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.

Loose, Good-Faith, or Strict Subscription?

How does your ecclesiastical tradition hold to your standards? How should they? Is loose subscription just a surefire way to allow liberalism into the church? Is Strict Subscription “mean”? These are some questions I would like to look at in following posts.

Here is a couple of snippets from an article by J. Gresham Machen citing Charles Hodge:

The question put to every candidate for ordination in our Church, is in these words:  “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?”  It is plain that a very serious responsibility before God and man is assumed by those who return an affirmative answer to that question.  It is something more than ordinary falsehood, if our inward convictions do not correspond with a profession made in presence of the Church, and as the condition of our receiving authority to preach the Gospel.  In such a case we lie not only unto man, but unto God; because such professions are of the nature of a vow, that is, a promise or profession made to God…

The Principle of Creed-Subscription

It is no less plain that the candidate has no right to put his own sense upon the words propounded to him.  He has no right to select from all possible meanings which the words may bear, that particular sense which suits his purpose, or which, he thinks, will save his conscience.  It is well known that this course has been openly advocated, not only by the Jesuits, but by men of this generation, in this country and in Europe.  The “chemistry of thought,” it is said, can make all creeds alike.  Men have boasted that they could sign any creed.  To a man in a balloon the earth appears a plane, all inequalities on its surface being lost in the distance.  And here is a philosophic elevation from which all forms of human belief look alike.  They are sublimed into general formulas, which include them all and distinguish none.  Professor Newman, just before his open apostasy, published a tract in which he defended his right to be in the English Church while holding the doctrines of the Church of Rome.  He claimed for himself the Thirty-nine articles in a “non-natural sense”; that is, in the sense which he chose to put upon the words.  This shocks the common sense and the common honesty of men.  There is no need to argue the matter.  The turpitude of such a principle is much more clearly seen intuitively than discursively.  The two principles which, by the common consent of all honest men, determine the interpretation of oaths and professions of faith, are, first, the plain, historical meaning of the words; and secondly, the animus imponentis, that is, the intention of the party imposing the oath or requiring the profession.  The words, therefore, “system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” are to be taken in their plain, historical sense.  A man is not a liberty to understand the words “Holy Scriptures,” to mean all books written by holy men, because although that interpretation might consist with the signification of the words, it is inconsistent with the historical meaning of the phrase.  Nor can he understand them, as they would be understood by Romanists, as including the Apocrypha, because the words being used by a Protestant Church, must be taken in a Protestant sense.  Neither can the candidate say, that he means by “system of doctrine” Christianity as opposed to Mohammedanism, or Protestantism, as opposed to Romanism, or evangelical Christianity, as distinguished from the theology of the Reformed (i.e., Calvinistic) Churches, because the words being used by a Reformed Church, must be understood in the sense which that Church is know to attach to them.  If a man professes to receive the doctrine of the Trinity, the word must be taken in its Christian sense, the candidate cannot substitute for that sense the Sabellian idea of a modal Trinity, nor the philosophical trichotomy of Pantheism.  And so of all other expressions which have a fixed historical meaning.  Again, by the animus imponentis in the case contemplated, is to be understood not the mind or intention of the ordaining bishop in the Episcopal Church, or of the ordaining presbytery in the Presbyterian Church.  It is the mind or intention of the Church, of which the bishop or the presbytery is the organ or agent.  Should a Romanizing bishop in the Church of England give “a non-natural” sense to the Thirty-nine articles, that would not acquit the priest, who should sign them in that sense, of the crime of moral perjury; or should a presbytery give an entirely erroneous interpretation to the Westminster Confession, that would not justify a candidate for ordination in adopting it in that sense.  The Confession must be adopted in the sense of the Church, into the service of which the minister, in virtue of that adoption, is received.  These are simple principles of honesty, and we presume they are universally admitted, at least so far as our Church is concerned.

The question however is, What is the true sense of the phrase, “system of doctrine? or, What does the Church understand the candidate to profess, when he says that he “receives and adopts the Confession of Faith of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures”?

There are three ways in which these words have been, and still are, interpreted.  First, some understand them to mean that every proposition contained in the Confession of Faith is included in the profession made at ordination.  Secondly, others say that they mean just what the words import.  What is adopted is the “system of doctrine.”  The system of the Reformed Churches is a known and admitted scheme of doctrine, and that scheme, nothing more or less, we profess to adopt.  The third view of the subject is, that by the system of doctrine contained in the Confession is meant the essential doctrines of Christianity and nothing more…

The First View:  “Every Proposition of the Confession”

As to the first of these interpretations it is enough to say:  1.  That it is not the meaning of the words.  There are many propositions contained in the Westminster Confession which do not belong to the integrity of the Augustinian, or Reformed system.  A man may be a true Augustinian or Calvinist, and not believe that the Pope is the Antichrist predicted by St. Paul; or that the 18th chapter of Leviticus is still binding.  2.  Such a rule of interpretation can never be practically carried out, without dividing the Church into innumerable fragments.  It is impossible that a body of several thousand ministers and elders should think alike on all the topics embraced in such an extended and minute formula of belief.  3.  Such has never been the rule adopted in our Church.  Individuals have held it, but the Church as a body never has.  No prosecution for doctrinal error has ever been attempted or sanctioned, except for errors which were regarded as involving the rejection, not of explanations of doctrines, but of the doctrines themselves…

The Second View:  The Doctrines of the “System” Enumerated

The same strain of remark might be made in reference to the other great doctrines which constitute the Augustinian system.  Enough, however, has been said to illustrate the principle of interpretation for which Old-school men contend.  We do not expect that our ministers should adopt every proposition contained in our standards.  This they are not required to do.  But they are required to adopt the system; and that system consists of certain doctrines, no one of which can be omitted without destroying its identity…

The Third View:  “Substance of Doctrine”

There has, however, always been a party in the Church which adopted the third method of understanding the words “system of doctrine,” in the ordination service, viz., that they mean nothing more than the essential doctrines of religion or of Christianity….

