Walter Riggans and Ancient Tongues

Last week we had Dr Walter Riggans from Nottingham come and take our morning service as well as an afternoon session. In charge of the training programme for Congregational ministers and others, he speaks a number of ancient languages and his understanding of the nuances of biblical vocabulary greatly aids his preaching. The afternoon session in particular was a challenge. He took those words from Deuteronomy 6:4-5:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength 

He moved us away from the Western notion of the heart as the seat of emotion to the Hebrew notion of intestine or bowel as the seat of the will; our strength refers not to our physical abilities, but those aspects of our life from which we draw comfort, such as wealth and houses. Our ‘soul’ is hard to define in the Hebrew, but surely refers to the life God breathes into us as he did in the Creation story. Thus, we are called to love God with our wills by living obediently; our strength by surrendering to him the things we have, and our souls by willingly returning them to Him in death. Of course we shall all die whether we agree to it or not, but the phrase might mean more to our persecuted family who are often faced with death as a consequence of their faithfulness.

I would never insist- and Walter certainly didn’t- that one must know the ancient tongues to understand the Bible. I thank God for a Reformation which allowed God’s word to be read in ploughman’s English. Nevertheless, the original words selected by those biblical writers -under the Spirit’s direction- have a richness and subtlety which mono-linguists may not perceive