My friend Paul Adams referred to a couple of posts by Gary Shogren on the use of Greek or Hebrew in sermons. The posts are excellent and should be read by every preacher who is tempted to liter his sermon with Greek and Hebrew references. I’ll give here one segment from his first post which I thought was especially good:

Let me close with a concrete example of a famous preacher, who every week it seems appeals to the Greek or Hebrew. With regard to John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” he comments:

The Greek word translated “another” may provide a helpful clue in understanding Jesus’ meaning in John 14. There are two Greek words frequently translated “another”: heteros and allos. Sometimes the biblical authors used those words interchangeably, but sometimes they used heteros to speak of another of a different kind and allos to speak of another of the same kind… Allos is the word Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit: “another [allos] Helper.” That could be His way of saying, “I am sending you One of exactly the same essence as Me.” He wasn’t sending just any helper, but One exactly like Himself with the same compassion, the same attributes of deity, and the same love for them. Jesus had been the disciples’ helper for three years. He had helped them, comforted them, and walked alongside them. Now they would have another Helper – One exactly like Jesus – to minister to them as He had.

What can we say about this?

First: Actually, Greek scholars say that the two words for “other” were differentiated in Classical Greek, but not the Greek of the time of Jesus.

Two: He says, correctly, that “Sometimes the biblical authors used them interchangeably,” or in other words, this might not apply here.

Three: He says, “This could be his way of saying, etc.” Could be? The proof seems slight.

Four: If the Holy Spirit is exactly like Jesus in compassion, deity and love, then these are truths that would have to be demonstrated from this and other passages; the word allos cannot in itself bear all this theological weight.

So, couldn’t a preacher make exactly the same point without all these extraneous data? Something like:

In John 14:16, Jesus says that “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever”. Notice that the Lord says “another Helper,” meaning that Jesus was a Helper and the Holy Spirit will be another Helper. This wasn’t just any helper, but like Jesus, he is God and he will treat them with the same compassion, love, patience and wisdom that Jesus did. And he would come not as a human being, limited to one space and time, but as Spirit living in each one of them, wherever they went. God would continue to guide and care for them.

With its clearer English, doesn’t this shed light, the same light, on the passage? Plus it avoids a lot of words the congregation doesn’t know and won’t remember and that really don’t advance their grasp of the Bible.

These posts are a remarkable example of sanity when it comes to the use of original languages in sermons. He wisely points out:

The f0llowing will sound harsh, but let’s think through what is going on when a pastor constantly “corrects” the English translation: someone who perhaps has had a couple of years of Greek or Hebrew classes, in effect is saying that he could translate the original better than did the editors of the ESV, the NIV, or whichever. To show why that’s a problem, let’s take as an example of how a modern version is produced: a colleague friend of mine was one of the translators for the New Living Translation. He is an expert on the original languages of 1 Samuel, and he and two other scholars of renown worked just on 1-2 Samuel. [3] There was then an editor for OT Historical Books, another for the Old Testament, then style editors, general editors, that is, about 100 people: all had lifetimes of highly specialized study, these experts of international standing who were invited to participate in the NLT project. And all of them were committed precisely to this goal: to render in understandable English that which the original languages say! They weren’t ignorant of alternative interpretations; they didn’t “leave out” shades of meaning; rather, they wrote the best that they could determine, what the original really said.

So well said. You can find part 1 here. Part 2 is here.