Accordance Blog
Jun 22, 2017 Accordance Bible Software

Endorsement: Michael Miller

Michael Miller, a consultant with Wycliffe Bible Translators, discusses the value of Accordance Bible Software for exegetical work and Bible translation into other languages.

This video was filmed in November, 2016, in San Antonio, Texas, at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.


Jun 30, 2014 Richard Mansfield

Dig in Deep with New Releases

Four new Accordance releases
will help you Dig Deep
in your understanding of the Scriptures

Gospel Transformation

New! Gospel Transformation Bible Notes

Transformation: def. "a change in nature, disposition, heart, or character"

A Timely Study Bible with a Message that is Timeless

Designed to be transformational, The Gospel Transformation Bible Notes focus on heart transformation from the inside out, rather than mere behavior modification. Produced out of the conviction that the Bible is a unified message of God’s grace culminating in Jesus, The Gospel Transformation Bible Notes help readers see Christ in all of Scripture. Every text, seen in its redemptive context, is reflecting an aspect of humanity’s fallen condition that requires the grace of God.


  • Each book has helpful, in-depth Introductions as well as book and passage outlines.
  • Multiple cross references are included in the gospel-illuminating notes. A full topical index and daily Bible reading plan complete this work.
  • Written by a team of over 50 outstanding pastors and scholars, this specially prepared material has a message for all.
  • These notes are designed to be used with the ESV Bible; however, notes will sync with the Bible of your choice.
    GTSBClick on above image for a larger view.

Here's what others have said about The Gospel Transformation Bible:

“This is a seminary education packed into one book.” 
Justin Buzzard, Lead Pastor, Garden City Church, Silicon Valley; author, The Big Story

“This Bible wisely combines doctrine and devotion.” 
Andy Naselli, Assistant Professor, Bethlehem College and Seminary

Hear what the editors of this work say:

The Gospel Transformation Bible Notes

Buy Now 2

Biblical Exegesis Guides from Gordon Fee & Douglas Stewart

We are separated from the message of the Bible by time, culture and language. These three barriers create significant challenges for any pastor or Bible student who wants to responsibly take the original message of Scripture, properly understand it, and present it to a modern audience. Fortunately, two of the premier Evangelical standard treatments on exegesis have just been released for Accordance.

Fee-NT Exegesis New! New Testament Exegesis:
A Handbook for Students & Pastors
Author: Gordon Fee

Now in its third edition, Gordon Fee’s New Testament Exegesis is the Evangelical guide for going from the New Testament text to accurate exposition. Beginning with basic principles for writing a seminary or Bible college exegesis paper, Gordon Fee—Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada—takes the reader step-by-step through the process of exegesis. Attention is given to genre, historical context, grammar, and historical-cultural backgrounds.

It’s the method described here that is so extremely helpful, but this method does not have to end with a student’s graduation. It’s no great secret that the responsibilities and busy life of a pastor often lead to shortcuts when performing the exegetical task of preparing a sermon. Fee takes his method beyond the classroom straight to the pastor’s study.

In the section titled, “Short Guide for Sermon Exegesis,” the principles in the book are applied to sermon preparation. Acknowledging the pastor’s limited amount of time, Fee even offers suggested time allotments to each of the steps such as one hour for contextual questions, fifty minutes to examine the secondary literature, and forty minutes for application.

Click on above image for a larger view.

Whether you are a pastor preparing Sunday’s sermon or a seminary student writing an exegesis paper, this book is an indispensable guide.

New Testament Exegesis
A Handbook for Students & Pastors


Buy Now 2


Stuart-OT ExegesisNew! Old Testament Exegesis:
A Handbook for Students & Pastors

Author: Douglas Stuart

For over three decades, Douglas Stuart, Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has been helping pastors and students accurately exegete the Old Testament. Now in its fourth edition, Old Testament Exegesis is essential for responsible exposition of the Hebrew Bible, bridging the Ancient Near Eastern culture to our modern context.

