Haunting Words from Wesley on Original Languages

One of my 2013 resolutions is to brush up on my Greek. These words from Wesley continue to haunt me when I’m negligent of the original text and lazily depend on commentators. It’s impossible to do exegesis apart from some functional competence in the original language. Inductive Bible Study from a good literal English translation can bear much fruit, but even then, much is still lost in translation.

“Do I understand Greek and Hebrew? Otherwise, how can I undertake, as every Minister does, not only to explain books which are written therein but to defend them against all opponents? Am I not at the mercy of everyone who does understand, or even pretends to understand, the original? For which way can I confute his pretense? Do I understand the language of the Old Testament? critically? at all? Can I read into English one of David’s Psalms, or even the first chapter of Genesis? Do I understand the language of the New Testament? Am I a critical master of it? Have I enough of it even to read into English the first chapter of St. Luke? If not, how many years did I spend at school? How many at the University? And what was I doing all those years? Ought not shame to cover my face?”

— John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” in Works X:491.

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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