Blog Archives

God speaks English

This has nothing to do with immigration debates, Anglo-centrism, or the KJV-only argument. No, this is about academic rivalry/mockery, pure and simple.

The following is a picture of a cake that one of our counseling professors just bought for the students who will be spending four hours this evening learning Hebrew. I can’t wait to see how they respond. Maybe for their next lesson, Dr. Verbruggen will teach them how to make fun of Freud in Hebrew.

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Morning links (9/15)

Okay, I finally got one too many comments from people who either couldn’t figure out what “flotsam and jetsam” means (originally a nautically term referring to the debris left after a shipwreck, it’s also used to refer to “odds and ends” in general), or who wondered if I’m just a big Little Mermaid fan (which, by the way, says more about you than it does me). So, I’m going to drop that title for a while and go with something that will hopefully be a little clearer. But, just in case there’s still some uncertainty out there, let me explain:

  • “Morning” = that period of the day between when I wake up and when my coffee has finally kicked in.
  • “Links” = those underlined/colored/highlighted words on the screen that take you places when you click on them.

Now, that we’ve taken care of that business, here are some links for this morning.

Flotsam and jetsam (8/9)

Flotsam and jetsam (6/13)

  • The Australian Broadcast Corporation announces the launch of its religion and ethics portal. The plan is to provide both ABC content from its various media sources as well as original content from leading thinkers around the world.The home page features an article from Rowan Williams, “Refugees Make Us Strange to Ourselves,” about the role that racial and intellectual others play in fostering intellectual freedom and healthy cultural identity. (HT Byron Smith)
  • Biblical Interpretation has an article challenging the idea that we can chronologically separated “early” biblical Hebrew from “late” biblical Hebrew, contending instead that they are contemporaneous styles and that this has implications for how we date OT books. (HT Jim West)
  • Larry Hurtado comments on the success and frustration of his new blog.
  • Ed Setzer discusses four problems with the “rock star” pastor, and his suggested solutions.
  • Christopher Benson has an interesting post on “Why We Need the Dark.” I’m counting on Rev. 22:5 being metaphorical because I really like the dark. (I’m sure that suggest some deeply disturbing things about my psyche, and I’m okay with that.)
  • Joel points out that students can get Amazon Prime free for one year.
  • And, here’s a helpful resource for anyone who needs to learn how to talk smack in Chinese.

Discussion on the use of the languages in preaching

Bill Mounce liked the discussion that we had earlier on “Biblical Languages in Life and Ministry,” so he reposted it on his Mondays with Mounce blog at koinoniablog.net. Feel free to join in the discussion. There are already a number of good comments worth checking out.

Biblical languages as a spiritual discipline

Yesterday’s post, “The biblical languages in life and ministry,” sparked quite a bit of discussion. So, I thought it might be worth following up on that with a few more thoughts on the subject. Why bother with learning Greek and Hebrew? By the time you are done, you will have spent countless hours and probably a fair amount of money learning these languages. Was it worth it?

Martin Luther wrote a wonderful little tract titled “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.” In it, he addresses the issue of why he thinks it is important to spend time learning the biblical languages (see relevant excerpts here). I thought we could use his ideas as a starting point for our own discussion.

First, Luther is very clear that there is a pragmatic need for learning the languages; it makes us more effective students, teachers, and preachers.

A simple preacher (it is true) has so many clear passages and texts available through translations that he can know and teach Christ, lead a holy life, and preach to others. But when it comes to interpreting Scripture, and working with it on your own, and disputing with those who cite it incorrectly, he is unequal to the task; that cannot be done without languages.

And, he continues with a fabulous statement about the importance of the languages for powerful preaching:

Therefore, although faith and the gospel may indeed be proclaimed by simple preachers without a knowledge of languages, such preaching is flat and tame; people finally become weary and bored with it, and it falls to the ground. But where the preacher is versed in the languages, there is a freshness and vigor in his preaching, Scripture is treated in its entirety, and faith finds itself constantly renewed by a continual variety of words and illustrations.

