with no previous exposure to any of the Christian languages, can learn them with surprising ease. Let me give you an anecdote from my own family to illustrate the point. During the Christmas of 2006 we received some money from family members, which I spent on various Hebrew programs to review for this website. Previously, my children had no exposure to Hebrew, and as I said, my understanding of Hebrew was limited to one quarter in a distance-learning class, during which I mastered only the alphabet and some rudimentary principles of grammar. We began by allowing 15 minutes per day for Hebrew study, and we set the oldest four, ages 4, 7, 9, and 10, to work. They all began with Alef Bet Adventure, a computer program published by Davka, a Jewish software company. After three months of work, our four-year old daughter, Trinity, has almost mastered the consonantal alphabet, including the alternate endings (32 symbols in all.) She is currently working on צ (tsadi). Even our two-year old son, Christian, can recognize the first two letters, א and בּ (aleph and bet). He cracks my wife and I up with the enthusiasm with which he shouts “bet” when he sees his brothers and sisters studying Hebrew. The older three have graduated to a second program called Shalom Uvrachah Interactive, published by Behrman House Publishers. This is an electronic Hebrew primer that teaches a modest vocabulary and reading proficiency through 25 lessons. Calvin, age 7, is on lesson 14, which teachesתּוֹרָהּ (Torah, that is, the five books of Moses.) Sophia, age 9, is on lesson 15. Caleb, age 10, has completed all 25 lessons and reviewed them. After only three months, he can read any verse from the Hebrew Old Testament with correct pronunciation, although, of course, his vocabulary is very small (roughly 40 words) and he has not learned the principles of grammar. The next step for us is to find a Hebrew reader that will take him to the next step. With no previous Hebrew background, and spending only fifteen minutes per day, our children are learning Hebrew, and yours can too! You will be amazed at how receptive your children are to learning Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. In fact, the language hour during which they spend 15 minutes at each language (and the other 15 minutes playing the piano) is their favorite hour of the school day.
You can give your own children the biblical language skills of a typical seminary graduate. You can help your children discern for themselves the truth of the scriptures in the original languages. You can help your children see the holiness of the Father through the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the compassion of the Son through the Greek of the New Testament, and the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit through the Latin of the Church.
On this site you will find recommended materials and methods for teaching the three languages at home (see the links on the left). For the advanced student, we offer accredited classes in Latin. It is never too early (or too late) to begin the study of the Christian languages. Please know that you can do it. Please do not let a lack of education or confidence keep you from trying.
If you would like to share your successes (or failures) with the study of Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, please e-mail the firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have comments about the website, e-mail email@example.com.