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.

Images of the Godhead and the Second Commandment, Part 6

(I had a much better and longer post but I somehow deleted it so this is the cliff notes version as I do not have time to rewrite the 1500 words I had finished)

We have moved from the 16th to 17th to the 19th centuries and have watched how the unanimous voices of Reformed orthodoxy in the past have spoken against the construction (or injection-molding, chipb) of images of the entire Godhead. In this part we will look at the modern effects on how we view not just the Decalogue but the Mosaic Law in general. How is it that now one cannot go 10 feet without seeing the Scandinavian-“Jesus” plastered on everything from T-shirts to Billboards? Well Greg Bahnsen in his work on Post-Millennialism entitled Victory in Jesus (published post-mortem) has a very good short section on the three things plaguing not just the rampant violation of the second commandment but other problems encroaching on orthodox Reformed Christianity in the West. While his focus is presenting a case for Post-Millennialism and why it has fallen out of favor he is correct in identifying the three major issues confronting orthodoxy in general. Two of these three movements would not even consider the Second commandments words on imagery binding today but it is their influence in the minds of those who may that bring them into this discussion.

Bahnsen begins by identifying firstly Liberalism. By Liberalism Bahnsen means to direct his words to the movement that began under the influence of men like Hermann Samuel Reimarus and Heinrich Paulus who were the forerunners of and greatly influenced 19th century Historical Jesus research. Also understood in this section is the work by Immanuel Kant whose philosophy continues to undergird nearly all persons in the West. Included in this is the work of higher critics like Julius Wellhausen and David Strauss. However for Americans the greatest influence was brought forth by Friedrich Schleiermacher whose thoughts and ideas are still taught in every mainline seminary. The effect these men had on the subject of this essay is in the way we now approach the Scriptures in the West. Out of all of their criticisms of the Biblical text the most divisive has been the hatchet job done on the Pentateuch especially on the Mosaic Law. If the law was not received by Moses in toto (as Scripture testifies it did, Ex. 20-23) then what bearing does it have on us today? How can a collection of separate instructions hold any weight for today’s Christian? These are serious questions that cannot be answered by simply dismissing these ungodly men and their followers away by wrote. They must be challenged and confronted in a manner that does not cause their descendants to shun orthodoxy.

The Second influence recognized by Bahnsen is the work of Evolutionary Progressivism. One may look at the title and wonder “How does that differ from Liberalism?” Well to answer the question a person needs to understand that their is a difference between what most people refer to in contemporary times as Liberalism and what academically should be referred to as Liberalism. This second part is what we would identify with the modern usage of the word. This movement led by men such as Charles Darwin and Walter Rauschenbusch delivered a focus that moved Christianity away from its foundation in the Older Testament to a purely New Testament focus, a recurrence of Marcionism. Also another thing that distinguishes it from Liberalism as defined above is its belief that man is is generally good and has evolved past the Mosaic prohibitions to a new era of life that looks not upon the strictures but upon the liberty brought by Christ. Hence the term “Evolutionary”. In other words Christianity no longer needs to worry about offending God by their actions as long as they do so with a kind heart and a loving mind. Therefore in regards to the Second Commandment the Evolutionary Progressivist has moved on from the old covenant completely and any attempt to use it in discussion is Pharisaical.

Thirdly in Bahnsen’s hypothesis is the effect of Dispensationalism on the mind of today’s Evangelical. Mostly brought to the forefront of Christianity in America by the work of Cyrus Scofield and his reference Bible and the writings of John Nelson Darby. The greatest effect Dispensationalism has had for this discussion is its emphasis on the distinctions between the New Testament Church and ancient Israel of the Old Testament. Scofield believed that between creation and the final judgment there were seven distinct eras of God’s dealing with man and that these eras were a framework around which the message of the Bible could be explained. Therefore the words of the second commandment can be properly explained as belonging to a prior dispensation and no longer applicable in there literal sense to today’s Christian.

Cumulatively these three positions have effected the way in which most in the Reformed camp come to the Decalogue and the Case Law of Moses imparticular. With a Hermeneutic of Suspicion the Second commandment (and its spiritual brother, the 4th commandment as we saw here in J.C. Ryle’s thought) is cast in a light of a “Canon within a Canon” as it passed over, with rest of the first table, in our times for all the reasons the three positions of Liberalism, Evolutionary Progressivism, and Dispensationalism have provided.

In the final part of this 7 part series on the Second Commandment I will present a Biblical and Systematic argument showing why it is not only unlawful according to the Older Testament but also in the New Covenant to picture the Godhead in physical form.

