Why Do We Learn Greek and Hebrew?

And why do we not learn Latin? (Or Dutch, French, <u>or</u> German) But that is the subject of a different post.

As the time for Ordination Exams begins at the end of this week for many of my PC(USA) colleagues here at Pittsburgh Seminary I am beginning to wonder at the purpose of teaching the primary languages. For the vast majority it is nothing but a hurdle that will be jettisoned after Tuesday afternoon of next week when exegesis papers are due. If I was a professor who spent hours laboring over the instruction of Hebrew and Greek the shear knowledge that what I was teaching was a nuisance for most and an outright waste of time for the majority would cause me epileptic fits. No wonder most department heads have a hard time encouraging the faculty to teach these courses. (Of course a notable exception is at PTS where Dale Allison and Robert Gagnon teach Greek, though I am sure both are somewhat disheartened in the understanding that most of their students are not that interested in having a working knowledge but in knowing enough to pass exams).

This is of course a rhetorical question. The knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is non-negotiable. A direct corollary can be drawn between the abandonment of the linguistic studies and the ignorance/shallowness of the Pastorate. The purposeful ignorance of the original languages (and any other language) is of course  not a problem that is localized to the PC(USA) or other liberal denominations. It has been my experience that this is a disease that infects most theological students (this one included, for which I am currently paying) despite their individual denominational affiliation and the otherwise orthodox nature of their theology. Is it the lack of focus given to Greek and Hebrew in other courses? The lack of focus in existing clergy? Whatever the reason for the decline of the seen importance of knowing Hebrew and Greek one thing remains true. <u>We</u> as graduate students need to make it a priority to not only take our languages seriously and to make a concerted effort to help the new students understand the vital nature of knowing how not only to translate but develop a love for the words used by the Holy Spirit through the hands of Moses, the scribes, Apostles and the other writers of Holy Writ as well as the knowledge of properly applying the tools to preaching, teaching, and, believe it or not, Pastoral Care.

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11 thoughts on “Why Do We Learn Greek and Hebrew?

  1. Knowledge of original languages can be used as a veil of sophistry to make one at least look quasi-intelligent even if the spirit behind the knowledge is pure rejection of God’s Word.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with your post, Benjamin. Personally, I use the original languages every week. But it does take time and most pastors cop out by claiming to be “too busy.” That in turn flows from a general devaluation of the pastoral ministry in general and preaching in particular, I believe.

  3. Good post, Benjamin. I was always taught that one must first translate a biblical passage in order to properly exegete it.

    A noticed that as part of its new D.Min. program, RPTS has courses that require the use of Greek and Hebrew. Sounds like a good thing, but also sounds as if I might need to do some brushing up before even bothering to apply!!!

  4. For preachers to effectively preach God’s word, they must know God’s words in their original context, with their original meaning; so that they may “decontextualize” it, in order that preachers communicate it’s full orbed of truth to our culture today and every culture that has ever existed.

    It is true that God blessed, and blesses, the ministry of those who do not know the language (think Martin Lloyd Jones). This should encourage us for God uses us morons for his purposes. Or as Duguid wrote, “God delights in using crooked pencils to write straight.”

  5. I think it is a great idea to be multi faceted with regard to language. To learn Latin, French, and German would make you a better scholar because you could read Luther, Calvin, and many of the Early Church fathers in their original language and not read someones translation which is not as precise. But I think it is essential for a pastor, or at the very least a Senior Pastor, to learn both Hebrew and Greek. I also think that Aramaic should be strongly recommended of Pastors to learn being that good chunks of the OT are written in it.

  6. newsflash:
    extracted from an email sent to those of us taking the exegesis exam this week (http://www.pcusa.org/exams/changes.pdf)

    1. The demonstration of a working knowledge of Greek and/or Hebrew will no longer be a requirement in order to complete the examination successfully. When exams are graded, the readers will comment on the language facility which is demonstrated in the paper. Such comments will be offered as guidance for Committees on Preparation for Ministry in determining readiness for ministry.

    also note (which will give you any amount of fodder for failing Biblical faithfulness):
    2. Inquirers/candidates will be asked to offer a faithful interpretation, rather than the principal meaning of the text. In many cases, a passage of Scripture may offer several meanings or possibilities for interpretations rather than “one” correct meaning.

  7. RTS is a great school for original languages. Their systematic theology classes are in a real sense exegetical theology.

    The sidelined seminaries have taken to deriving theology from abstracted principles (normally filtered through a social justice lens) rather than getting into taking individual statements of the Scriptures and doing the hard work of trying to see how they fit. (A task which is often illumined by reference to the precision of the original tongue.)

  8. The fact that there are so few Christians that know the Biblical Hebrew and Greek shows how careless Christians have become in knowing what God is really saying to them.

    Every Muslim knows the importance of knowing the Koran which is in Arabic and not to rely on an English translation which is all most Christians in the west rely on for the Bible. Muslims study to recite the Koran in old Arabic not to change even the pronunciation of it to alter it’s meaning. How can we as Christians give such little importance to God’s words!!? Is there anything in life more important than what he has to say to us? If more Christians knew the Old and New Testament in Hebrew and Greek from the earliest manuscripts, we would be much more believable that the meaning we have understood from God’s word is in fact accurate. This is in fact God’s word and therefore deserves our devotion.

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