Stuart’s 12-step method for exegesis will bring recovery from bad habits and sloppy hermeneutics. In fact, Stuart has an appendix describing frequent hermeneutical errors that alone might be worth regular review. And his “List of Common Old Testament Exegesis Terms” makes this title accessible even to the non-specialist. As with Fee’s book, Stuart also includes a section that applies his exegetical method to the pastor’s sermon.

Click on above image for a larger view.

Although there are some common principles between the two, both books together serve to give special attention to the nuances and distinctions of both biblical testaments. The reader will find both of these books extremely helpful because the authors use specific examples from the Bible to illustrate their steps. The reader will quickly discover that these books are not dry books detailing method. Rather, they are filled with real-world examples that allow the reader to learn more about the Bible, while learning how to learn more about the Bible!

Old Testament Exegesis
A Handbook for Students & Pastors


Buy Now 2

Treasury Enhanced New Edition of A timeless Classic!

New! Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Enhanced & Expanded Edition

Apart from the Bible itself and a great dictionary, the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Enhanced & Expanded is possibly the most valuable Bible study resource one can possess.

This edition of Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSKe) is newly enhanced and expanded. With over 288,000 more total references, plus additional reference headings and verses with reciprocals, this tool is a must-have in your Accordance library.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
Click above image for a larger view.

“…The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge enables one, not only to understand the Word, but to feed upon the Word.” R. A. Torrey



Feb 18, 2011 David Lang

Overcoming Blind Spots: Get Perspective with Commentaries

For the past several posts, I've been discussing how we can overcome our blind spots when it comes to reading the Bible. By "blind spots," I mean those things we gloss over or simply fail to see because of our preconceptions about what the text says. I've discussed how reading and comparing multiple translations can help to alert us to aspects of the text we might have missed, and I've compared The Message translation to a convex mirror which can bend our gaze so that we can see around our blind spots. Today, I want to talk about how commentaries help us overcome our blind spots by offering us a new perspective on the text.

The point of this post is really pretty self-evident. Of course a commentary can give you another perspective on a passage, because you're reading someone else's interpretation of that passage. What's more, because most commentaries interact with other interpretations, they actually help you to view your passage from multiple viewpoints. All those different perspectives will help you to see aspects of the text you might have missed because of some blind spot.

This is how commentaries are supposed to be used: to gain second opinions and other perspectives after you've first done the work of examining the text for yourself. Unfortunately, we are sometimes tempted to turn to a trusted commentary not to get a perspective on the text, but to get the perspective on the text. No matter how much we trust a particular commentary, we must be careful not to examine its perspective too quickly or to accept it uncritically. After all, even the most reliable and insightful commentator has his or her own blind spots, and we should be careful not to adopt those blind spots while trying to see past our own.

Over the past six months, I've been teaching my oldest son to drive. In teaching him to change lanes, I've talked him through checking the rearview mirrors and doing a head check, but there have also been times when I've craned my neck and told him the coast was clear. I've done that to help him when there's a lot of traffic and I know he's trying to remember to do several things at once, but I know that I can only do that in the early stages of teaching him to drive. Otherwise, he'll develop the dangerous habit of depending on someone else's perspective rather than learning to check his blind spots for himself.

Becoming too dependent on a commentary may not be as obviously life-threatening, but it will definitely limit your perspective on your passage of study. That's why it's best to consult commentaries toward the end of your study of a passage, after you've begun to develop your own interpretation of the text. That way, you begin to interact with the additional perspectives the commentaries provide, rather than merely adopting them as your own.

If you actually take this approach to using commentaries, it becomes much less important that the commentary be one you trust or which shares your own theological perspectives. I began this series of posts about blind spots by talking about how a commentary with which I largely disagreed helped me to see an aspect of Genesis 3 which I had always glossed over. Because I had already studied the passage for myself, I wasn't threatened by a different interpretation of that passage. I learned from what I found helpful and gave little credence to the parts I found too ideologically driven. Used in this way, even commentaries you strongly disagree with can be immensely helpful. In fact, it is sometimes the commentaries with which you most disagree that can be the most helpful in exposing your own blind spots.

