Pastoral Leadership and the Biblical Languages

Over on the Northwest Seminary blog, Larry Perkins is asking: How well does a pastor need to know the Bible? This piece raises the whole question over how well pastors need to know the Bible in its original languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

Perkins says:

Can the study of Greek or Hebrew biblical interpretation survive in such a context? If it doesn’t, what does it mean for the proclamation of the Gospel and the discipling of God’s people in the next fifty years? If pastors of the future lack the competence to engage the Scriptures in their Greek and Hebrew forms, will the churches be stronger for it? I doubt it [emphasis added]. Providing this kind of education and competence development for new pastoral leaders requires specific investments in people and programs. The immediate returns are not dramatic, but the long term implications for the health of the church will be critical.  These same kinds of arguments compel us also to invest significantly in developing ministry leaders with deep, theological competence.

The article is short and it is worth reading in full. There is a trend in our day for theological institutions to downgrade the study of the Bible in the original languages. There are many pressures to include the latest of fads in church growth and ministry philosophies in the curriculum, but should these courses infringe on the actual study of the Bible? I say no, but what do you say?

13 thoughts on “Pastoral Leadership and the Biblical Languages

  1. John,

    If you haven’t seen it before, Dr. Gentry has written a delightful (yep, delightful!) column on pastoral training and the biblical languages. It was published by Toronto Baptist Seminary/College/???. It also has a snapshot of Dr. Gentry as a young man–really great! I plan to give students a copy of it in every introductory course I teach.

    • Adam,

      I think you are on to the real issue. How can a theological institution promote and even commit to expositional preaching, but demote a rigorous study of the biblical languages? I’m not sure this inconsistency is raised in the committee meetings😉.

      Thanks for stopping by. We do need to have coffee sometime soon. It has been way too long.

  2. The old Princeton model worked well: you learn Hebrew to preach the OT, Greek for the NT, and Latin to read Turretin! SBTS had a Princeton track originally, but later offered an English bible track for men who were pastorally qualified but could not withstand the rigor of the languages.

    True change could come if the seminary scrapped the practical ministry classes and offered the final year of study as an internship in a church. (Or perhaps we could just shut down the Billy Graham school!!!)

    I envision a seminary where the first year is spent learning the languages, biblical theology, and church history. The second year moves into advanced language study and then systematic theology for the final semester of the second year. The final year would be an internship at a local church where preaching & practical ministry would occur.

    Since you want to be a professor one thing you could do is have students craft sermons based on the original text instead of academic papers in exegesis classes. Dr. Fuller did this for the Samuels Hebrew class and I found it helpful. If the goal of learning exegesis at a seminary is to prepare men for proclamation then exegetical sermons from the original languages seems most appropriate for paper writing.

    Am I on to something with the order of curriculum and writing sermons?

    • Adam,

      Thanks for the follow up comments and questions.

      1. I like the order of the curriculum you describe. The original academic catalogue at SBTS outlined a very language intensive program for the students. Broadus had the students read 1 Maccabees to prepare them for the Greek of the NT! Manly Jr. did offer a course in Chaldee or Aramaic. I do think church ministry is learned in the local church above all. I have learned much about ministry just by being an active member at CBC. I always tell people they will learn more about church ministry by doing that than they ever will in a seminary classroom. Obviously, if everyone could do an internship that would be great, but this may present a practical challenge.

      2. I was in Fuller’s class with you and wrote the sermon on 1 Sam. 3. It had advantages. However, a real exegesis paper creates more competance in the languages. I think students need to be able to write these kinds of papers employing the exegetical method they will use for the rest of their ministries. If they can write these sorts of papers, then they can easily transfer that knowledge to sermons. Even an academic exegesis paper can have an applicational/homiletical component at the end and the teacher should encourage this.

      Thanks again. Enjoy crafting that sermon from the original text!

      • Perhaps you could have 1 big exegetical paper due at the end of the semester and weekly exegetical sermons for your students. This could prepare them for the grind of pumping out a sermon every week, which is an enormous task on top of fulfilling other shepherding needs in the church. The large exegetical paper fulfills your desire for them to write an academic paper.

        Great to “chat” with you today, John! And congrats on the new little one on the way!

  3. Hey Adam, long time no see–I’m back in Louisville if you ever have the chance to catch up.

    If I may be a bit provocative (yes, I know that is out of character for me😉 Could the following statement be a little oxymoronic: “men who were pastorally qualified but could not withstand the rigor of the languages.” The curricula changes seem to indicate that our understanding of what qualifies a pastor have substantially changed in the modern period. In addition, many seminaries, including baptist ones, had exit exams which covered the biblical languages (though rarely Aramaic).

  4. Sometimes, the best language students don’t even go into pastoral work. They do their undergraduate work and go into other professions such as law or medicine.

    Some individuals with great hearts for pastoral work stink at languages. These people people have great hearts and personalities for pastoral work. The more studious, scholarly types prefer the quiet of their study to the unending and often moronic problems of congregational work.

    Some “scholars” pursue Biblical languages because they don’t find their native language satisfying for Bible study. They want more from the text. The solution is not necessarily Biblical languages. The ability to correctly analyze literature, even in translation, might provide them more “juice” that the OL.

    Doing word studies with a concordance can deeply enrich the text. Of course, the ideal would be a combination of literary analysis, OL, and concordance use. Unfortuantely, very few people are capable of attaining excellence in every area.

    • Hansen,

      Thanks for the comment. You have spoken truly about the situation as it stands. My post is asking: is this the way it should remain? I lament the current situation because too many pastors have forgotten their primary purpose: preach the Word. Without a knowledge of the biblical languages how is one to do this?

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