Sermon for May 18th, 2008

For my 200th Post here is the Sermon I am giving tomorrow morning. Here is the audio of the sermon (let me know if it works and how it sounds). The text is Matthew 28:16-20.

Linway United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) May 18, 2008

Scripture Lesson Matthew 28:16-20
Sermon “Baptizing and Teaching” Benjamin P. Glaser

Jesus in our Scripture lesson today is preparing to leave the Apostles and He is meeting with them here at a mountain in Galilee before his Ascension so that He can advise them what it is they are to do after He is no longer with them in the flesh. He tells them to go out and preach and teach and convert followers to Christ and to baptize them accordingly. One of the commands that Jesus gives them is that they are to make disciples among all the nations and it is here that I would like to focus your attention. If you could I would like you to get out your pink slip provided in your bulletin or open your Bible to the Scripture lesson in Matthew 28:16-20 and I am going to read again this short passage right now and I want you to think over it as I read it and as I preach this morning, especially verse 19 and I want you to think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in light of this passage.

As a young child I was fascinated by how things worked. I would take apart my toys with screwdrivers and other tools to ascertain how exactly these things operated. I can remember one particular incident with my sister’s easy-bake oven. I had taken the little oven from her room and was sitting on the floor of my room and as I sat there with a screwdriver and a hammer I took the cover off and exposed the electric motor that operated the oven and as I sat there with the oven in various stages of unity I had the bright idea of plugging in the oven to see if it would become hot enough to melt some of the metal matchbox cars I owned. Well to make a long story short, it does and I have the scars to prove it. What I discovered that day, apart from the fact that a toy that it is made to cook actually gets hot enough to melt metal, is that I did not have the technical know-how to operate an easy-bake oven properly, of course one could say I just did not have the good sense to not take apart a working oven. One need not be anything more than a 6-year old to take things apart but to know how things work I needed more than just the tools of the trade I needed to have the know how. If one wants to become an electrician or a carpenter or a plumber or any type of trade you cannot just pick up a hammer and a nail and announce to the world that you are a carpenter. They’ll put you away. There is training you must go through, an apprentice time one must undergo, certifications you must receive and in many areas a union you must join to seek work as a carpenter. So why is it that we believe that all one needs to do to be a Christian, a follower of Christ is to just say, “Hey God I’m one of yours” and then go about your normal life claiming to be a follower of something and a member of something you have not studied or sought teaching about? Well this morning I want to talk with you about why it is we are called to do as apprentices to the Master who is Jesus Christ do and seek to study and know God’s word to his people given to us in His Word, the whole counsel of God not just the stuff we like, and why it is important in our day that when we are challenged by the ways of this world, when you are confronted at work by unbelievers who want to compromise your faith, when you are moved at school to violate the Laws of God that you have more than just a “well it’s a faith thing” answer as if faith is one way or another divorced from learning. One of the pitfalls we have made as a church is that we have somehow come to believe that Faith is antithetical to knowledge, that “science” or “truth” for that matter and “faith” have separate areas of responsibility. In other words we have moved from a place where we once believed as a Christian community that faith in Jesus Christ had a real knowledge component and that knowledge deeply affected our relationship with Christ to the place where “church” and “faith” are for our spiritual life and “science” is for our physical life. This over-reliance by most in the Church on science to answer questions that Scripture already has is an entirely different problem that we do not have time to get into this morning but there is a vibrant and rabid anti-intellectual movement within our community as believers in Christ and it is killing the church in America as it has already killed the church in Europe. The Apostle Paul in his writing to the Corinthian church in the first letter chapter 3 is confronting the same problem we have today in the church, the Corinthians have not moved passed where they were when he last saw them, beginning at verse 1“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” What Paul is saying here is that there is more to the Christian life and the understanding of Christ but since you have chosen to continue in ignorance and apathy I cannot feed it to you because if I do you will be damaged. If we choose not to move past our infancy in our understanding of Christ how can we do as the Apostle Peter demands of his readers and for us today saying in his first epistle chapter 3 verse 15 that we must be able to “[give] an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” It is not enough and it is not fair to Christ to give some convoluted and contrived answer to your unbelieving co-worker for the reason why you will not look at porn on their computer screen. As a disciple of Jesus Christ you need to be able to not just tell them why you will not scan their screen but to witness the Gospel to them so that they might believe as you have. This is what Christ is calling the Apostles to do and it is what he is calling us to do today not just in the church but in every area of our life.