By the way, if you're looking for help selecting a good commentary, Dr. J's recent podcast on Purchasing Commentaries offers a lot of helpful buying advice.


Feb 16, 2011 David Lang

Overcoming Blind Spots: The Convex Mirror Bible

For the past couple posts, I've been discussing how we can overcome our blind spots when it comes to reading the Bible. By "blind spots," I mean those things we gloss over or simply fail to see because of our preconceptions about what the text says. In my last post I discussed how reading and comparing multiple translations can help to alert us to aspects of the text we might have missed. Today, I want to talk about one particular translation which can help us overcome our blind spots.

On many cars these days, the driver side rearview mirror will include a small convex mirror. This convex mirror gives a distorted image, but it enables the driver to see things which would otherwise be in his blind spot. The translation I'm referring to is a bit like that convex mirror: it doesn't always give the most accurate look at the text, but it can for that very reason help us to see past our blind spots.

The translation I'm referring to is The Message, and if you're not familiar with it, it is an extremely "free" and idiomatic translation. For example, here's a verse chosen pretty much at random, in The Message and the ESV:


The Message takes some liberties with the text here. The Greek says that the disciples "wondered" or "marveled" at the fact that Jesus was talking with a woman, but The Message embellishes this by saying that they were "shocked" and that they "couldn't believe" he was talking with "that kind of a woman." Likewise, the Greek says that none of the disciples questioned Jesus, but says nothing about their faces showing their surprise.

Because The Message goes beyond the original texts like this, some people absolutely detest it. Others love it because it tries to communicate the emotional impact and drama which its original audience would have felt. It's certainly hard to deny that The Message's rendering of this verse grabs your attention more than that of most other translations.

Personally, I think The Message has its place, as long as it's not the only translation you read. Because of its idiosyncrasies, I tend to cringe when I hear it read in corporate worship services. I would prefer that a "more accurate" translation be used. Yet every time I read it or hear it read I find myself asking, "Wow, does it really say that?" I then feel compelled to examine that verse in other translations and in the original to see if The Message's rendering is legitimate or if I think it has gone too far.

This is exactly the kind of reaction The Message is designed to provoke. It is intentionally free and idiomatic in order to shake us out of the lethargy which results from our familiarity with the text. Like a convex mirror, it gives us a picture of the text which is not always completely straight, but it bends our gaze so that we can see around our blind spots.


Feb 15, 2011 David Lang

Overcoming Blind Spots: Compare Translations

In last Friday's post, I talked about how we sometimes have blind spots when it comes to reading the Bible. By "blind spots," I mean those things we gloss over or simply fail to see because of our preconceptions about what the text says. Over the next several posts, I want to talk about some ways we can overcome those blind spots.

In life, the only way to overcome a blind spot is to change your perspective. If you're driving a car, you make sure nothing is in your blind spot by quickly turning your head to see what you could not see in your rearview mirror. Some cars have special convex mirrors to show you what a flat mirror cannot. These days, high end vehicles are beginning to offer video cameras to augment mirrors. All of these methods essentially amount to a change in perspective so that you see that to which you were previously blind.

When studying the Bible, how can you adjust your perspective in order to see past the blind spots brought on by your preconceptions? One simple method is to compare multiple translations of the same passage. Once you've read the passage in your preferred translation, open one or more additional translations in parallel panes and see if they render the passage differently. Reading a less familiar translation often helps draw your attention to details you might have glossed over or missed before.

