Without a doubt this year in language school has been the hardest year of our lives. However, we have seen the Lord show his faithfulness and kindness in a multitude of ways. Perhaps one of the most unexpected benefits of learning a second language has been the benefits of reading the Bible in that language, which for me is Spanish. These benefits have been especially highlighted for me over the last several months as I have sought to do my personal Bible reading in Spanish as well as tackling the assigned readings for the seminary class I am taking here in Costa Rica which, of course, is in Spanish.
As I have seen it, there are two main benefits to reading the Bible in another language:
Lack of familiarity
One of the greatest treasures that Christians in the United States have is the abundance of Scripture availability and biblical resources. This is a huge blessing to all of us who have spent time living out our Christian lives in the US. However, with all the sermons, podcasts, blogs, articles, books, etc that we have access to concerning the Scriptures it is easy to become very familiar with many passages in the Bible. Overall, this a good thing, however, sometimes our familiarity causes us to breeze through a passage and consequently miss the weightiness of it. On the other hand, this is not so when you are reading those same passages in another language.
In fact, when reading in Spanish I am forced to really focus on each word and zero in on what the author is trying to communicate. Even the difference in grammatical structure can be really helpful. Suddenly those pronouns really begin to make a difference especially in a language like Spanish where the word “you” has a singular and plural forms. Now a passage that I have not read closely in several years, because of my familiarity with it, becomes fresh again and new insights can be gleaned.
The need for mediation
Increased meditation goes hand-in-hand with a lack of familiarity. In other words, when I am forced to look more closely at the words, phrases and grammatical structures being used in a passage I naturally have to think much more about the author’s intended meaning, how he was seeking to convey that message and why he used those particular words to do so. Finally, it is rare that we read over a passage more than once in our daily Bible reading in English. However in Spanish it is rare that I will cruise by a passage without reading slowly and most likely more than once.
All of these factors help to cement the Spanish passage in my mind and cause me to walk away thinking more deeply about what I just read. This is especially true when preparing to teach a particular passage in Spanish because in this case I not only have to ponder what the Lord is teaching in this text but also how I am going to communicate that to others. Thus, although reading Scripture in another language can be slow-going at times, it is definitely worth the effort.
Therefore, if you have even an elementary level knowledge of another language I want to encourage you to try reading a familiar passage or two in that language. Don’t be afraid to pull up an online dictionary for that language to help you along the way as well as an English translation. You may be surprised by the fresh insights you gain.