One of the great joys of my life is reading and studying the scriptures in their original languages. Sometimes I worry that people will get the idea I think this is cool or important simply because I have the capacity to do it, whereas the opposite is the case: I first concluded it was important to read the scriptures in the languages of their composition, and then went to the (considerable) trouble to learn those languages.
Before my mission, I had at best some sort of vague awareness that the scriptures hadn’t actually been composed in the English I was reading in my KJV, but I’m not at all confident I could have actually identified the original languages they had been written in. My interest in those languages didn’t begin to flower until my mission.
Early in my mission I attended a “Know Your Religion” fireside given by C. Wilfred Griggs. When he read from the NT, he read from the Greek text, translating on the fly. (I later would realize that the maroon volume he was using was the UBS Greek edition.) I thought that was tremendously cool and interesting.
I also got sick of reading some passage and having an investigator tell me that wasn’t the import of the passagge in the “original Greek.” Having to discuss the Bible with a lot of Christians, who were very concerned about translation issues and the import of the original languages, caused me to gain a similar interest. I concluded that if I were going to spend the rest of my life studying the scriptures, that it would be worth it to spend a few years on the front end actually learning the languages first to facilitate such study.
My companion told me about Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, and at first I didn’t even believe him that such a book existed. Our old missionary bibles had a “concordance” in the back, which was just a sort of index; I could scarcely fathom that there was a book that listed (virtually) every word in the Bible with a string of context! I bought a copy of this magical book, and soon found the Hebrew and Greek dictionaries in the back, keyed to each word with numbers so that one could use them without actually knowing the language itself (these days people tend to use these tools on their computers; for me it was a big, heavy book I schlepped around on transfers). I also bought a Berlitz Hebrew self-reader. Even though it was Modern Hebrew, it was a start.
I taught myself the alphabets (I already pretty much knew the Greek alphabet from my boyhood interest in astronomy), and then as I read the scriptures I began to look up and learn interesting theological vocabulary; words like episkopos (bishop), presbuteros (elder) diakonos (deacon), ekklesia (assembly, church), and so forth.
Later at BYU I had the opportunity to actually take classes in these languages and learn them in a more formal way. I took Biblical Hebrew from the late Keith Meservey, who had studied under Albright at Johns Hopkins and was terrific, and I actually studied classical Greek, which turned out to be a wonderful base for being able to read the simpler Koine Greek of the New Testament.
Professionally I am an attorney, and I have no need for biblical languages in my work. But I wouldn’t trade the experience or the knowledge I’ve gained from beating my head against those languages for anything. Knowing them really makes the scriptures spring to life and makes them so very fun and interesting to me; that knowledge is a gift that I treasure. If anyone is thinking about whether to make the effort, it is something I would highly recommend.