To add a translation in parallel, select it from the Add Pane pop-up

I recommend using at least one "formal" translation (like the ESV or NASB), and one more "dynamic" translation (like the NIV or NLT) to help highlight important differences. At the risk of greatly oversimplifying things, a formal translation is one which strives to remain as close as possible to the wording, grammar, and sentence structure of the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Dynamic translations, on the other hand, tend to focus on translating the meaning of the original into natural-sounding English. Think of formal translations as more or less word-for-word and dynamic translations as more or less thought-for-thought. Translators debate about which approach is best, and all translations fall somewhere along a continuum between these two approaches. Since Accordance enables you to view and compare both kinds of translation, you can benefit from each one's strengths.

For help comparing the differences between two translations, simply check the Compare Texts checkbox. Accordance will then highlight the differences between the first two texts of the same language.

To compare translation differences, just click the Compare Texts checkbox

If you have another pane containing a translation you would like to compare with one of the first two, simply drag that pane to the left so that it is one of the first two panes. The highlighting will update accordingly.

To highlight the differences with another translation, drag that translation to the left

Using multiple translations can help you overcome blind spots by helping you see aspects of the text you might otherwise have missed. In upcoming posts, I'll cover some other methods of overcoming blind spots.


Feb 11, 2011 David Lang

Overcoming Blind Spots

When I was in college, I read a feminist scholar's exegesis of Genesis 1-3 for a class I was taking. I've read this scholar a few times since, and have always found her to be a gifted exegete with the kind of literary acumen I've been discussing over the past few weeks. She tends to unpack the text in a way that helps you appreciate its literary artistry and see dimensions you might previously have missed. Unfortunately, she also self-consciously reinterprets these texts from the standpoint of her own ideology. Rather than merely correcting sexist or misogynist distortions of the text, she unapologetically seems to distort the text in the opposite direction.

For example, many traditional interpretations of Genesis 2-3 have vilified Eve (and women in general) while excusing Adam (and men in general). This scholar rightly corrects these distortions, but then goes on to vilify Adam and make Eve out to be something of a heroine. I would argue that the text condemns both Adam and Eve as complicit in the fall.

Because this scholar sometimes sets aside her undeniable exegetical skill to push her ideological agenda, I find reading her to be something of an uneven experience. One moment I am impressed with her insight into the text, and the next I am dismayed by her willingness to read into the text a viewpoint which strikes me as clearly foreign to it.

My point in telling you all this is not to critique this scholar's exegetical methods, but to relate how reading her work back in college taught me a valuable lesson about biblical exegesis: namely, to watch out for blind spots.

As I was working my way through this scholar's commentary on Genesis 1-3, I was surprised when I came to Genesis 3:6, which says that Eve gave the forbidden fruit to her husband "who was with her" and he ate. She made much of this phrase, using it to vilify Adam and to make Eve out to be some kind of Promethean figure. While I found her interpretation to go way beyond what could legitimately be derived from the text, I could not deny that I had always missed the fact that Adam was present with Eve during the serpent's dialogue with her. The idea that Adam was standing quietly by during this whole episode was undeniably damning, yet I had never heard anyone even mention it before. Strangest of all, I already knew the text said "with her," yet somehow, I had always pictured Adam being absent during the actual temptation.

I'm not sure why that is. I think my familiarity with the King James reading ("she ... gave also unto her husband with her") might have had something to do with it. Somehow, that magisterial phrasing made it sound like the text was saying "with her" in some general sense of living with her in the garden rather than in the specific sense of being present with her at the time of the temptation. My understanding may also have been colored by extra-biblical depictions like Hollywood movies I had seen or Milton's Paradise Lost, all of which show Adam as having been some distance away from Eve during her conversation with the serpent. Whatever the reason, I had always glossed over that phrase without fully accounting for it. I had a blind spot where that passage was concerned.

Even in an age of relative biblical illiteracy, the Bible is remarkably familiar to most of us. Its narratives are woven into the fabric of Western culture, its phrases are echoed in our idioms and clichés, the people it describes populate our artwork and movies. We all have preconceived notions and assumptions we bring to the Scriptures, and those can blind us to aspects of the text which don't fit our preconceptions. To overcome these blind spots, we need help to see the text with fresh eyes. In a series of upcoming posts, I'll discuss Bible study methods you can use to overcome your own blind spots.


