Last October, I was watching House Calls, a show that comes on 3ABN. One of the speakers, guy named John Lomacang (he has a really cool name) made a statement that I was absolutely shocked to hear.
He quoted from Matthew 2:23, which says of Jesus, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” He then cross-referenced this passage with the laws of the Nazirite in Numbers 6. A Nazirite is a person who makes a special kind of vow in which he/she chooses (among other things) to drink no alcohol. And so, Pastor Lomacang explains, Jesus would not have drunk alcohol while he was on earth.
Well, of course, it was in defence of an old and very respected Adventist ideology: that consumption of alcohol is sinful. That’s not the shocking part. The shocking part was that the words Nazarite and Nazarene are used as if they are the same word; and they’re not.
Of course, becuase of the similarlity of the first 5 letters of these words, it’s easy to get away with it. In Hebrew, though, they are more different.
Nazarite: נָזִיר (naZIR)
Nazarene: נָצְרִי (natsRI)
The two words have completely different roots and completely different meanings. Jesus was a Nazarene because He was from Nazareth. And, funny enough, the Hebrew word for “Christian” comes from the idea of Jesus as Nazarene.
So, here is one example of the liberties we can take with the Scripture when we forget that the Bible was written centuries before English ever existed. The fact that these two words have such similar spellings might just be a matter of linguistic accident, one of those being that in Europe, the letter ‘Z’ came to have a ‘ts’ sound (as in ‘pizza’ and ‘Nazi’).
During a Bible study/lecture I attended, I heard a pastor (or some other speaker) assert that the ‘interpretation’ of the word ‘Immanuel’ (though the name was first revealed in Isaiah 7) was not given Matthew 1:23. That shows ignorance of the fact that the name is Hebrew and so Jewish people who heard/read the prophecy before Jesus was born would have easily known the meaning.
And before that, I heard that the words from Jesus while on the Cross (“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”) are a record of Him speaking supernaturally in another language instead of Him speaking His native Aramaic/Hebrew. (I mean, I can read it fairly well with my basic Hebrew knowledge.)
While I wouldn’t say you can’t understand the Bible at all without some understanding of the original languages they were written in, I would say it could be a great help. I find it very rewarding to be able to get just a bit deeper into the meanings of what the Bible’s saying.