Why Pastors Should Study Biblical Languages

In John 19:30, Jesus utters one of His final statements, “It is finished.” The Son of God who took on flesh had lived a sinless life. Yet, instead of receiving the reward He rightly deserved, He chose to go to the cross of Calvary. He took the penalty of your sins and mine upon Himself. He died the death that we all deserved.

It is finished.

Just at face value, this news should be enough to bring us to a state of awe. However, the past event of the death of Christ is only the beginning of what the Gospel of John is attempting to communicate to its readers. The original Greek word used in the text is tetelestai, meaning “to bring to perfection.” Our English translations tell us that Jesus fully completed the work that God the Father sent Him to do. However, the Greek word articulates something even more!

The Greek verb tetelestai is in the “perfect” tense. The perfect tense describes an action that was fully completed in the past but also has present-day consequences. The word tetelestai is meant to communicate to us that Christ’s death did not just impact lives when it happened in the past around 2,000 years ago. Christ’s death has a continuing and ongoing effect on the present day. Tetelestai tells us more than the simple fact that Christ finished His work. Tetelestai means that His perfect and completed work on the cross still has power today to change lives and to offer the hope of salvation so that sinners like you and me can live with Christ forever. Reading “It is finished” in English should bring joy to our hearts, but being able to read and understand tetelestai in the original Greek provides a much deeper understanding of Christ’s words and work, which takes that joy to a completely different level.

So, pastor, how are your English-speaking church members, who do not know ancient Greek, supposed to understand the significance of Jesus’ words on the cross? How is a normal, everyday person in the pew supposed to discover this type of deeper truth in the Bible? Well, pastor, it is your responsibility to teach them. And for you to teach them all these interesting nuances found in the original biblical languages, you must know something of the biblical languages yourself. 

Now I know what you are thinking. Learning ancient languages is incredibly difficult work, and you are a busy pastor with all sorts of stress and no extra time. I can sympathize. I have parsed all the verbs, memorized all the charts, and studied all of the vocabulary words. Very little of it was easy, and none of it was fun. However, I can also say that it was all worth it. There’s never been a time when I was reading the Bible or preparing for a sermon when I thought to myself, “Man, all those hours studying Greek sure were a waste of time.” No, my understanding of biblical languages has always been nothing but an incredible asset to my studies and preaching. It has been a crucial benefit to me, and through my preaching, it has been a benefit to my church, even when they do not realize it.

Pastor, let me lovingly challenge you. Set aside the time. Make it a priority. Do the work. The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Word of God will not return void. I promise you that your work to understand the Word in its original languages will not either. You need it, and so do your people. 


While studying biblical languages is incredibly challenging, I do have a bit of good news to share. It has never been easier to get started, and there have never been more resources at your fingertips. Here’s a quick list of resources for those who are just getting started or who need a refresher course after forgetting all you learned from those seminary courses years ago.

Hebrew for the Rest of Us – Lee M. Fields

Hebrew for Life – Adam J. Howell, Benjamin L. Merkle, and Robert L. Plummer


Greek for the Rest of Us – William D. Mounce

Greek for Life – Benjamin L. Merkle and Robert L. Plummer


Author: Matthew Smith, Pastor of Cross Community Church in Brandon, MS