Feb 1, 2011 David Lang

Deriving Your Sermon Outline from Scripture

Last night I demonstrated Accordance to a bunch of pastors at the Desiring God Pastor's Conference. Since I don't get too many opportunities to preach to pastors about sound exegetical method, I decided not to give a drink-from-the-firehouse-here's-everything-Accordance-can-do demonstration. Instead, I showed how you can use the tools in Accordance to exegete a particular passage. After a brief overview of the interface, I opened 2 Samuel 11—the story of David and Bathsheba—and began unpacking the text using a variety of Accordance tools.

I won't go into everything I did in that session, but my favorite part was showing how you can use Accordance's analysis and highlighting tools to identify repeated words and key themes in a passage. This was my favorite part because there are so many interesting motifs to explore in 2 Samuel 11, and each of those motifs can form the backbone of an expositional sermon.

For example, I began by highlighting all the words in 2 Samuel 11 related to washing. Obviously, David sees Bathsheba "bathing," and the text mentions that she was "purifying" herself from the ceremonial uncleanness resulting from her menstruation. Later in the passage, David tries to cover Bathsheba's pregnancy by enticing her husband to return home and "wash his feet"—that is, enjoy all the comforts of home, including his wife's companionship. Uriah, of course, refuses to return home. This motif of washing introduces a number of ironies. First, Bathsheba's "purification" becomes the stimulus for a far more significant loss of purity. Second, the one person in this story who doesn't "wash"—Uriah—is the only one who remains clean. As we say in the South, "That'll preach!" A good expositional sermon, therefore, could work through the implications of this washing motif in 2 Samuel 11, communicating both the author's literary artistry as well as a whole host of practical applications.

That, of course, is not the only literary motif in 2 Samuel 11. I went on to show how you could search for every word in 2 Samuel 11 (use the asterisk in word mode and define a range for 2 Samuel 11), then choose Analysis from the Details pop-up to get a list of all the words in the passage and the number of times they appear. Change the sort of the Analysis window from Alphabetical to Count Down and you'll see immediately which words are used most often in that passage.

A search for all words in a passage enables you to get a list of words ordered by frequency

Doing this reveals a number of interesting things:

First, David and Uriah are the two people mentioned most often, while Bathsheba is mentioned only once. Clearly, the author is more interested in contrasting these two men than in focusing on the woman with whom David committed adultery.

Second, the word "house" is repeated ten times in this single chapter. Do a search for "house" in 2 Samuel 11 and you see the contrast between David, who expanded his own house by pillaging Uriah's house, and Uriah, who remained faithful to build up the house of the king who had already betrayed him.

Finally, the word "sent" is also repeated numerous times in this passage. Examine that word, and you find that David, who is a man of action in almost every other passage, is constantly sending people to do his dirty work in 2 Samuel 11. The picture you get is of a man who is repeatedly manipulating things for his own benefit, rather than acting in service to the Lord or for the benefit of his people.

It should be easy to see how each of these motifs could form the outline of a good expositional sermon. For example, one could use the "house" motif in conjunction with Solomon's statement in Psalm 127:1 that "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." David resorts to ungodly means to build his own house, and it results in the judgment that "the sword shall never depart" from his house (2 Samuel 12:10). One could also point out that it was David's second son with Bathsheba who makes the observation about the LORD building a house, so that you could end your sermon on a redemptive note.

If an expositional sermon derives its central message and structure from the text itself, exploring the text's literary motifs and central themes provides a solid foundation upon which to build your sermon outline.


