About 40 people, over a span of more than 1,500 years, were inspired to write parts of God's word. In the Old Testament, most books were written in Hebrew, with some sections authored in Aramaic (parts of Ezra, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc.). The New Testament was authored in Koine (common or unsophisticated) Greek, which was the everyday language spoken by people in the marketplace.
Why it matters
Why not just read and study the Bible in any English translation and not bother with the Greek or Hebrew behind it?
Throughout history those who have translated God's word from one language (e.g. Greek) to another (e.g. English), skilled though they may be, have made mistakes. Translation itself is a difficult task, as words and their meaning in one language do not usually possess an exact equivalent in other ones. Additions, deletions, and punctuation mistakes can easily creep into any Bible version. Translators sometimes have read in their own doctrinal biases in the work they do. Additionally, it is known some translators did not do their work in a very honest fashion and succumbed to pressures placed upon them to translate certain text to agree with already accepted doctrine. One author stated the following regarding the problems versions of God's word can possess.
"Numerous 'contemporary' translations omit or add words - even whole verses. Some 'translators' have boldly added entire books that were never part of the original, authentic canon. And today’s 'higher criticism' has purported to expose so-called 'weaknesses' and 'discrepancies' in the authentic texts, undermining the faith of many." (The Holy Bible in its Original Order, a Faithful Version, second edition, page vii)
In order to arrive as close as possible to the true meaning of any Scriptural verse, it is critical a basic study of the verse's original language words and meanings is undertaken. Delving into the Hebrew or Greek behind a particular passage is one of the tried-and-true methods for digging out God's truth. Such research can mean the difference between believing a FALSE doctrine and one that is TRUE.
Christians are told, by the apostle Paul, to PROVE all things and hold fast to what is good (Romans 12:2, 1Thessalonians 5:21). Doctrine DOES matter, as is borne out in the New Testament with its many references to 'sound' or 'good' doctrine (1Timothy 1:10, 4:6, 6:3, 2Timothy 1:13, 4:3, Titus 1:9, 2:1, etc.) and to the faith (beliefs) first given the church (Jude 1:3).
One of many examples of the difference a basic research into the original language behind a passage can make (in this case Greek) is in Acts 12:4. Note the following verse from the King James translation.
And when he (Herod the Great) had apprehended him (Peter), he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after EASTER to bring him forth to the people (Acts 12:4)
Taken literally, the above verse suggests that the Easter holiday was at least known, if not celebrated, in the first century A.D. This assumption is not correct, however, when one studies the Greek behind the English words.
A quick look up in a good concordance such as Strong's shows that the word translated 'Easter' comes from the Greek word pascha (Strong's Concordance #G3957). This word refers to the Biblical (Hebrew) Holy Day known as Passover, the same day Jesus kept before he died. Further investigation shows that the same word pascha is in Matthew 26:2, where the KJV translates it correctly as Passover!
The reason why the word 'Easter' was erroneously put in this verse is because the KJV translators read into the text their own doctrinal biases due to pressure from an outside party. The 47 scholars commissioned by King James of England to produce an English translation of the Scriptures were ALL members of the Church of England. The Church, which came into existence in 1534 as a split of the Roman Catholic Church, retained many of the teachings of Catholicism that included keeping an Easter-type holiday and rejecting the first century celebration of the Passover. In regards to Acts 12:4, the translators succumbed to their own biases and the pressure of King James (the official head of the church) to translate the verse so that it agreed with already accepted doctrines.
A concordance is a listing of Biblical words with the corresponding original language word (and its meaning) from which they are translated. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, which this site uses extensively, was published in 1890 (several updates occurred since then). We highly recommend purchasing a paper copy of this classic tool or buying it as an add-on to your Bible software. Other fine concordances include Cruden's Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments, Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible, and The Englishman's Hebrew and Greek concordances.
The study of the Greek and Hebrew languages will help you PROVE what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).