Not too long ago, I was helping my husband study for an exam. He’s in seminary, and we are hoping that he will finish his Master’s degree this year. The program requires him to take classes in both Greek and Hebrew.
I love to study languages, so I was initially excited about both courses. I knew the Greek alphabet based on the songs that my friends used to sing as they were pledging fraternities and sororities. So by the end of his first semester of Greek, I could read a few sentences.
Hebrew, on the other hand, is kicking my behind. I don’t get it. He just started the second semester and I cannot even identify the letters of the alphabet. I don’t know the letter sounds, and I can barely identify any of the vocabulary words. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
The way I struggle with Hebrew is how unbelievers view things of faith. It is nonsense to them to believe in an invisible all-knowing Creator. It is impossible for them to think of a virgin giving birth. I Corinthians 1:18 says the message of the cross is foolishness to those who don’t believe.
Inundating an unbeliever with scripture is like putting an untranslated Talmud in front of me. Not only is it just words on a page, but it will only serve to frustrate instead of educate.
The one thing that has helped me pick up a few Hebrew words is mnemonic devices. I substitute words and letters for things I already know. It helps me in translation. I think the same principle applies when sharing the Gospel.
In order to be able to translate the things of God, we must be able to first speak their language. We must be able to identify, and try to understand their own codes of conduct. Then, we can take the things that they are familiar with, and introduce similar ideas in the Bible.
When this semester is over, I will probably not need to look at any Hebrew ever again. Despite my initial struggles, there are at least a couple of words I can identify on sight. Also, my interest has been piqued. I picked up a couple of books about worship in Hebrew to try and understand Jewish worship services. Isn’t that the effect we want to have on the world?