It’s that time of year again.
Even in the middle of a COVID-19 world, a new crop of seminary students here at RTS-Charlotte has already begun the grueling month-long experience of Summer Greek. And, like all seminary students before them, they will begin to ask the question of why studying these ancient languages even matters. After all, a few years after graduation all will be forgotten. In the midst of a busy pastoral life, who could possibly maintain proficiency in the languages?
As a result of these questions, some students decide (very early on) that the biblical languages are just something to be endured. They are like a hazing ritual at a college fraternity. No one likes it, but you have to go through it to be in the club. And then it will be over.
Behind this “take your medicine” approach to the biblical languages are a couple of assumptions that need to be challenged. First, the characterization of pastoral ministry as somehow incompatible with the languages (due to busyness, or other causes), is an unfortunate misunderstanding of what a pastorate is all about.
No doubt, pastors should be busy shepherding their flock, meeting with ministry leaders, and running the church. But, the core of the calling is to be a “minister of the word.”
And if the pastoral call is to be a minister of the Word, then there is a significant component of pastoral life that should be devoted to serious study of the biblical text—beyond just the preparation for that week’s sermon.
Put differently, pastors should continue to be students. They need to be readers, thinkers, and theologians.
Unfortunately many modern pastors do not view themselves this way. This is evidenced by the language used to describe the place a pastor works at the church. In prior generations, it used to be called the pastor’s “study” (because that is what he did in there!). Now, it is called the pastor’s “office” (because pastors view themselves more as a CEO).
One of my biggest disappointments is when I go into a pastor’s office and see that there are no (or very few) books. It is like going into a carpenter’s shop and seeing no tools. I remind such pastors of the words of Cicero: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
If pastors recover their calling as ministers of the Word, then keeping up with the biblical languages should be a more natural part of their weekly activity. If they work in a “study” instead of an “office” then studying might just come more easily.
But, there is a second assumption behind the “take your medicine” approach to the biblical languages. Many students assume that the study of the languages is useless if the specifics are forgotten at a later point. Indeed, this may be the biggest assumption in the mind of today’s seminary students.
This assumption, however, is profoundly mistaken. Even if a student forgets every single vocabulary word and every verb paradigm, the intensive study of the languages during seminary still plays an enormously significant role. Put simply, it helps students think textually.
Prior to learning the languages, most of us simply do not know how to think on a textual level when it comes to studying the Scripture. But after learning Greek or Hebrew (even if we forget it), we now understand grammar, syntax, logical flow, and sentence structure. Moreover, we understand the way words work, how their meaning is determined (or not determined), the importance of context, and the avoidance of certain exegetical fallacies.
These factors alone are incredibly important for proper interpretation of the text and preparation of a sermon. And they are drilled into our heads when we take the biblical languages—even if we forget them later.
So, students and pastors should be encouraged. There are good reasons to think you can retain your knowledge of the languages, if your role as “minister of the Word” is properly understood. But, even if you don’t, many of the benefits still remain.
[Note: I post this article every year as seminary students arrive. I hope it will prove helpful for a new group of readers (or maybe even prior ones!)]
Alex Basurto says
Thanks for the reminder, Dr. Kruger.
I am a layman working through the roller coaster of studying Elementary Greek as an auditor in SBTS in my second language. (Currently, I just finished the climb to the Mount Everest of the Participle!), and I have found what you say to be exactly the case: that the study of Koine Greek has changed my way of thinking on a textual way, even for the use of the other languages I am fluent in. I even find myself unconsciously analyzing the grammar everything I see written!
Seminary students: be encourage that there are some believers that do not pursue a Seminary degree that we are hungry for the Biblical languages and what to “kiss the bride without the veil that cover her” and have a deeper relationship with our Lord and Savior. We want our pastors to have that same hunger and zeal (or even more!).
Don-micheal A Bell says
Are there any online classes for the study of the original text? I would love to learn Greek and Hebrew because I know that it will open up the text in a way.
Don-micheal A Bell says
Are there any online classes for the study of the original text? I would love to learn Greek and Hebrew because I know that it will open up the text in a new way.
Alejandro Basurto says
Daily Dose of Greek has the initial 10 lectures of the SBTS course for free in the app. That one is based on Black’s text book Learn to Read New Testament Greek, 3rd ed.
