Scott J. Hafemann, “Is it genuinely important to use the biblical languages in preaching, especially since there are many excellent commentaries and pastors will never attain the expertise of scholars?” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 3:2 (1999): 86–89 (formatting added):
One hour with the text is worth ten in secondary literature. . . .
But I have saved the best for last. Knowing the biblical languages enables us to do something very few commentaries ever do: trace the flow of the argument of the text.
Commentaries save us time by providing the historical, linguistic, cultural, canonical, and literary insights that we simply do not have time to mine for ourselves week in and week out. For $35.00 we can benefit from ten years of a scholar’s life!
But in the end, what we preach is the point and argument of the biblical text, as informed by this backdrop, but not replaced by it.
Commentaries and translations do not excel in tracing the flow of an argument and mapping out the melodic line and theological heartbeat of a text.
By definition, most commentaries are atomistic,
while a translation often must obscure the density and complexity or ambiguity of the original for the sake of its target language.
So when all is said and done, we do not learn Greek
in order to do word studies,
but in order to see
where the conjunctions are and are not,
where participles must be decoded,
where clauses begin and end,
where verb tenses really make a difference and where they do not,
and, in the end, what the main point of a text actually is.
I have never met anyone who, having learned Greek well, said it was a waste of time or unproductive.
The next time someone tells you that the languages are unimportant, ask them if they made this judgment after having learned them.
- Scott J. Hafemann, 2 Corinthians (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 171–73.
- Thomas R. Schreiner, “Tracing the Argument,” in Interpreting the Pauline Epistles (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 97–124.
Update on 3/31/2017: In my latest attempt to explain how to interpret and apply the Bible, I include a chapter on argument diagrams with a focus on phrasing (pp. 121–61).