For Luther, then, we need to know the original languages because they add power to our messages, confidence to our ministries, depth to our arguments. And, those are no small matters. We should be able to handle the Word with confidence and proclaim with power. The time we have spent on the languages is a gift to our ministries and students.

But, as several of our commenters pointed out yesterday, there must be more. If understanding the languages is a purely pragmatic issue, then my best bet would be to find Greek and Hebrew scholars that I really trust and simply rely on their conclusions. It’s unlikely that I will ever spend more time on Greek and Hebrew than Bill Mounce or Miles van Pelt (since they actually wrote books on learning Greek and Hebrew). And, if I can’t really do better than they can, wouldn’t it be more efficient to use my time doing something else? Why not trust a good commentary and spend my time working on powerful illustrations and applications? This is precisely what a pragmatic approach to the languages would suggest.

So, I find it interesting that Luther’s main argument is not a pragmatic one. His starting point is the Gospel.

we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments.

Luther’s fundamental concern is that if we do not pay particular and close attention to the text, we will lose the Gospel itself. Left to ourselves, we will inevitably fashion the Gospel in our own image, after our own preferences, according to our own desires. Although Luther regularly ascribes value to studying translations of the Bible, he argues that this is not ultimately sufficient. Unless we dig deeply into the text, we will eventually lose our moorings and drift into the stream of contemporary (ir)relevance.

Hence, it is inevitable that unless the languages remain, the gospel must finally perish.

So, we have now two reasons for studying the original languages: effective ministry and protection of the Gospel. To these, I think we must add a third: spiritual formation. I would agree with a comment that Ben made yesterday: “this is part of a spiritual journey not necessarily an educational one.” We must constantly remind ourselves that we are not studying the original languages; we are studying the Word of God. The languages are simply a means to that end. As Luther said, they are the “sheath.” So, I think we would do better to think of learning the languages as a spiritual discipline. It is an intentional practice designed to draw one toward a more intimate knowledge of God so that he/she can be continually re-shaped in his image. Only by constantly reminding ourselves that this is what we are doing, can we resist the alluring pull of pragmatism and the inevitable conclusion that we should just let someone else do it for us.

To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools

The biblical languages in life and ministry

Thanks to the NT Resources blog I ran across an interesting post on Original Languages and the Priesthood of All Believers. Since most of us have spent a fair amount of time with the original languages in our academic development, I thought his would be worth reflecting on.

The article begins with the following statement:

The original languages of scripture can be a blessing and they can be a curse. They can help or they can harm the priesthood of believers. I have seen both happen.

He goes on to express high appreciation for the value of studying the original languages, but also a significant concern that we be careful how we use our understanding of the languages – especially from the pulpit.

The problem for the priesthood of believers comes when someone uses the Hebrew and Greek to set himself up as “the one with knowledge.” This may happen inadvertently, but it harms the church nonetheless. For example, when a pastor (who does almost all the preaching in the modern Western church) repeatedly says, “Well, in the Greek this means…” he is telling the folks of that church that he has special knowledge that they don’t have. While he may not mean it this way, this is the message that they receive. He is the expert and they are not.
What does this do to the priesthood? It can devastate it. It causes a passive church when it comes to reading and interpreting the bible. If the people think that the pastor is the one “who brings the word of God,” they won’t be motivated to study and think for themselves. Instead, they will wait for the expert to bring them “the message” on Sundays.
I have to say that I completely agree. This actually happens to be one of the soapboxes that I enjoy jumping up and down on in my Greek classes. We need to careful that we don’t set ourselves up as the new “magisterium” and reverse the important emphasis of the Reformers that the Word of God is for all of his people – not just the elite few.
But, having said, I wanted to reflect as well on the value of studying the original languages. Or, rather, I’d like to hear some of your thoughts. Most of you who read this blog have done quite a bit of work in both Hebrew and Greek. What did you get out of it? Was it just a hurdle that you had to jump through to get your degree? Has it been a primarily academic exercise that opened up new and interesting avenues for research and writing? Or, have you found that understanding the original languages has truly deepened your spiritual life and made you more effective in ministry? Of course, you might have some other response as well. Regardless, let’s hear it.