It is said by some, that in adopting the “system of doctrine,” the candidate is understood to adopt it, not in the form or manner in which it is presented in the Confession, but only for “substance of doctrine.”…

This system has been tried, and found to produce the greatest disorder and contention.  Men acting on the principle of receiving the Confession for substance of doctrine, have entered the ministry in our Church, who denied the doctrine of imputation, whether of Adam’s sin or of Christ’s righteousness; the doctrine of the derivation of a sinful depravity of nature from our first parents; of inability; of efficacious grace; of a definite atonement; that is, of an atonement have any such special reference to the elect, as to render their salvation certain.  In short, while professing to receive “the system of doctrine” contained in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms they have rejected almost every doctrine which gives that system its distinctive character.

The Commisioning and Calling of Timothy


As we come to the end of Chapter 1 of Paul’s First letter to Timothy there are in these last 3 verses a plethora of interesting and downright mysterious phrases. Though before we look at the individual clauses here are the last three verses

This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.

The first thing that should pop out to you is the question of “What command?”, what is Paul referring to when he speaks to Timothy concerning his “command”? Well if we go back to verses 3 and 4 we see that Paul has charged Timothy with setting up a Seminary of sorts here in Ephesus so that the Elders (who we will get to in due time) can properly instruct the people in True Doctrine so that they will not go astray. Now I am sure that if Paul just knew better and he went to a mainline Seminary he would understand that Orthopraxy is more important than Orthodoxy. But what is that you say? Oh yeah Paul has already discussed this way back in Romans 4. What good is right action if it is not accompanied by right knowledge. Even the Pagans do good works. But what the Pagans do not have are the words of eternal life which Paul has entrusted with Timothy. (Seem to remember Peter telling Jesus this somewhere????).

The next curious clause is also in verse 18. Paul says, “in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you”. What can Paul possibly mean here? Calvin has this to say concerning the phrase:

In order to encourage him still more, he reminds him what kind of testimony he had obtained from the Spirit of God; for it was no small excitement, that his ministry was approved by God, and that he had been called by divine revelation before he was called by the votes of men. “It is disgraceful not to come up to the expectations which men have been led to form; and how much more disgraceful will it be to make void, as far as lies in thy power, the judgment of God?” But we must first ascertain what are the prophecies of which he speaks. Some think that Paul was instructed by revelation to confer the office on Timothy. That I acknowledge to be true, but I add that others made revelations; for it was not without reason that Paul made use of the plural number. Accordingly, we conclude from these words that several prophecies were uttered concerning Timothy, in order to recommend him to the Church. Being still a young man, he might have been despised on account of his age; and Paul might also have been exposed to calumnies, on account of having ordained youths, before the proper time, to the elder’s office. Besides, God had appointed him to great and difficult undertakings; for he was not one of the ordinary rank of ministers, but approached very closely to that of the apostles, and frequently occupied the place of Paul during his absence. It was, therefore, necessary that he should receive an extraordinary testimony, in order to make it manifest that it was not conferred on him at random by men, but that he was chosen by God himself. To be adorned with the applauses of the prophets was not an ordinary occurrence, or one which was common to him along with many persons; but because there were some circumstances to Timothy, it was the will of God that he should not be received by men until he had been previously approved by his own voice; it was the will of God that he should not enter into the exercise of his office until he had been called by the revelations of the prophets. The same thing happened to Paul and Barnabas, (Acts 13:2,) when they were ordained to be teachers of the Gentiles; for it was a new and uncommon occurrence, and they could not otherwise have escaped the charge of rashness. It will now be objected by some, “If God had formerly declared, by his prophets, what kind of minister Timothy should be, what purpose did it serve to admonish him, to show that he was actually such a person? Could he falsify prophecies which had been uttered by divine revelation?” I reply, it could not happen differently from what God had promised; but at the same time it was the duty of Timothy, not to give himself up to sloth and inactivity, but to render a cheerful compliance with the providence of God. It is therefore not without good reason, that Paul, wishing to stimulate him still more, mentions the “prophecies,” by which God might be said to have pledged himself on behalf of Timothy; for he was thus reminded of the purpose for which he was called.

Amazing how much one person can say about a single word. Interestingly enough Calvin spends the most time in Chapter 1 on this subject. Those of us who have been called to the Gospel ministry would do well to take heed the words of Paul in this pericope.

The final part we will look at on this subject is the words concerning Hymenaeus and Alexander who have been excommunicated, given over to Satan, because they have “shipwrecked” their faith. This of course points one back to the episode with the man who was sleeping with his Step-Mother in 1st Corinthians 5. Now these are especially hard words for us to here in our day and time mostly because any idea of discipline in the mainlines and even the more “orthodox” Presbyterian denominations have started to slide in this regard. Why is it we are so afraid to discipline? Is it because we refuse to even discipline ourselves or can it be that we fear the condemnation of the world more than the leavening of the whole loaf?