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 courseĀ  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.

We Understand That The Law is Good

As we move on in the 1st Letter of Paul to Timothy who was at Ephesus the second pericope I will take a look at is Chapter 1:8-11. This short passage follows the instruction given by Paul in what is wrong with the teachers of the law who are ignorant about what they are to be teaching and the assumptions that should be made from the law. We read in verse 6 and 7 for a refresher:

For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion. Wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

But what conclusions are they making from the law that Paul here is wanting Timothy to avoid himself and in teaching his students? Well to understand that we first need too understand what Paul has already written concerning this. We know that we can recall with certainty that Paul’s use of the phrase “Teachers of the Law” is not innocuous. He most assuredly means the Jews, his former brethren. We also can point back to any number of places in the rest of Paul’s letters to receive his full instruction on the Law, that Timothy must know already, but specifically I want to look back at Romans 3:19-20 because this other pericope I think encapsulates the use of the law Paul is highlighting here in 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Paul says:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

The last clause is vitally important for what Paul is about to say in 1 Timothy 1: 8-11, that:

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals (here Arsenokoitais, cf. Robert A.J. Gagnon‘s The Bible and Homosexual Practice for further understanding of this word) and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

So in this short section of 1 Timothy 1 we see Paul laying out for Timothy and for us a proper understanding of the Law of God (as given to Moses) and how the Law is to be properly understood in the context of Justification by Faith Alone in Christ Alone through Grace Alone. That, as Paul says in Romans 3, through the Law comes the knowledge of Sin.

(By the way make sure and check out Spurgeon’s Morning lesson for today.)