One can hardly think the Apostles are ready for such a challenge. I mean was it not less than a week earlier that when their Master, Jesus Christ, had been arrested at Gethsemane that they had fled and hid in the wilderness so as to not be arrested themselves. Are these not the same Apostles that include Peter who had denied that he even knew whom Christ was? Or Thomas who doubted all that he had seen until he actual touched Christ’s physical wounds. How capable really are they to go and teach anyone anything? For one they are not exactly people who we would think would be much good at preaching and teaching. The majority of them barely have an elementary level education, they have not studied under the Rabbi’s or spent their days reflecting and studying the centuries of writings. These are mere fishermen, tax collectors, and a rag tag group of nobodies who have been chosen by Jesus Christ to go out into the world and teach and preach. How is it that Peter is to go and argue against the Jews and the Greeks who have had years of training in rhetoric, public speaking, apologetics, and philosophy? How can Stephen, who is soon to be martyred, stand up and counsel the Pharisees and the Sadducees as to the error of their ways and do so with conviction and confidence? They do so because they have an answer for the faith that is within them, the can do so because most importantly they believe what they are saying contains the words of Life, it is intrinsically what Christ himself had taught them so why should they not be ready to face the struggles and attacks of those who hate Christ? I am sure some of you are saying to yourself, “Well I am not Peter or Stephen” or “I have not had the luxury of sitting at the foot of Jesus” so I cannot hope to come to be able to do such things. Well you may not, like Stephen, ever be called in front of a Church court under the threat of death or you may never be walking around what is modern-day Syria and Turkey defending the faith against Greek philosophers and Jews like Peter. And you would be right to say you could not come to the knowledge that Peter or Stephen had if you do not take the time and the effort to become an apprentice, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Look again at verse 18 through 20, “And Jesus came up and spoke to [the Apostles], saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The word “disciple” as Matthew and others throughout the New Testament use it has a much deeper meaning than we usually inscribe for it. We could just as easily think of a disciple as a “pupil” or a “student”. The real meaning behind what we hear and what we read is that as disciples of Christ we are not meant to be just a follower, like one who follows around a band, the Apostles are not called by Christ to go out and create a sort of Jesus Christ groupie movement, but to go out and teach all that Christ had instructed them, all that the writers of the Older Testament had taught them and see to it that those who through a profession of faith had been moved by the Holy Spirit to proclaim faith in Christ are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. But their discipleship did not end with baptism it had just begun. In the Reformed faith we believe in baptizing infants not just because its pretty and cute but because we believe that in baptism we are bringing this child into a community of faith where the child will be brought up not only by believers but so that the child can become a believer, and not just that, we as a church make a promise that we will teach this child more than just their ABC’s of faith but that we will disciple them, making them students of Jesus Christ. The meaning of being a disciple of Jesus Christ calls us to be students of Christ, Christ is our teacher in the fullest sense of that word. Just as Christ taught the Apostles more than the basics so we should seek to know Christ at a much deeper level than just the nuts and bolts of faith. None of us after learning our ABC’s in kindergarten were able to obtain our High School diploma and go straight into college. There was much more involved in us receiving our High school diploma than just being taught our ABC’s and this is where we are as a church today. We have through the last 100 years or so dumbed down our religious life to the point that we are satisfied with our ABC’s, we are content with just coming to church on the Lord’s day and going home and not allowing the worship of Almighty God to crack through the insulated life that exist outside these four-walls, creating a compartmentalized faith that leaves Christ and his message for two hours each Sunday and maybe a prayer hear and there during the week. This is where Christ’s word to his Apostles strike us to the heart today in this very Service of Worship this morning. Why is it we are here? Are we here to be discipled or are we here to fulfill some kind of social responsibility? Why do we make ourselves get out of bed on Sunday morning when the rest of the world sleeps in? These are all questions we must answer for ourselves and these are questions that can only be answered if we seek ought to know them. Brother and Sisters in Christ I am here to tell you this morning that we are called as disciples of Jesus Christ that we are called to defend our faith and give not only ourselves a reason for being here but to give one to our unbelieving neighbors and family. Because if you cannot answer for the faith and hope that is within you why should anyone else believe either?

But before we trudge off to do the 37 other things we have planned for the Lord’s Day let us remember one thing. Today the session and the members here at Linway have brought these seven young people into the body of the visible church; you have brought these kids into the body of Christ. They are yet apprentices; their learning process has just begun. It is the job of this Church family to lead them and to teach them, discipling them in the way of the Christian Life, in how to properly understand the God whom we worship on the Lord’s Day, teaching them how to observe the Laws of God, teaching them how to observe the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and so on and so forth. The primary teacher in their lives will be and should be the Church. While none of us will ever be the master, because Christ is the Master, we must strive not only to bring ourselves into a deeper and more complete understanding of the faith we confess to believe we must not only exemplify that faith to them through the works of our lives but also through the words we confess.

To God Alone Be the Glory, Amen.