Do I Need to Know Latin, Greek, and Hebrew?

Something struck me as quite odd the other day when listening to a recorded debate between a Catholic apologist and James White. White has a habit in many of his debates to use an old debating trick known by its Latin tag as “argumentum ad hominem” or “attack on the person”. Method, truth, honesty and principle are all thrown out the window in order to achieve the main goal which is to win the debate at all costs. Many times when White feels as if he’s losing or has lost a debate, he resorts to this last ditch effort. In this particular debate, White was cornered into answering a question which, if correctly answered, would have dealt a crushing blow to his position. White, who has mastered the art of evasion, successfully avoided the question and began attacking the credentials of his Catholic opponent, which brings us to the topic of this article.

Our Catholic apologist happened to be unlearned in the ancient biblical Greek and Hebrew languages, and he fully admitted that he was so. White proceeded to use this as a “weapon” to try and undermine and deflect the stinging blow he received at the hands of our Catholic apologist. Thinking about this dirty debating trick made me realize later a contradiction in the Protestant world of argumentation. First of all, don’t misunderstand me, knowledge of the biblical languages can be quite helpful. I am friends with many biblical scholars with whom I refer to quite often, especially when the original languages are being studied. But from a Protestant perspective, it just struck me as a strange argument to use and here is why.

Many anti-Catholics claim that the Catholic Church in the past kept the bible from being read and understood because it refused to translate the bible into the vernacular language of the people. Of course, this isn’t true and can be the topic of another article in the future, but what is odd is that James White presented the argument that UNLESS you know and can read the ancient biblical languages, you really can’t understand the bible. See the contradiction?! First Protestants claim that we need the bible in our own language so we can understand it and not rely on others for its meaning, and then we have James White claiming that we need to know ancient Hebrew and Greek in order to know it’s true meaning. I was recently subjected to the same type of attack in a discussion I was having with an ex-Catholic on the topic of justification. After I presented many proofs from the bible and from simple reason to support the Catholic understanding of justification, I was referred to a “Professor” who proceeded to tell me that I had no knowledge of the ancient biblical language and therefore couldn’t understand the proper meaning of the passages I was citing, not caring to recognize that the ex-Catholic, who I originally had gotten into the discussion with, was in the same boat as me in this regard. I should point out that this “Professor” claimed to be a good friend of James White.

What ever happened to the Protestant claim to the “clear meaning of Scripture which could be understood by a small child” and the cry for a translation in the common language of the people? Obviously the correct understanding of the bible is not really what Protestants are after. Only their OWN interpretation matters and if anyone or any translation differs from their own, then that person or translation must somehow be wrong. By the mere fact that this ex-Catholic needed to go to another human being to “correctly” understand the bible is one proof against “sola scriptura” and the Protestant understanding of the one mediatorship of Christ. My ex-Catholic friend was relying on and going through another man and his translation of the bible to come to know God – a very un-Protestant like thing to do.

Frank Jerry
The Catholic Legate

October 15, 2002

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