Language study as spiritual discipline

There are, of course, various tasks within biblical study that need have little direct relation to theological issues—perhaps most obviously, the mastering of the biblical languages, for the rewards of theological insight, though potentially great, come only after the exercise of prolonged self-discipline and patience in the mastering of grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and idiom (though of course the qualities required for language learning are a reminder that all academic work, rightly approached, can—indeed should–be understood as a moral and spiritual discipline).

This quote comes from Walter Moberly’s chapter, ‘How Can We Know the Truth? A Study of John 7:14–18,’ in E. Davis and R. Hays, The Art of Reading Scripture (Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 239–240.

At the end of this paragraph, he has a footnote that points the reader to ‘a fascinating account of the spiritual value of academic work.’ The chapter is by Simon Weil, ‘Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,’ in Waiting on God (London: Fontana, 1959).





  1. Hi Travis. I just found your blog today while I was searching for more info on growing in Greek. I am currently a student at Bethlehem college and seminary and former student at Eternity Bible college. I have close ties to TMS so I can see some overlap in some things.

    Thank you so much for all your work. I think very much like you (regiment minded). I am constantly creating plans to grow in disciplines (by grace) and especially in the languages. Sometimes I end up getting more excited in creating the regiment than actually finishing it! So thank you for you posts on the studying greek like a violinist.

    I had 1 question.
    When you read GK, are you spot translating, or are you reading GK and thinking in GK? Are the words becoming a referent or is english the referent?

    Again, thank you for all your resources! I plan on working on a youtube series on GK 2 syntax through Black and Wallace this break.

    Grace to you in your Ph.D work, Sam Choi


    1. Sam, that is a great question(s). The summer ‘Greek like Violin’ series was done, as you called it, spot translating. I was ‘reading’ by translating every word into a suitable English equivalent (on a side note, this is why I like to use BibleWorks, because I try to scan the entire entry for each unknown word in both BDAG and LSJ, if not more if time allows). Now that I have read through much of the NT a few times, and Paul’s letters even more due to the nature of my work, I am intentionally practicing the art of reading in Greek. What I mean is, I am forcing myself NOT to translate into English, which requires an internal changing of each word into another language. Instead, I am looking or scanning or moving my eyes across a sentence or verse methodically, trusting my head to arrange the words correctly so that what I get out of it is a concept.

      Think of it this way. When you read English (or your ‘mother’ tongue), you don’t pause on every word, stopping to consider how pieces fit together syntactically. No, you move your eyes over the words and let your brain do the work of meshing everything together coherently, according to the grammar and glosses learned, so that what happens in your brain is conceptualization, an idea, a picture, a concept. And as you continue to move through the text, these concepts (arranged in our bibles according to verse numbers) become arranged together and what you end up with is an argument, or a story, a narrative or a message.

      Very important to remember: this is only recommended for reading, such as in the morning when you first wake up and you’re on your first cup of coffee. Or if you need to look up a reference and you open up your NA28 and flip to the page and there it is, you scan through it, and then back you go to the book or article you were reading. That’s effective. But if you are preparing a sermon, writing an article, essay, whatever, you gotta do the harder work of exegesis. Reading and exegesis are two very different things, although they do contribute to one another.

      Hope that helps. Glad you found the blog, hope to hear more from you on here in future posts. And the all the best with your youtube series!


  2. Sorry, I just realized your name was Tavis.


    1. everybody does that 🙂


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