Jan 28, 2011 David Lang

Exposition Begins with Reading

Last week I wrote a couple of posts in which I said it is more important to read English well than to know Greek and Hebrew. I was, of course, deliberately being provocative by setting up a false dichotomy. It is not as if reading well is somehow incompatible with knowing Greek and Hebrew. My point was certainly not that Greek and Hebrew are unnecessary to good exegesis. Rather, it was that good exegesis begins with effective reading. If you know how to read texts well—a skill learned in one's native language—then you can easily apply that skill to reading the original languages. If, however, you lack that skill, learning Greek and Hebrew will not by itself make you a better exegete.

Now, it often happens that the process of learning the original languages can help develop literary acumen in those who had previously lacked it. Sometimes we learn our native language so intuitively that we never slow down to consider the ways in which communication takes place. In such cases, learning the grammar and syntax of Greek and Hebrew can help us to read our own language more intelligently. The best Greek and Hebrew teachers even encourage this. For example, I love the way Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek begins with English concepts and then relates those concepts to the Greek grammar being introduced. Mounce's text also includes "exegetical insights" which show how those grammatical concepts affect our understanding of specific Biblical passages. In doing this, Mounce helps to develop the kind of literary acumen I've been discussing.

However one acquires it, and whether one applies it to the Bible in translation or in the original languages, this literary acumen is essential to the task of exposition.

What is exposition? Here's a great explanation from John Stott’s Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century:

Whether it (the text) is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction, or falsification. In expository preaching, the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said.

Note the approaches to preaching which Stott contrasts with exposition. The first uses the text as "an introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme." Have you ever heard a sermon like that? The sermon may be wonderful, but at the end you find yourself wondering how what was said had any connection to the actual sermon text. The second approach uses the text as a "peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts." I saw that in a church my family visited when we first moved to a different town. The pastor preached for forty minutes from a powerful text in Ephesians, yet he only turned to the actual text twice during that entire time. In the end, the passage became nothing more than a peg on which he hung forty minutes of good advice. Although we liked a lot of things about the church, we never went back.

In contrast to these approaches, Stott holds up expository preaching which allows the text to control the message being preached. Put another way, an expository sermon draws its structure and message from the text itself. The expositor asks what the main point of a passage is and then seeks to make that the main point of the sermon. The expositor asks how the text communicates that message and then organizes his points and subpoints along those same lines. As Darrell Johnson puts it in The Glory of Preaching:

expository preaching is not about getting a message out of the text; it is about inviting people into the text so that the text can do what only the text can do.

If exposition involves inviting people into the text of Scripture, enabling them to read it for themselves with greater clarity and engagement, then it stands to reason that exposition must begin with reading. Unless the expositor knows how to read the text for himself with clarity and engagement, he cannot hope to help others do the same.

With Accordance, it is ridiculously easy to branch out from the text to dig into all kinds of helpful tools and study aids, but all of that digging must come after a unified reading of the text—even multiple readings. Otherwise, genuine exposition becomes impossible. If you want to avoid obscuring the text of the Bible with a "ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts," develop the discipline of reading the text as the first step to meaningful exposition.


Jan 21, 2011 David Lang

Not Dissected, but Digested

Yesterday I waxed philosophical about how it is more important to read English well than to know Greek and Hebrew. My point, in brief, was that the best exegetes are those with literary acumen and a firm grasp of how people communicate through the spoken and written word. That skill is developed in one's native language and, once acquired, can easily be applied to the original languages. Conversely, no amount of learning in Greek or Hebrew can overcome the lack of that skill.

If we are to exegete the Scriptures well, we need to be deliberate in our efforts to slow down and really read the text, not merely so we can cull it for the information it contains, but so that we can develop a full-orbed understanding of its meaning. Unfortunately, the many helps we have available to us can actually get in the way of such efforts.

It is ironic that every tool created to aid in Bible study can actually interfere with the process of exegesis. When verse numbers were added to the text, they made it much easier to locate specific passages, but they also broke up the text in such a way that we sometimes read Biblical passages as a series of self-contained units rather than as continuous narratives. Concordances enabled us to find passages that contained a specific word, but they also made it easier to wrench those verses out of context. And, of course, Bible software is both the best and the worst in this regard. Programs like Accordance place a wealth of information at your fingertips, but all of that information can actually distract you from really reading the text.