SBTS just started to accept online auditors On both classes, Elementary Greek and Greek Syntax, for a fee.
Alex Basurto says
Daily Dose of Greek app 🙂
Also, check BeginningGreek.com
I heartily agree. After a decade out of ministry or in bivocational ministry, I am about to renter full-time. My biggest regret is losing all my Hebrew and most of my Greek, although I plan to try to re-engage with the latter.
My son has started learning classical Greek out of personal interest! (He may end up studying it at seminary but he’s only enrolled in a grad cert program at the moment.)
Guillaume Williams says
Translations are not always fully correct. Of then there is a depth of meaning. And because Hebrew and Greek can show emphasis by placing the emphasis at the beginning of a sentence you can see the main thrust of any particular phrase or sentence. English translations can’t show this.
Why can’t English translations show this?
Alexander Thomson says
I speak from the UK, where the study of the Classics has been smashed by the neo-Barbarians. And not just the study of the Classics, but also the study of the English language and its literature. Until 1963, “the watershed year”, grammar and logical and systematic thinking were inculcated into every student, and the study of Latin was available at an early age, and that of Greek at two or three years later. Any student going to study New Testament Greek already had a secure grounding in literary criticism, textual criticism, Classical and Koiné Greek, concepts and rules of grammar, interpretation of texts, etc., etc.. I have regularly compared developing tertiary education levels with secondary levels of yesteryear : my generation (I am in my seventy-fourth year) studied in the last two years of the Scottish Grammar Schools what is now studied in the first two, and even the third of, the years at University. At the age of seventeen, in my last year of school, I had the opportunity to begin the study of Hebrew. Moreover, the ancient Scottish Universities had a four-year honours degree curriculum, in which a deeper knowledge of language and literature was acquired than in present curricula. Yes, there’s no use in crying over spilt milk; but we need, as Christians, to get more depth and rigour ito the Biblical studies undertaken but our young folk : if we continue to leave it to the State and/or “accredited” institutions, we’re going to be in serious trouble for a long period of time.
John Brennan says
I most assuredly do not knock the study of Hebrew and Greek if one has that aptitude. But hopefully by now the “lowly layman” can trust the translations of our Bibles – good translations like the ESV, Nasb and others that have been passed down to us by biblical scholars who have been gifted by God to his church. If I studied Greek and Hebrew for 25 years or more would I be able to translate the scriptures better than we have received already? I doubt it.
Just trying to keep a balance – that’s all.
Guymon Hall says
I heartily agree, and I think the time is quickly approaching where knowledge of the original biblical languages will be the only way to fully ensure an accurate knowledge of God’s Word. With many of the modern translations capitulating to liberalism, thereby twisting God’s Word into things it doesn’t say, we are losing the capability to rely on modern English translations as faithfully communicating what God actually said.
That doesn’t mean that there are no good English translations at present; I simply mean that’s the direction we’re heading, and if there’s not something done about it in fairly short order, we will be there before we know it.
Guymon, what _evidence_ do you have for your dire claims here?
Jim Pemberton says
I struggled through Greek 1, but got better through Greek 2 and did well in Intermediate Greek. I studied some Hebrew, but it wasn’t required for my degree. I don’t know enough of the vocabulary to sit down and read through it, but I can still remember many of the forms and love to follow along in the Greek as someone reads the English or even look up the Greek when the English gives me a question as to why certain words were chosen in the translation. If I’m teaching or preaching, it keeps me from emphasizing distinctions or parallels that appear in the English that aren’t necessarily in the Greek and helps me see distinctions or parallels that were lost in the translation. I wouldn’t trade the struggle in Greek 1 for anything, and I vie to keep up what I learned and add to it in the course of my contact with the text.
On top of this, I find the way that understanding a little bit of the Greek helps me to appreciate the textual-critical issues and understand a little something of them. In helping my brothers and sisters understand the Bible, it’s important that they understand enough of the T-C issues that they aren’t blindsided when someone challenges their faith by bringing it up. It can be made to seem as though the church is hiding something nefarious about the text of Scripture when that’s simply not the case. We have a Text from God we can trust, and we have reasons we can trust his Revelation of himself through it.
Edward Hutcheson says
Been struggling to continue with the Greek a couple of times, perhaps the confines of the situation we are going through will give me the “space”.
Ordered Robert Plummer’s Beginning Greek, was able to print out the first chapter.