We take those dangers seriously, and we've tried to design the Accordance interface in such a way that the text of the Bible always remains your central focus. All of Accordance's many resources are a click away through the Resource palette, and the menu bar and contextual menus contain a whole host of options, but we do our best not to hit you over the head with all the bells and whistles. We want you to turn to those bells and whistles when they're needed; not to be distracted by them when they're not.

We've also tried to facilitate reading the text by offering unparalleled control over the text's appearance. You can hide verse references and footnote markers to remove distractions, format the text as paragraphs or separate verses, control the leading, background color, text color, and more. These options have all been added to facilitate your interaction with the text. Over time, we'll be bringing more of these display options over to Accordance for iOS as well.

Finally, we've got some cool options to help facilitate reading whole passages rather than isolated verses. One is the auto-scrolling feature that slowly scrolls the text like a teleprompter. Another is the ability to select text and click the Speak button in order to have the text read aloud. Using either of these features can help you see or hear things in the text you might otherwise have missed.

Great exegesis begins with reading a passage as it was meant to be read, not as a disjointed series of verses, but as a continuous narrative with a coherent message. The text of the Bible is not just meant to be dissected, but to be digested.


Jan 20, 2011 David Lang

Better to Read English than Greek or Hebrew

Yesterday I talked a little about what a gifted interpreter John Calvin was. I've often pondered just what it is that sets apart the really great exegetes. In my opinion, the best exegetes are not necessarily those who have the greatest expertise in the original languages, although such knowledge certainly helps. Rather, I think the best exegetes are those who have the greatest literary acumen. In other words, the best interpreters are those who understand how to read written texts and grasp their meaning through the literary clues they contain. That skill is developed first by grasping one's native tongue and understanding how people communicate through speech and the written word. Once acquired, that skill is easily applied to texts of other languages. On the other hand, those who never learn to read well cannot seem to overcome that deficiency no matter how well they learn the original languages. That's why I say it is better to be able to read English well than to know Greek or Hebrew.

Now, that doesn't mean that I don't think there is great value in learning Greek and Hebrew. There certainly is. But I have known people who learn the languages almost like they would learn a mathematical formula. They can tell you with seemingly scientific precision what kind of genitive this is or what a given tense indicates, yet their interpretations often seem strained and artificial. That is especially true when they're dealing with texts which do not fit neatly into a set of grammatical rules. If they have no intuitive sense of how native speakers sometimes bend grammatical rules, play with language, and take verbal shortcuts, they can unwittingly impose a meaning on the text which is not actually there.

This is not just true of those who learn Greek and Hebrew. I saw the same thing in some of the English literature classes I took in college. You could sometimes identify students who were actually majoring in English by their very vocal attempts to read symbolic meanings into the poems and narratives we were studying. They were trying so hard to be insightful that at times they completely misread the texts. Worse still, I had at least one professor who never bothered to correct such misunderstandings! It made me wonder how well he understood the texts himself. (Come to think of it, that was the last English class I took in college!)

In his book, Why Johnny Can't Preach, T. David Gordon argues that much poor preaching stems from the fact that people today are not in the habit of reading and understanding literary texts. Having never developed the literary acumen I've been discussing in this post, they tend to scan texts for the information they contain without much view to the ways in which those texts communicate meaning. "Exposition," he bemoans, "Is therefore virtually a lost art."

In the end, great exegesis is more art than science, and the greatest exegetes are those with the best grasp of the artistry of human language. Learning Greek and Hebrew is a great boon to the exegete, but without a clear sense for how people communicate, knowledge of the languages will only take you so far. Conversely, those with literary acumen can make better use of the original languages than those without it. Again, that's why I say it is more important to be able to read English well than to know Greek or Hebrew.

What does all this have to do with Accordance? I'll discuss that in my next post.